Monday, May 25, 2009

Four Days in Squamish 05.20-24.09

This long weekend was to be Julie's last climbing weekend with me until some possible return trips in June. Four days in Squamish to send her off on her bike trip proper. Julie had already rode to Vancouver, and I was to pick her up Thursday morning and we would head to Squamish and leave some time on Sunday.

Day 1:
I picked Julie up in Vancouver around 9am and we headed to Squamish. The goal was to climb Diedre (5.8), a four star route that sees lots of traffic. Hitting it on Thursday would hopefully mean less traffic. Once arriving in Squamish, due to the highway construction, we had some difficulty finding the Apron parking lot. Once there we adopted the Squamish climbing style. (Harness/gear up at car. Bring only what you will be climbing with. Leave nothing at the base.) This is partially due to the fact you do not return to the base of the climbs, but also because Squamish is known for having high theft rates. Which means you may lose whatever you left at the base of a climb. We had minor difficulty finding the trail. It is obvious, and leaves the parking lot uphill right at the outhouse. After a short trail hike, there is some 3rd class rock and tree scrambling to make it to the base. There was already one rope from a party of four on the route. Their second rope allowed us to start the route before them, and their first rope allowed us to start the second pitch before them. They were a nice group from Switzerland. Although their leader has been living in a log cabin in the Yukon for the last 15 years. I led the first pitch which had about 30' of slab before any protection (slinging a tree.) Then it followed grooves and seems over the rock. Some of which was seriously glacier polished and slick as glass. Other areas seemed to have slippery quartz in them as well, but the overall adhesiveness of the rock was great. Julie got to lead the second pitch which was a traverse with no protection. I arrived at her location, and it was time to tackle the dihedral that gives the route its name.

I got the lead and proceeded to make my way up. The pitch felt easier than 5.8, but did not offer the best opportunities for placing gear because the lack of really good rests and the difficult gear placement at times. The crux of the pitch is probably about a third of the way up where you must negotiate a small step in the slab. The rest of the pitch was pretty straightforward lie back technique. Once I belayed Julie to the top of the pitch, she offered the next pitch for me to lead. She said she could feel her legs had not fully recovered from the bike ride to Vancouver and would feel better if I led the pitch. I wasn't mentally prepared to, but I stepped up to the challenge. I was a little sketched with the opening moves because my shoes had gotten dirty/wet at the belay stance, and this set a tone of not fully trusting my feet for the pitch. This second pitch of the dihedral felt harder, but may not have been. I placed lots of gear, and finally made it to the next bolted belay. (All belays on Diedre are bolted.)

After I brought Julie up, she geared up for the last of the dihedral pitches. After some slabby moves to get back into it, she was on her way and soon bringing me up. This pitch had easier climbing and the angle reduced a bit. It did seem significantly more difficult to place gear on though. I led out on the last lower angle pitch which had very little for protection. This combined with the fact that there was wetness and conifer needles on it gave me little assurance. Once at the final moves (the crux of the climb) there was a piton to clip. I clipped it and gingerly tried to step on clean dry rock until I was stemming over a wet seep. I placed a cam and hesitated about the next moves. I told Julie to watch me as the moves were sketchy. Fortunately, I made a few moves and was able to grab the tree that you need to pull you into the trees and onto Broadway Ledge. I brought Julie up and we celebrated. We then led south to find the walk off. After taking a look at the slab walk off, we opted to go straight for the forest. There were a few bits of 3rd class down climbing to reach the woods, but not too bad. Then it is a trail to boulders near the highway.

Day 2:
We had the lofty goal of attempting to climb to the summit of the Chief using the Banana Peel, Boomstick Crack, Ultimate Everything link up.

We didn't leave the campground as early as we would have liked to due to some confusion on our parts. We walked from the campground to the base of Banana Peel, which is the same start as Deidre. There were already parties on Diedre, and we were the first to head toward Banana Peel. Julie led the same unprotected start to the tree and then belayed me across the long crack traverse to the base of Banana Peel. Our 60m rope didn't quite reach and I had to give Julie a short belay another 30' or so the the start. I then led the next short pitch which is a stem off of a tree to gain the slab, and then about 20' of unprotected 5.4 slab to a tree belay. I brought Julie up to this point and another party was catching us. I told her we should let them go by. When their first climber reached our belay we let him know that we would let them pass as them appeared to be moving faster. After chatting with him a bit we realized that it was Miles and Liz Smart. They proceeded to move on up and out of our sight in a few pitches.

Julie got to lead the next crux pitch which was like three cruxes in one. First there is some run out slab to a bolt at the initial bulge crux on the slab. After passing that, you make another cruxy move from the slab to a steeper flake. After topping the flake, there are some cruxy moves to gain a small crystal ledge that you traverse to the belay. I'm not sure which Julie found hardest (as she was leading) but I definitely felt the moves onto the traverse were the hardest for me. After that pitch, I had a short non memorable pitch to a gear belay. Then Julie led out on a wandering, lightly protected pitch up the slab. This ended at a tree belay and I got to lead the next pitch on an interesting water drainage feature on the slab. It ended a short ways up a flake. Julie led out the final pitch on the flake to lower angle slabs and then Broadway Ledge. We ate lunch and started to grasp the next leg which was Boomstick Crack.

Boomstick Crack is actually a thin, sharp, long, horizontal flake that starts getting more vertical about 30' into the climb. Most of the early gear is suspect as it may knock the flake off, or blow out the rock. And because your feet are only about 6-8' off Broadway, you will hit the ground even if the pro does hold. I got the first lead on this which was some interesting moves to gain the top of the flake. Once there I set about trying to place gear in the flake near my feet. (Even due to the ground fall potential, I still placed gear.) After two pieces at my feet, I was able to get a nut on an old 1/4" stud for protection. After a few more pieces near my feet, the flake angled up and I gained cracks on the face where I finally got in protection that would hold a fall and keep me off the ground. By this time, I was into a hand crack with little gear left to fit it. So I ran it out to a tree belay and brought Julie up. Julie continued on the second pitch into the trees.

We made a decision at that time that it was not feasible for us to continue on The Ultimate Everything. It was ten more pitches, and most of them were at 5.9. So we decided to rappel back to Broadway, and walk off.

After the walk off, we decide to drive over to the Smoke Bluffs crags and do some routes over there. After Julie led Burgers and Fries (a 5.7 crack), we top-roped Peaches and Cream (5.10a/b.) Then we found the Clean Starts cracks at the far end of the Neat and Clean wall. We top-roped a few cracks over there and then headed back to camp.

Day 3:
We set our sights on Calculus Crack (5.8). We figured it being Saturday that it would see less traffic than the routes we did earlier in the week. We were wrong. The first two pitches of the route are shared with numerous other routes on the north end of the Apron. The one guidebook describes these pitches as "vertical jungle." With the amazing growth rates in the area, and the typical Squamish "tree ladders" through steep forest, we did not know what to expect. We arrived at the base behind a party of three that was gearing up. They offered to let us pass, but we figured we did not want anyone behind us, so we gave them the route first. Shortly, our decision didn't matter as a party of two women showed up behind us.

We waited a while before one of the slow followers fell and struggled with the opening moves. Then I was hot on her trail following through the initial crack and then through the trees. The first pitch then goes up another short crack and more pulling on tree roots to gain the next belay. I brought Julie up and we did a short scramble through the woods to the start of the second pitch. Both of the earlier party's followers struggled with the crux (5.8) of this section which was moving leftward from a fist crack to some steeper thin finger cracks past a bulge. Once they were through, Julie led out and stopped. Her head wasn't in this lead, and she backed off and asked me if I would lead it. I wasn't enthusiastic about it, but I'd give it a go. I got up to the difficult part and realized how hard it was to place gear from a slightly awkward stance. I down climbed to the base and racked my green and yellow aliens for quick insertion. I then climbed back to the crux area and was able to place the yellow alien. I then made a move or two up, where I had an nice ledge hold for my hands. The crack above peters out and there are not very good holds as it is shallow. I placed another cam higher, eliminating any hope I had of using the higher crack for my hands. I then noticed an escape to a crack farther left. So with a long stretch left, I was able to gain easier ground and head up through the forest again. I brought Julie up to a belay at a tree, just shy of the bolted belay for the next pitch.

Julie led out on the next pitch which was a dirty twin crack system. One side was off width, while the other provided nice dirt steps and small trees to sling. She then had to wait for the earlier team to leave the belay ledge before proceeding. She didn't have enough big gear left for her to set up a proper anchor to bring me up, so we waited. During this time, the two women caught us as well as another party of a man and a woman. After a long wait the two women opted to climb St. Vitus, while the man and woman were joined by another rope of their friends. I finally left the belay and arrived at Julie's gear belay at the base of a steepish finger crack. (4th pitch.)

I took the lead and placed lots of gear in the initial section. The face was a bit slippery for feet, and being a finger crack, the crack too small for my feet. After about 20' or so, the angle eases and I continued up to where the two followers of the previous rope were just leaving the belay. This pitch felt like the hardest pitch I led all weekend. The initial section was sustained climbing which took precise foot placements on my part. The jams in the crack were great. And the crack took gear really well. From this pitch alone, I feel that Calculus Crack should be given another star.

After bringing Julie up she continued in the crack through another steep section before the angle really eased and she was able to belay me up. Turns out she stopped a bit short of a bolted belay, so I quickly made my way over there and she led off on the final pitch wandering around the slabs to the trees. We ate lunch, and proceeded to determine which way we would descend. There are supposed to be four single rope rappels into the South Gully from the top, but we found no suitable anchor, nor rap slings to mark where that would take place, so we opted to scramble up an off width (gully in the books) to gain Broadway Ledge and traverse off the Apron like we had the two previous days.

After returning to the car, we went over to the Upper Malamute crag and top-roped some difficult 5.9 routes on the Stooges Slab. After that, it was time for dinner and camp.

Day 4:
Neither of us were up to multi pitch climbing at this point and we found that Murrin Park would be a good destination for us with easily accessible top-roping and routes in ranges we wanted to climb. However, when we got there, there was a $3 charge for parking that could only be paid with coins. I had no Canadian currency on me, and Julie did not have enough Loonies. So we went back to Smoke Bluffs again. We made it there and then wandered around trying to find the Fatty Bolger slabs. Once there, I led "David's" which was a scary two bolt 5.6. Julie got up to lead on it and decided to lower after the first bolt. I then led the next climb Stepladder and we set up a top rope. Julie top-roped that climb and then we top-roped the other two routes there. (Moominland & Hamish's) We left that slab just as another larger party from Seattle showed up. We hiked around trying to find something to climb and eventually climbed Christa' Revenge (5.7) an interesting crack system on the Fern Gully wall. I led it and belayed Julie up from the top. After the walk off, it was time to head to Vancouver to drop Julie off and have dinner before driving back to Seattle.

This was by far my favorite and most productive cragging trip ever. Julie and I climbed about 35 pitches in four days. Many of which were quality routes. It was a great introduction to Squamish, and I already cannot wait to go back! I really feel like I am climbing well, and that made the trip even more enjoyable. I am slightly bummed we could not find some harder single pitch routes to climb, but being we were usually tired (mentally and physically) by the time we hit the single pitch routes, that is probably for the better. On another note, it was great spending a block of time with my good friend Julie before her bike trip is in full swing.

No comments: