Bri Goes to Squamish

Story by Bri Wills

In case you didn’t know, Misty Mountain frequently employs climbers at their factory just outside of Boone, NC.  Why they do this is beyond me.  Their rock climber employees frequently roll into work late, are more often than not trying to sneak out early (to climb obviously), and on top of all of that they’re constantly asking for time off to go on climbing trips.  Fortunately for Misty I don’t consider myself a rock climber anymore and out of all the climbers they employ (even though I’m not really a climber) I would be voted “Most likely to actually work 40 hours a week.”

Upper Malamute
View of the Pacific from Upper Malamute.

But when my friend Lana* told me she was going to be living in Squamish for four months I knew immediately that I had to go visit her.  Squamish, for those of you who don’t know, is located in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast.  Squamish is also a destination spot for outdoor lovers; it has everything.  Squamish has top quality multi-pitch trad climbing, bouldering, and sport climbing.  Not to mention amazing hiking, mountain biking, alpine climbing, wind surfing, and world class blackberry picking just to rattle off a few more recreational pursuits it has to offer.

*Lana and I met seven years ago our freshman year at Appalachian State.  We lived next door to each other in our dorm and I approached Lana one day about going to the App State climbing wall together.  And that ladies and gentleman is how Lana and I got into rock climbing.  We have been great friends and climbing partners ever since.  Lana is now a total badass, and I’m not just saying this because she actually tops out boulder problems and can lead climb.

Even though I don’t consider myself a “real climber” anymore (I down climb boulder problems because I refuse to top them out, I haven’t tried to lead a route since that whipper I took in 2011, and my favorite climbing activity is actually napping on my crash pad).  I’ve always wanted to go to Squamish.  Tim Hortons is reason enough to go to Canada (fast food doughnuts! Now that is an experience you can’t miss out on!)  So Misty allowed me to take some time off to go to Canada (but only after I promised to actually rock climb while I was there, and you know, write a blog post about it once I got back).

My first few days in Squamish, Lana gently eased me into granite crack climbing by taking me up some of the classics in the Smoke Bluffs.  They were all amazing and some of my favorites included; Old Age, Jabberwocky, Wonderland (this route has an interesting section where you can belly flop up onto a narrow ledge and wiggle your way to the anchors, mimicking the slugs that you can find all over the trails in Squamish), and Pixie Corner.  I immediately became addicted to crack (uh climbing).  I actually think top roping crack climbs is my calling.  Finally a type of climbing where you are almost encouraged to climb as awkwardly as possible.  These moves even have names!  They are techniques!  Chicken wings and knee bars and belly flopping onto ledges (that last one might not actually be a technique!)

Squamish Wonderland
Wiggling my way along Wonderland. This is the beta I swear!

But by far the best and most memorable day was the day we climbed The Chief.  My biggest mulit-pitch climb before the Chief was a five pitch route at Idaho’s City of Rocks, so needless to say I was quite intimidated with the thought of having to more than double that amount of pitches.  But with Lana as my rope gun, and our decision to stick to the easiest possible routes up the Chief, I felt like it was at least possible.  Plus we could bail after the Apron* if necessary.

*The Apron is a large slab that gently slopes up to what is refereed to as the Squamish Buttress and has a myriad of classic climbs on it, you can also hike off at the point.

We started out later in the morning, to try and miss out on some of the waiting in line (Squamish being a major climbing destination is frequently crowded, especially the easier classic routes, which are of course the only routes a non-climber like myself can manage to grovel up).  Unfortunately it took us about an hour to get up our first route called Rambles.  However it was definitely worth the wait as we got started on our next route, Diedre. Diedre is one of the most classic climbs on the Apron, and for a good reason.  It follows a splitter corner crack at a very moderate angle. Perfect for a crack climbing and multi-pitch newbie like myself.

Diedre takes you to the top of the Apron, where you can hike back down or keep climbing to the top of the Chief.  We decided to push on and climb the Chief via the Butt Face.  We started up on a route called Boomstick Crack.  While following Lana up this pitch I somehow managed to drop one of her cams… whooops!  I had just started the route and there is a wide ledge below (the Broadway Ledge), so it didn’t have far to fall, but I was unable to communicate with Lana and had no way to down climb.  I was perched precariously on the crack, feeling the tug of Lana trying to belay me along when another group of climbers topped out a climb onto the Broadway Ledge.  They were kind enough to throw the cam up to me (I have zero hand eye coordination so a feat in itself that I actually caught it) and I was on my way again.

After Boomstick we had a quick hike in the woods to the base of our next climb.  I am not sure what the name of this pitch is (I think it might be the first pitch of the Squamish Buttress) but it had a tricky slabby section protected with a bolt. After that we had a quick unroped “scramble” and then two pitches left.  Lana and I had talked about roping up for the scramble but after looking at it I thought, “Oh yeah, no problem I can do that.”  Lana started up while I tied the rope on to my back and followed after her.  About half way up I froze.  I called up to Lana, “Nope. No way, can’t do it without a rope.”

I would like to thank Lana for her patience at this point in the day as I had a mini freak out.  Lana did not feel comfortable down climbing the scramble and there was no way I was going up without the safety and comfort of the top rope that I had come to know and love.  I immediately told Lana to just leave me behind, I preferred being left alone somewhere on the Chief for the mosquitoes to devour then climb this thing without a rope!).  Have I mentioned that Lana’s boyfriend soloed these routes along with us all day?  And that the first time Lana did this scramble she did it in her sandals… at night.  Fortunately Lana ignored my whining and after a few moments of panic, we figured out that I could just toss Lana up the end of the rope (easier said than done, as I have mentioned before, catching and throwing things are not my strengths).  Once on top rope I was able to quickly and easily scramble up the scramble.

Squamish Scramble
This was the “scramble”. See, these guys roped up for it too! (Picture from google images.)

At this point in the day the amount of pitches we had left seemed to be growing.  I was exhausted, shoveling trail mix into my mouth while Lana was racking up for the final two pitches.  I asked Lana how many pitches were left, “Oh just two… plus a pitch of easy climbing… and a scramble to the top.” (See there were always more pitches being added on!!!)  The last two pitches, were of course two of the hardest of the day (okay so the hardest came in at 5.9 but I was so tired by this point!).

Squamish Final Pitch
Lana getting ready to lead our final pitch.

The final pitch was a 5.8 chimney, and was probably the most mentally challenging climb of the whole trip for me.  Having almost no chimney climbing experience the scariest part was exiting the chimney.  This moment was especially memorable as I was quaking with fear and called up to Lana to take up and she replied “Bri, I can’t take anymore,” and I yelled back “Please, try!”  Moments like this are why I can’t call myself a real rock climber anymore.  I eventually forced myself to leave the safety of the chimney.  Finally Lana and I made it to the top of the Chief at about 8:30 in the evening.  And we still had to hike down and ride our bikes back home.  Even though I was terrified for at least half of the day finally standing on top of the Chief was worth it.

Psyched that we made it before nightfall!

Lana and I rounded out the rest of my visit climbing a few more classics in other areas.  Skywalker is a must do as far a moderate routes goes.  It’s a great five pitch climb that takes you conveniently close to some pools above Shannon Falls, taking a quick dip before the hike down is definitely the beta.  Lana also gave me a quick intro of some of the great bouldering Squamish has to offer.  Lana has a circuit dialed and it includes such classics as Squamish Days, American Gigilo, and Superfly.

Lana running laps on Superfly.