This past August I lived with my friends Greg, Mark, and Lauren in Squamish, British Columbia. Since first window shopping seemingly perfect splitters on Mountain Project, Squamish sat firmly on my list of places to visit. Although my memory now parallels SuperTopo tales of bullet granite and scenic views, an apparent lack of cliffs initially surprised me. Temperate rain forests with little visible rock contradicted the Yosemite Valley model of ubiquitous walls. However, a cursory glance through the Squamish Select Guidebook quickly dismissed my skepticism.
Arriving with a perceived route climbing fitness from Mesa Rim Climbing and Fitness Center, I gravitated towards the 10 pitch Chief routes. Among others, The Grand Wall, Freeway, and University Wall topped my list of must-do routes. For my first lap up The Chief I teamed up with Luke, a Bay Area friend and former San Diego resident, to enjoy the incredibly varied and heartily sustained climbing of Freeway (5.11c). Frequently compared to The North Face of the Rostrum in terms of length and overall difficulty, Freeway felt less burly, but techier than its Yosemite counterpart. I enjoyed climbing with Luke, but his short visit ensured that I would need to find other partners. Characteristic of most areas, finding the right partner proved cruxy. Greg, a beast with extraordinary will power lay grounded with an elbow injury. Mark, psyched and honed after three months of road tripping, sublexed his shoulder on the University Wall. Confident that two skinny white boys from California would make a good team, my friend Ben put me in contact with Eric, a Bay Area artist with a history of quietly crushing.
For our first climb together, Eric and I opted for likely the most classic climb in the Squamish area – The Grand Wall (5.11a A0 or 5.13a). Following a plumb line up the center of The Chief, we found the impressiveness of the line equally matched by the casualness of the route. Bolted belays and scenic views of the Howe Sound create an atmosphere of blissful position. As neither Eric nor I had previously attempted The Grand Wall, we decided to climb the three free variations which avoid the bolt ladders used by the first ascentionists. In an impressive and inspiring effort, Eric came heartbreakingly close to the (possibly never achieved) onsight. After sending the brutally pumpy underclinging of the first crux pitch, the Underfling, he fell on the second crux while stepping onto the belay ledge. After lowering back to the belay, he pulled the rope, retraced the sequential foot traversing and crystal crimping, and sent. After climbing a couple more pitches, we walked off The Chief at Bellygood Ledge and contemplated our next outing.
Reading in a guidebook that The Opal (5.13a) “might be considered the best face climbing on earth” I easily lured Eric with his appetite for thin face. In addition to cobwebs, we discovered a combination of burly crack climbing, contrived down climbing, and very dirty face climbing. Unbeknownst to us, the elegant black streaks running down the cover of Alpinist are rich with microbial life. Arriving at the top of the crux pitch, sunshine replaced the comfort of shade and illuminated the now green-brown wall above us. We happily rapped at the thought of running the rope between bolts in a sea of moss. On the ground, we hid our disappointment as curious parties eagerly greeted us and asked about our experience on one of Squamish’s gems.
Aware of The University Wall’s (5.12a) notorious reputation for physical, bizarre, and brilliant climbing, I scribbled
the wall of the way honed
at the end of my list thereby saving it for the end of my trip when I felt dialed and confident in my ability. However, after three weeks of gorgeous conditions, it poured. Hope for climbing dwindled with each day as I found myself attempting to make deals with the weather. With The University Wall’s reputation for staying wet after precipitation, I shifted sights for a chance to redpoint Zombie Roof (5.13a). Unwilling to negotiate, the clouds continued to dump. For my final offer in the bartering game, I proposed a day of bouldering. Unfortunately, we could not arrive at a deal. With technical climbing impractical, Greg and I fished for salmon. I went mountain biking with friends through lush forests. I ate sushi and contemplated the beauty of it all.
In retrospect, I am grateful for the privilege to dedicate myself with an almost singular focus to rock climbing for the month. The intoxicating hone which developed has now receded to potential as I shift my focus to other pursuits. Looking back with a smile, my world feels a little bigger now. My friend, Connell, reminds me that to exit is to enter. Departing Vancouver to San Diego, it seems impossible to know which way the door swivels.