Craic and Cracks: part one

By Gabe Oliver

There are so many things to love about Canada. It is a progressive, forward-thinking country both socially and politically, it has true wilderness that is still accessible, the wild life is fantastic, there are tons of mountains; they have cold winters with reliable snowfall and hot summers with a lot of sunshine, and the people are just as lovely as the stereotype would have you believe.

When I left Canada in 2012, I knew for sure that I wanted to go back. 5 weeks wasn't enough time to explore any further than Banff, Jasper, and Canmore in the Rocky Mountain region of Alberta. There was so much more of the country to see but it wasn’t until May this year that I got the chance to go back. If you’re a climber, one of the first things that come to mind when someone says 'Canada' is Squamish. It’s one of those places that you’re always seeing photos of, watching videos of, reading articles about, or generally just spending a lot of time wishing you could visit. Along with Yosemite, Indian Creek, Red Rocks and Zion (to name a few…), it is definitely one of the climbing meccas of the North American continent.

Arriving in Squamish

One of the best things about Squamish is how accessible it is, even from the UK. A 9 hour flight and a 2 hour bus journey and you’re staring up at metre after metre of immaculate granite. Even the bus journey isn’t your bog-standard bumble along a motorway. The Vancouver-Pemberton Greyhound bus takes you up the Highway 99, a.k.a The Sea-to-Sky Highway. Sea-to-Sky is definitely an apt name for one of the most spectacular roads I’ve ever seen. Squamish itself sits at the top of the Howe Sound, which is a huge network of fjords connected to the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and mainland Canada. From the highway you get a first class vista as you’re driving towards Squamish; the crystal blue sea glinting in the sun, steep-sided bluffs and mountains coated thickly in coniferous forest, and eagles soaring overhead.

The Chief, Squamish

As you get closer to Squamish you are greeted by The Stawamus Chief, a 700m high dome of perfect, white, glacial granite forming 3 peaks and towering over the town of Squamish. Instantly, it becomes clear why The Chief is spoken about with the same reverence as Yosemite and why the guidebook for Squamish reads with a lot of the names that are also synonymous with that other great North American climbing area. It is an understatement to say The Chief is intimidating, however, there are definitely some bits that are more amenable. The lower reaches are significantly more slabby than the upper walls, and there are routes to the top as low as 5.9 (about British VS).

Early Exploration

A lot of people had been taken aback when I said I was going to Squamish by myself specifically for a climbing trip, but truly it couldn’t have been easier! By the time I arrived in Squamish I had met Elina, a German girl who would be my most reliable climbing partner for the two weeks. By the end of the Sea-to-Sky Highway drive, we had plans to head out that afternoon with another guy called Lawrence who I had found through the Squamish Rock Climbing Facebook Group.

Octopus Garden area, Smoke Bluffs

We spent the initial few days exploring some of the easier to reach crags and bluffs from Squamish town centre. Smoke Bluffs is a collection of mostly single pitch crags that are between 5 and 30 minutes walk from where I was staying at the Squamish Adventure Inn. Although they’re spread out, there are a whole bunch of world class routes from desperate friction slabs to soaring splitter finger and hand cracks. Just out of town there is also The Malamute; kind of like a mini-Chief, this buttress sits above the water and the logging yards of the Howe Sound. Between the two, they provide the perfect introduction to climbing on the bullet hard British Columbian granite, as well as a great proving ground ahead of tackling something bigger.

What a view! Taken fom the top of St Vitus' Dance

That was exactly what we did! After the first 2 or 3 days, we decided to set our sights on The Chief. The Apron is a section of The Chief's 1st peak which is about 200m tall and at an easy, amenable angle the whole way. Numerous routes across The Apron provide a variety of options to access the upper walls, linking multiple routes to the summit. Elina, Lawrence and I picked out a Top 100 called St Vitus’ Dance (5.9). The route followed strong cracklines through The Apron slabs and linked (via two single pitch routes) to Squamish Buttress and The Butt Light, bringing us to the summit of the first peak. The sunny spell ran its course and the clouds came in, bringing with them pleasant cooler temperatures ideal for moving up the wall fast, even as a team of three. All in all, we climbed 14 pitches of rock, approximately 600m in about 8 hours plus a bit of time to get back down to the hostel. To date, it is the biggest route I have done and hopefully a good starting point to climb some bigger and harder routes in Squamish and elsewhere!

Lawrence and I: all smiles on the Chief

Myself, Elina, and Lawrence: three very happy climbers at the top of St Vitus' Dance,

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