Climbing Outside of the Box

A No Wasted Days™ Story

Ben Fenton is a photo assistant, photographer, graphic designer, skater, get the picture—he’s many things. One hand holds the camera to his eye, one grabs a crashpad. There’s a skateboard underfoot. “I usually just say, today, I am, and then I decide what hat I'm wearing.”

Among it all, Ben carves time to run Balancing Acts_ — an organization that provides access to climbing for people who have been marginalized from the sport. He throws free community events, provides gear and transportation, and shares his knowledge of the sport’s ins-and-outs.

For most climbers, just being able to climb is enough. But for Ben, climbing is much more than a sport. Balancing Acts is his way to share all that climbing is—a kind of living, breathing art piece made of human activity and connection to land, self and community.

Ben’s route to Balancing Acts_ wasn’t direct. For a climber, this makes sense. Their routes are rarely, if ever, straightforward.

“I quit climbing from age 18 to 25,” Ben says. “I was just over it.” The epiphany hit when Ben was competing for Team Canada in 2015. “I was in a room with the best climbers in the world and I just didn’t care.”

For Ben, the joy he’d found in climbing during his adolescence disappeared. “I would go to the gym and the atmosphere felt dead.” The fun of hanging with friends was replaced with hours of training. More than that, people didn’t see Ben for who he was. “I was a part of a system and fundamentally it felt like somebody was deciding my life path.”

Balancing Acts is his way to share all that climbing is—a kind of living, breathing art piece made of human activity and connection to land, self and community.


Leaving his hometown, Calgary, Ben started anew. He went to art school in Montreal and eventually made his way to Vancouver. “I met creative folk, I got into skateboarding, and I found new avenues of expression.” It was eye-opening and reminded him of his first climbing experiences—the creativity and youthful liberation that came with inventing new ways to move forward and up.

Through art, Ben saw how people could reveal their true selves. With skating, he found community and connection.  Then there was Teddy, an old friend who Ben knew from his teen skating years and who, in their time apart, had found his way into climbing. “He didn’t have as much knowledge or experience, but he had the desire—this X factor that I hadn’t had in climbing before.” Teddy was the kind of climber that Ben wanted around, someone who made him feel like he could be himself.

Balancing Acts_ came from all of this—the product of Ben’s many loves, the people he’s met along the way, his knowledge of climbing, and his visibility into how financial barriers limit people’s access into the sport. The organization works to build community through free indoor and outdoor climbing workshops specifically catered to those who’ve not had visibility into the sport and who have had difficulty accessing it.


“At the end of the day, it’s just this little space that we’ve created to come together.”

Between his work as a photo assistant, creating art, and pursuing his own climbing goals, Ben built a small climbing wall in a shared creative space in the Grandview-Woodland neighborhood of Vancouver. The wall stands as the hub for the Balancing Acts_ community. Once a month, they host board meetings—a way to get everyone together and to get new folks climbing. When sunny weather arrives, the studio acts as a basecamp for their “field trips.” People meet at the studio before heading to the crag to take part in guided bouldering sessions. “We have all the equipment and people just need to come as they are.”

Ben’s relationship to climbing is about a desire to connect, make friends, and engage with others. “At the end of the day, it’s just this little space that we’ve created to come together.” Balancing Acts_ lets climbing be the vehicle for connection and a way to celebrate individuality. And it’s also a step for folks to find their autonym outdoors. “Once someone feels comfortable enough, I’m just going to step out and let them do their thing. But the pads and all the equipment are still there, so they won’t have to spend thousands of dollars right off the bat.”


After a day’s work, Ben puts away his photography equipment. He replaces it with climbing gear and the bags of snacks he purchased earlier in the day, which are for the Balancing Acts_ field trip he’s hosting.

Outside, the sky is smeared with dreamy hues and the air is thick from the Salish Sea. He drives to the studio, arranges car rides for everyone participating in the event and then heads across town to Cypress Mountain with crashpads tetrised in the trunk of his car.

At the parking lot, people mingle. “Can everyone hear me?” Ben asks. “Cool. For those joining us for the first time, my name is Ben. I started Balancing Acts_ a few years ago, and our aim is to provide access to climbing. That said, if you don’t want to climb, that’s alright. We’re glad you’re here.”

Beneath Doug firs and just-budding maples, Ben watches a newcomer try their hand at a boulder problem. Nearby, a participant pulls out a chessboard, lays it on the ground, and begins playing with a friend. A couple of guys chit-chat and catch up. There’s a woman sitting on a crashpad, taking it all in. For Ben, this is climbing. It’s a gift of community—a way to watch others ascend into their own particular happiness.