Craic and Cracks: part two

Craic and Cracks: part two

By Gabe Oliver

Squamish climbing two, exploring Canada's premier climbing destination.

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.

Ah the west coast rain, I had been warned about this… Although honestly, after such a big few days, a few days of rest were very welcome, giving me the chance to chill out at the hostel and recover a bit. The Squamish Adventure Inn is a relatively new hostel on the south edge of Squamish run specifically for climbers, mountain bikers, walkers etc. It’s an absolutely beautiful hostel and perfectly situated for all the climbing you can shake a stick at.

One of the great things about Squamish is there is always something else to do when the rain comes. On the second day, I felt like getting out and was invited to sample some of the renown Squamish mountain biking with a couple of the locals. Now I am definitely no mountain biker, in fact the last time I was on a mountain bike was two years ago. Despite struggling to keep up with my tour guides, it was good fun nonetheless and the morning rain had made the trails soft and muddy which made for some exciting riding. The weather improved massively in the evening, and we sat out on the lawn behind the local golf club and drank quite a lot of beer. As rest days go, probably one of the best I’ve had!

I managed to sneak out for a day of climbing at Smoke Bluffs before the rain returned, giving me the opportunity to see something that was high on my Squamish to-do list. If you’re a climber, you think Squamish, you think Cobra Crack. Cobra Crack was the centre piece of a 2006 climbing film called First Ascent, which documented the battle between Sonnie Trotter and Didier Berthod to claim this almighty test piece. I remember watching this film over and over again when I was first getting into climbing and being in awe of the thing. Naturally, when I was planning this trip, I knew that it was a landmark I had to see for myself. The Cobra is hidden around the back of The Chief and it takes a little while to hike to from the campground, but once you get close you really get a sense that you’re in the right place. The steep granite walls just get bigger and bigger, becoming more intimidating the further you venture. All of a sudden you round a corner and there it is: a huge shield of completely clean, bulletproof, impenetrable rock with a perfect arching finger crack up the centre. It is an absolutely ridiculous line, and I even held The Earlmaker; the homemade fingerboard which has all the names of the silly people who’ve climbed it on the back – a really cool bit of climbing history!

Second Bite of the Granite Cherry

Inspired by the sight of Cobra Crack, I was super psyched to make the most of my second week in Squamish and my focus shifted to trying some of the harder routes that I had come across so far. One of the best things about crack climbing, without stating the obvious, is that they’re cracks… ergo you can stuff them full of gear and try really hard without risking your life. A couple of particular routes that I had my eye on were Yorkshire Gripper (5.11b) and Werewolves of London (5.11a) up at Smoke Bluffs and I got on both of them in the same day. Although I didn’t manage to get them clean, it was great to push myself out of comfort zone a bit. There’s a sadistic satisfaction in getting yourself scared on a route and being so pumped that you can barely untie your ropes.

Bouldering Mats

Small bouldering pad for sit starts and up-close impacts, 80 x 50 x 6cm
Taco bouldering mat for your local circuit, 100 x 100 x 8cm
£119.99 £149.99
Large taco bouldering pad for frequent boulderers, 134 x 100 x 11cm
Hinge style pad ideal for frequent boulderers, 100 x 132 x 11cm
£199.99 £249.99
Cordura® chalk bag with waist strap for sport, trad or bouldering
£16.99 £27.99
A 100% natural balm for repairing tired and damaged skin
£6.39 £9.99
Moisturising skin creme to keep active skin hydrated
£7.99 £9.99

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