Craic and Cracks: part two

By Gabe Oliver

Rain Stops Play… Sort of

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!

Best rest day ever!

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.

Cobra crack: climbing history

Between trying harder stuff, Elina and I spent a few days climbing together and just running round different parts of Squamish ticking as many of the Top 100 classics that we could find. There are really too many amazing routes in Squamish to list but these are some of the highlights we managed to get done:

  • Exasperator (5.10c) – At the base of The Grand Wall, the biggest baddest part of The Chief, Exasperator is a 50m mega, finger crack pitch. One of the best routes I’ve ever climbed anywhere!

  • Diedre (5.9) – Even after rain and fairly damp, this 200m dihedral on The Apron is world class and is great fun.

  • Rainy Day Dream Away (5.10c) – Hard, steep, finger crack near The Chief Campground. Came very close to taking a biiiiiig whipper off this one.

  • Octopus Garden (5.8) – One of the parts of Smoke Bluffs that’s harder to get to but I’ll walk through fire for a bullet straight hand crack!

  • Unearthly Delights (5.9) – Just next to Octopus Garden, it’s just another wonderful bit of crack climbing.

Tackling some of Squamish's wonderfully technical slabbiness

However, the best route BY FAR, came on my last day of climbing before I had to head back to the UK. Slhanay (sometimes called The Squaw), is another cliff on the same aspect as The Chief, tucked a little further up the valley away from Howe Sound. To be honest I'd previously overlooked it, focussing on other objectives in other areas of Squamish. On my final day, Elina and I climbed yet another Top 100 on Slhanay called The Great Game: 4 pitches, 5.10d. IT. WAS. AMAZING!!! The upper pitches followed a huge dihedral corner capped by a roof and super exposed traverse climbed on huge holds with 200m of air under your feet. It was just a brilliant way to end the trip.

Elina climbing The Great Game

Back Home

So yeah, Squamish is pretty special. It’s not just an amazing climbing destination but a community that thrives on outdoor sports. Climbers, windsurfers, mountain bikers, skiers, and kayakers all mingle together and enjoy this beautiful part of the world. I am most certainly planning to get back to Squamish in the near future, and will hopefully combine that with exploring even more of Canada. In terms of the climbing, the trip was about as good as I could have hoped for. I have left Squamish with more routes on my to-do list than I had when I arrived (which always seems to be the case) but the routes I have done were incredible and have whet my appetite to return and to continue to explore the granite walls of this area. So if you’re reading this and thinking “Phwoar that sounds good!”, get online and book your tickets. You won’t regret it.

Me climbing Exasperator

The Chief in all its glory

Happy craggers

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