"Not all those who wander are lost"

Back in BC

If at first you don’t succeed, buy a new car and try to get to Squamish again!

-Me

 

Nothing helps me get posts out quick like finding one I wrote months ago.  It’s wordy, it’s not proof read, but if you care about that you shouldn’t be here anyway.

 

Friday morning (8/19) I was up early to head up to Squamish, aiming to make it all the way there without and car drama.  After a detour through downtown Vancouver that added well over an hour to my journey I was on BC-99 headed north again.  The scenic road hugged the mountains on the edge of Howe Sound, zigzagging with the coastline.  I made it to the parking lot at the Chief, the main cliff and center of Squamish climbing, by the middle of the day.  I repositioned my “Need Climbing Partners” sign into an obvious position in a back window and began to look around for people getting a late start to climb with.  Spotting a group of three I saw a perfect opportunity to even up the numbers and help everyone out.  They welcomed me to their group, but were bouldering so the even number was irrelevant.  It wasn’t going to be a day filled with classic Squamish cracks, but it was climb.  John, Igor, and I (the other friend, Tyler, headed off to hike since he was injured and could climb) bouldered around the base of the Chief for the rest of the afternoon, meeting up with a couple more of their friends, Josh and Amanda.  With five people and five crash pads we could pad any landing no matter how rocky and took full advantage of our opportunity on several climbs.  With such a lack of climbing in recent times I wasn’t able to finish anything special, but enjoyed getting back on rock.  I even managed to keep my fingertips from getting shredded the entire day.  Night began to fall and I headed off down a nearby forestry road to find a safe place to pull off.  The wide dirt road had over twenty cars in various small pull-offs in the short 2km of road, clearly this level of dirtbagging only happens at climbing destinations.

 

Saturday morning I was delayed by finding a public park with outlets scattered throughout (don’t know, but love sitting in the park and having computer power) and discovering a farmers market, before I made it back over to the Chief at 10am to meet Bill.  He had left a note on my car in response to my sign and climbing about the same grades.  We headed off to crag around the base of the Chief.  I received a good reminder of why I do, and always should, wear a helmet while belaying Bill on our second climb.  The guy climbing on the route we just made it through the most difficult section but hadn’t placed any gear for 15+ feet.  But once he got to the good holds where it eases up he started looking even shakier and as it went to move a hand higher slid off the rock.  He looked like a cartoon frozen in mid air as he stood with finger on the rock, feet still directly under him as he slid 30 feet down the rock, hitting a ledge near the bottom that flipped him upside down with his head 8 feet off the deck.  My first thought was that I needed to lower Bill and get this guy to a hospital.  Fortunately he started laughing as he hung upside down spread eagle, he wasn’t hurt, not even his fingers which rubbed down the rock or his head, which by all laws of physics looked like it should have smashed against the rock.  My helmet would stay firmly on my head in the future.  We continued cragging, doing many of the classic cracks, for the afternoon.  On my way back from the grocery store I drove past “Live at Squamish” to see what the music festival was all about.  Hearing Girl Talk playing I looked around for a way to sneak in but didn’t think there was much chance.  I almost tried to get someone to give me a ticket as they were leaving since I wasn’t about to pay $110, but decided it wasn’t worth it…later I regretted not trying.

 (Arrowroot [R] and Rutabaga)

(Exasperator)

Sunday bill and I headed off to do Wiretap, a new and supposedly great five pitch 5.10 crack.  On the way up the path to our climb I saw a guy coming down and noticed that he was skinny and jacked, then I noticed it was Alex Honnold.  I guess it wouldn’t be so hard to pull yourself up thousands feet of free soloing if you’re 150lbs, 0% body fat, and ripped.  We found our climb at the top of a pile of dirt, roots, trees, and organic debris: the usual signs of a newly cleaned route at Squamish.  I started off and lead up through the first section of “10a” which turned out to be a bit easy and continued the second short pitch to a belay perched 5 feet up on a stump.  It was the most memorable spot I have ever belayed as I looked out across Howe Sound and the surrounding mountains.  Bill lead the next pitch and linked it with the following one.  When I reached him at the top I saw our “fifth” and final pitch: a very easy, well bolted, short slab.  Most people wouldn’t have even bothered to bolt it.  All the reviews raved that Wiretap was a new classic, but the only thing I thought was classic on it was the belay.  A disappointed by the “five pitch” climb (which we did in two, plus one easy, barely-worth-it last pitch) we headed to Shannon Falls (a huge…tree…just kidding, it’s a waterfall, obviously) to check out a couple classic climbs.  These turned out to be exactly what they promised: a long pitch of perfect splitter crack.  We finished up the two climbs and headed to Skywalker, long five pitch climb notorious for an awkward airy, but easy, 50 foot exposed traverse.  An out of shape guy huffed and puffed as he struggled to make moves 10 feet off the ground.  We knew we would be able to get down before dark, but less confident in the parties ahead we decided not to bother.

 

I awoke in the night to the sound of rain pounding the roof of my car.  The two windows I left down to vent moist air had begun letting in the rain and soaking the foot of my sleepingbag.  I hurriedly crawled up to the front seat and closed the windows before drifting back to sleep.  A few hours later I woke up again.  A steady drip, drip, drip hit me in the forehead.  Somehow my car was leaking in the back hatch and dripping out directly onto me.  I sleepily tried to ignore it, but when the water persisted I dragged myself back to consciousness enough to tape a hummus container under the trip.  When I finally woke up for real it was clear that no climbing would be happening so I spent the day sitting in Starbucks using their internet, swimming and hot tubbing at the local rec center, and finished out at the library until they closed.

 

Monday night proved just as rainy as the previous, but Tuesday morning brought some sun and the slow process of drying the rock.  After waiting until noon Bill and I couldn’t take it and headed off to try to find dry climbing.  Our first attempt was the Murin Pond area.  We got up to the crags and found very little climbing that looked good or was dry but ended up doing a good, but short, 5.9.  After finishing I put a top-rope on a cool looking 11c, but on two attempts couldn’t finish the route.  Hoping for more luck we headed to the Smoke Bluffs.  Our first stop was a letdown, finding two groups waiting on the route we wanted, so we continued on.  From that the day got better as we did several good routes.  The first was a tricky 10(b or c) with poor gear that required me to do a tough, balance move risking a big swing.  Next we got on a tricky 11a finger crack in a corner.  After a couple tries, Bill made it through and I followed.  Once I had figured out the moves I did it again and managed my first trad redpoint.  Excited about the lead I was contented so finishing off the day with three more great routes was icing on the cake.  After such a late start I was happy to have done my hardest trad lead and done 10 pitches of climbing, finishing by headlamp on a wet crack.

 

Wednesday, Bill was stoked to get on the Split pillar.  It’s one of the most highly rated pitches in Squamish, starting 5 pitches up the chief on one of the few lines that leads to the summit.  We started late, allowing more drying time and then ended up starting even later because we realized at the base of the cliff we needed two ropes to rappel off (even though I had hopes of making it through the tough 11a pitches above to make it to the summit), not a great start.  I won rock-paper-scissors so Bill headed back to grab the tag line.  Once we had ourselves organized I started up the chosen route.  I quickly gained a sopping wet, slimy chimney and wedged my body against the sides, wiggling my way up through it with no regards for the black and green slime now covering me.  Thinking I had made it through the hardest, wettest part of the route I pushed on.  To my dismay I found the next section just as wet and significantly more difficult than the chimney.  I worked my way up using fist jams in a shallow and wet crack until the crack was only inches deep and I was forced to lay-back it.  Some combination of wet feet, wet crack, and hard moves finally got the better of me and my hands slipped off sending me backwards away from the crack.  I narrowly avoided a small pillar before the rope caught me.  Frustrated and annoyed with the bad route decision I continued up the route with similar results, occasionally having to pull on gear where the rock was especially wet.  At one point I was jamming in another section of wet crack, with my feet wedged in the crack a meter above my last piece of gear.  My hands slipped out of the crack, but instead of falling I just sat there, slowly tipping away from the rock because my feet were so securely wedged in that I was going to pivot all the way up-side down before they either broke or finally came loose dropping me on my head.  I reached a 45 degree tilt away from the rock before I managed to pull myself back to the rock, basically doing a sit-up from my wedged feet.  This route was really getting annoying, and it continued that way until I finally reached the end of the pitch.  Bill didn’t fare any better on the wet crack but eventually made it through.  For the second pitch we traversed onto another route that had a classic pitch instead of the fourth class scramble above our first pitch.  Finally, it was good climbing through a tricky finger crack and ensuing good hand crack.  At the end of the second pitch was a good ledge and we relaxed for a minute, looking up at what was next.  It was the beginning of a climb called “Mercy Me” and despite, or maybe because of, the soft 5.7 rating it only had 3 bolts in the 40m pitch and no possibility for gear.  Bill successfully led the pitch, avoiding any long fall onto the ledge and I followed in suit.  The next pitch wasn’t much better.  I lead up 25m through only two bolts before the route traversed right across a difficult slab, protected by only one more bolt which promised a huge swing if a foot slipped on one of the tiny sloped edges.  Unnerved by the moves I focused on breathing and trying to avoid getting any water (several water streaks crossed my path) on my shoes and thereby increasing my chance of a foot slipping off.  In, out, in, out.  I reached my right foot as far as I could to the right, carefully placing it on the rounded edge.  In, out, in, out.  I reached out with my right hand, crimping on an edge no thicker than a nickel.  Shifting my weight across I brought my left foot over to meet my right.  After several more moves I reached a large flake, at last something to hold.  At the top of the flake I reached the crux of the pitch: a 5.9 slab section.  Only it was, once again, dripping with water and covered in slime.  As I did the move across without touching the water I realized how ridiculous I must look standing on my right foot on a small edge, left foot extended straight out to the left to push on the flake, right hand straight out right to a small crimp, left hand waving straight above me to balance.  Of course, all of this was about a thousand feet up on a granite wall overlooking the highway and the entire city of Squamish.  My human “+” worked out and I made it across to the anchors.  One more traversing pitch brought us to the split pillar.  Just after Bill started up it another part arrived behind us, but he was already climbing so it was too late to let them pass.  Bill managed the moves through the widening crack from the small layback section and then hand jams, but had trouble with the fist and wider section.  After several attempts he ended up aiding up through it, pulling on cams where he couldn’t hold on.  Finally it was my turn.  With as much info as I could gain from the Californian who was waiting to do the pitch I headed off.  I started off laybacking until I could get a good hand jam into the crack, but as I did I realized how nice it would have been to have taped my hands to give a layer between the soft skin on the back of my hands and the abrasive granite.  Too late now.  The crack widened more and I struggled more.  Eventually my hands slipped and I sailed back through the air until the rope caught me.  Exhausted I rested a second before attacking the rock again, this time making it up, and wedging myself in the chimney above, wriggling until I reached Bill at the anchors.  Within a minute of my arrived at the top the Californian popped up from the chimney.  He had belayed his partner up to the bottom as I started, and then waiting until I had entered the chimney started, and made it up just after me, placing only one cam on the entire 100 feet of the pitch.  Awed by him we gathered our ropes and rappelled off, thoroughly thrashed from our day of climbing.

 (The Flake on the left and the Split Pillar high next to the tree just right of center)

 

After a rest day I was back looking for action Friday.  Bill had already left so I wandered the campground and parking lots until I eventually found someone looking to climb.  Drew was interested in doing St. Vitus, a multipitch 5.9 crack on the apron so it was just what I was looking for.  We racked up and headed off.  The route started with some moderate climbing, pulling on tree routes, easy cracks, and lots of dirt.  I began to wonder how the route would really be.  Instead of the regular second pitch we decided to do the “St. Vitus Extra” pitch of 10a finger crack.  I started to lead and noticed that this crack wasn’t very dry either.  I placed some fairly sketchy nuts and cams in the tiny crack where it widened enough to fit anything in.  I continued as the angle became more vertical, the finger slots became smaller and farther apart, and the crack became wetter.  I made it to the top of the crack, hanging by the two smallest fingers on my right hand and smearing my feet against granite.  Unsure I would make my next move I desperately stuffed a small link-cam into the crack hoping against the odds it would hold if I fell.  I made the big reach out to the left to what I hoped was a good hold, only to find it was a sloped puddle.  Never the less, I grabbed, pulled, and managed to make it up and finish the last few moves.  The next two pitches yielded excellent cracks that thankfully were dry.  Switching leads we made it to the top where it became easy slab climbing.  To be safe we belayed up the slab (although only one piece of gear was used on the “pitch” and I did it barefoot).  Instead of taking the 4th class gully to walk off we added “Karen’s Math” which turned out to be a great layback flake up to an awkward and unprotected traverse.  The whole pitch took less time than it took me to get out a hex that got wedged into a tight slot.  Overall the most tiring part of the entire climb were feeding out slack on the easy slab and hanging from my hand jam to get out the hex.  We hiked down the 4th class scramble to the bottom of the crag barefoot and made our way back to the parking lot.

 

Saturday I found another person, Derek, to climb with and headed off to do Birds of Prey (5.10b).  I drove back and parked where I had spent the night and we headed up to the cliff.  To our chagrin we found two parties ahead of us on the climb and debated doing another climb but decided to wait instead.  Derek headed up the first easy pitch planning to go all the way to the top of the second pitch since we had my 70m rope.  He maxed out the rope and still wasn’t quite at the anchors so we began to simul-climb, neither of us belaying each other but connected to the rock through the pieces he had placed.  After 50ft he made it to the anchors and put me on belay for the rest of the pitch.  The next pitch was the most difficult, a dihedral with a crack that widened from small finger-locks to fist jams.  I struggled, grunted, cursed a bit, and managed to make my way to the top of it.  The pitch wasn’t quite over though.  Next I had to traverse left with no protection and make my way up some more easy cracks to the anchor.  The easy climbing seemed drastically harder when faced with the potential 20+ft swing into the dihedral I just climbed.  A short belayed scramble led to a vertical and at times slightly overhanging broken crack system.  It turned out to be quite the adventurous pitch, requiring bear-hugging a ridge of rock and lots of other indescribably awkward moves.  It seemed to be the standard trend, but once again I had completed a 5 pitch route in 3 pitches, some simul-climbing, and one short scramble.  I descended barefoot to the car with Derek and we went our own ways.

 

Sunday I woke up early to run up the Chief without having crowds of tourists destroying the serenity.  It was a great workout and I reached the top right at sunrise.  I sat on the bald top of the mountain overlooking Squamish and Howe Sound enjoying the morning before heading back down.  Tourists looked on with confusion and awe when they saw me running near full tilt down the steep trail.  The combination of so much crack climbing and running destroyed my toe.  Too sensitive to want to shove it in anymore cracks I decided to head out bouldering.  For the first few hours I hung out with some people who I had chatted with several times while in the parking lot, but eventually they went to work on their V7 to V10 projects so I decided it was a good time for me to split.  I wandered around working on various problems and generally got shut down by everything.  With raw fingers that didn’t want to touch any more rock I called it quits and began the drive back to the states.

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