Cracks and Slabs
Ever since we went to a talk about climbing in Canada from a colleague a few years ago, Squamish has been out list of top destinations to climb. The Chief, a huge granite cliff just rising straight out of the ground has been in the back of our minds since we got in our van Christoff just over a month ago.
Finally we have arrived in Squamish and after a month of sport climbing we are feeling stronger and more mentally equipped for some of the sends ahead. Neither of us have done as much sport climbing as this before coming to Canada and at first I wasn’t sure if it would really help with my Trad climbing. However I found once I got used to the fact that my protection was no longer my choice, I could focus more on the movements I needed to do like never before, rather than looking for protection, I started to look to link as many moves together as possible so that I would flow over the rock. I still looked ahead at times and thought, ‘I really hope I can get to the next bolt’ but once I left the last one I clipped that thought would disappear, I never wondered ‘if’ there was protection ahead, just ‘how’ I got to it.
We are hoping now that we can transfer this process to our trad climbing. Protection will move forward in our thoughts again but hopefully it won’t become a panic point, instead of ‘where is my next gear’ and getting flustered on a cruxy section it will become ‘keep moving, keep the flow, gear will appear even if you can’t see it right now.’
The weather in Squamish is more wet than Penticton because the mountains here are coastal, the climate more similar to a temperate rain forest. We have been here six days and managed 3 climbing so far, we could have done 4 but we needed a rest day. We have planned for a large amount of time in this area so a few rainy days shouldn’t hinder us in the long term.
Our first day out we headed to the Smoke Bluffs, Jereomy had recommended this area as a good training ground. It has a large number of climbs across the grades and it’s mostly single pitch so if we hit a problem it’s easy to escape. There was soo much to choose from in the guide book it was a struggle to decide where to go first. In the end we headed to a crag the book said was a little bit quieter and had some climbs in the 5.6 to 5.8 range.
Joining our team that day was our very good friend Helen, she had flown all the way from the UK to visit us and Steve ‘two scoops’ from the Skaha climbing squad. We went to the Lumberland area to start with and climbed some very easy 5.6 pitches, they were so easy that we jumped to 5.8 and even this didn’t feel particularly challenging. So after chatting to other climbers there we decided to head to Octopus Garden and here we found what we were looking for.
On first seeing the crag I was blown away, it was around 25 meters tall and the rock had very few features except for the big splitter cracks that ran from top to bottom. I was instantly intimidated.
There was only one 5.7 on the crag so Helen and Steve jumped on this one first while Matt and I did battle with the top 100 5.8 climb on the crag. It truly felt like you were doing battle with this climb, it needed to be done in true crack climbing style which we have very little to no experience with.
It was a painful endevour for our feet as we learnt this style of climbing on our way up. There is a lot of technique to getting your foot in a wedged and useable position and it really hurts if you have to stay still for a while, either placing gear or figuring out your next move. Our hand technique was not new to us because we had climbed laybacks and other different crack trypes. Combinging the two together in the same feature felt widly different to anything we had ever done before.
It was a blast of an afternoon as all four of us grunted and jammed our way up our very first crack climbs. I think it’s safe to say we are all now hooked on crack (climbing).
Helen is only over here for a few short weeks and she has a lot to see and do. She became the driving force behind getting us onto the Apron of the Chief on our second day, Matt and I had intended to get a bit more practice in the Smoke Bluffs before a big multi-pitch ascent. We made a plan to do the Rambles on the lower Apron, then depending on how we felt and how much time we had, we would look at to Diedre.
We had an early start to beat the crowds and were at the foot of the climb by 8.30am. The rambles was a great introduction to multi-pictch in the area. The first pitch was lead by Matt and was a very easy slab/crack combo at a really low angle.
Helen lead the 2nd pitch which was a beautiful rightwards trending crack, I am very jealous she got that pitch.
I got the last two pitches and ran them together to make one 30 meter pitch. Mine was a slab first pitch and finished with a steep hand crack that was a one move wander.
Over all it was a very cool climb and we were very happy when we realised we had done the whole thing by 10 am. We had expected to take 45 min per pitch as there were 3 of us. So with this speedy and easy ascent we set our eyes upon Diedre. There was a big traffic jam on it.
At first we were content to wait, we had plenty of time before dark and it was still early. About 20 min later we had changed our minds, it didn’t seem like any of the parties in front had moved and one party had decided to branch off and take a different route altogether. So we made a new plan, again driven by Helen, we went in search of Banana Peel.
We did a direct start to get to the 3rd pitch of it, this meant we shortened a traverse and didn’t have to go near Diedre. I found a line of bolts and decided that I would be able to lead it, I didn’t know the grade. Helen found out it was a 10b for me and that only made me want to do it more. It was a friction slab pitch, it was delicate and the bolts were very far apart, I loved it. Leading this pitch gave me a massive boost of confidence which came in handy for a pitch I lead later on.
We found route finding a bit difficult at this point, we hadn’t planned to do this climb and so our pictures of it from the guide book weren’t great but we managed to find a route description on line. We moved into what we thought was the belay for the top of the third pitch and Matt got ready to lead the 4th pitch.
We still don’t know what it was he lead. He ended up on the correct belay and the top half of his climb was correct but for the lower half he was way too far left because we hadn’t gotten the belay across enough. He did very well considering it was another section of friction slab and these were not his favourite.
Helen lead the next pitch, it was an easy and cool looking cracks at 5.4. For Helen the friction slabs felt just as alien to her as the crack climbing had the day before. If you looked at these slabs there were no obvious holds, you just had to rely on the friction of your rock shoes and the skin on your hands to keep you from falling.
The next pitch was mine again, it was a friction slab again but this time there were no bolts, no gear. There was gear once you reached a crack system about 12 meters away and I wasn’t going up, I was going sideways to get to it. The move onto the slab was 5.7 and then after that I’m not sure but I was still riding my confidence boost from the 10b send earlier so I just told myself ‘you’ve got this’. I’m not sure how I managed to stay composed for that long but there was a big sigh of relief once I placed my first piece of gear since leaving the belay. Matt and Helen followed behind and it was relief to everyone that no one took a tumble on that pitch.
The final two pitches were lead by Matt then Helen. Our minds were starting to relax into this strange friction slab style of climbing and so bodily functions came to the front, the most dominant being hunger. So while I belayed Matt, Helen got a sandwhich out and we took turns biting chunks out of it, Helen shoving it into my mouth when I needed a bite. It was a very funny expereince.
So we reached the top of Banana Peel in good spirits and decided that the top section of the Chief would wait for another day. We had conquered the Apron and now it was time to get down and eat more food. Helen may have needed a had on the way down….
So that was our introduction to Cracks and Slabs in Squamish. We have a lot of time in this area and we are looking forward to mastering the technique and hopefully pushing our grade.