Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Squampton! - Rock On to the Squamish Buttress

Ah the life of a climber in Portland - driving, driving and more driving in search of granite. Every summer, Kristin and I make at least one northerly pilgrimage to Squamish, BC in search of long routes laced with beautiful cracks. Set high above Howe Sound, the granite walls of the Chief offer some of the best multi-pitch trad climbing in the Pacific Northwest. Coastal rain forest eventually gives way to clean granite cracks unearthed from layers of moss and dirt by generations of dedicated climbers. Several hundred feet up the wall, all alone with you and your partner, you can enjoy sweeping views of old-growth forest, salmon streams, waterfalls and alpine ridges topped by snow-capped peaks and the queen of the area - Mt. Garibaldi. This places keeps drawing us back year after year.
From Rock On to the Squamish Buttress
Last weekend, we rolled into Squampton on Friday morning and went to do some local cragging in the Smoke Bluffs. With sweltering temperatures, we had a pretty nondescript day on moderate routes, trying our best to stay in the shade (with the mosquitos). At the end of the day, we were walking back to the parking lot from the Zip, turned the corner on the well traveled trail, and came face-to-face with a large black bear that must have weighed 400 pounds. My adrenal glands pumped me full of mojo as my first instinct was to turn and flee. A split second later I stopped to look back, and the big guy had already slipped back into the bush near the wetlands at the base of the Smoke Bluffs.

That incident brought back memories from the last time we were in Squamish, when stories were circulating about a large cougar who had stolen a small dog off of some lady's leash on the main tourist trail up the Chief. I was pumped up enough after a casual encounter with a black bear. I can only imagine what that experience must have been like.

Anyway, by Saturday morning, we were ready to stretch our legs and move on to something a bit longer. We decided initially on Rock On to the Ultimate Everything. We had only climbed Rock On once before and experienced the route's notorious early season wetness, and we had never been on the UE. Knowing ti would be a long day and wanting to be out front, we were up at 5 am and racked up at the base of Rock On by 6:45-ish.

The 4-5 pitches of Rock On were pure cracky joy! The climbing was better than I remembered it (probably because it was dry), and we managed to top out by around 10 am or so.

From Rock On to the Squamish Buttress
Looking back down from the middle of the crux pitch.

The crux .10a pitch can be lead in two shorter pitches or one longer 50m stretch of a beautiful corner system, starting out with a steep finger crack, moving into hands, back into fingers for the crux moves, and then back into steep hands over the final bulge. Definitely lead it all in a single go if you've got the endurance and the gear, because it makes for an incredibly fun pitch straight through to the anchors.

From Rock On to the Squamish Buttress
50m of sweetness!

From Rock On to the Squamish Buttress
Kristin cleaning the crux.

From Rock On to the Squamish Buttress
Another shot of Kristin on the crux pitch.

After we topped out on Rock On, we decided to change plans and climb the Squamish Buttress instead of the UE. We were hoping to stay in the shade and shorten the day a bit. Kristin had never been on it before, and I had only climbed it once without leading the crux pitch. We didn't have a topo, but I remembered the whole thing being pretty cruisy, so I figured we'd just follow the highway to the top.

The highlight of the whole day may have been getting passed just before the crux pitch by a soloist, who was clearly new to the area and going for the on-site of the Buttress. Apparently he had asked the party behind us whether this was even the right route, and he then cruised by me and sent the .10c crux.

From Rock On to the Squamish Buttress
Bold Soloing!

I watched him stop at the heel-to-toe no hands rest at the crux , and he had a couple of nervous moments as he felt out the moves leading to the top out. He stayed composed and pulled through, much to my relief. Not exactly my cup of tea, but impressive to watch nonetheless.

After he disappeared, I eventually lead the crux pitch, clipping two fixed wires and a pin in the corner. I actually thought the lower part where you have to move from right to left into a different crack system was the crux for me. Up high, it felt more like a sport route with so much fixed gear and a good no hands rest. But it was steep and fun!! What a great pitch.

From Rock On to the Squamish Buttress
Kristin Cleaning up the crux pitch of the Buttress

We topped out around 1:30-1:45 and were treated to the usual amazing views of the surrounding territory. What a day! What a place! What'd I do with the chocolate bar?

From Rock On to the Squamish Buttress
Kristin lounging on top

From Rock On to the Squamish Buttress
Summit Shot!

Squamish rocks!! I can't wait for the next trip. Who's in?


  1. "Ah the life of a climber in Portland - driving, driving and more driving"
    Spot on! Enjoying the virtual climbing trip thru. your blog. Great stuff. Cheers.

  2. Thanks Radek. Cool site you got there.