At last the rain ceased, and at last I was able to go out and do some climbing with the copious number of friends I had made in the last week. If you remember from my post at the beginning of this trip, I wanted to do 25 lead climbs before my 25th birthday. The rain and snow that had been present throughout my time in Canada really made this difficult. I didn’t get any climbing in at Lake Louise, and I hadn’t planned on any climbing in Jasper anyway, thinking that Squamish would be my place.
I very quickly figured out that while Squamish certainly has sport climbing areas, it’s really the place to go if you are a trad climber. All the friends I met there were trad climbers, and the predominant climbing areas were all trad oriented. Thus, while I did meet my goal of 25 climbs before my 25th birthday, they were not all lead climbs. Seeing as this is a competition I had with no one but myself, I am more than happy to consider my goal met. And honestly, getting my hands on rock became an auxiliary achievement compared to the generous and enthusiastic friendships I made along the way.
The Smoke Bluffs became my home base. It’s right near downtown, it was a comfortable place to park each night, and it was easy to meet fellow climbers there. My first climb was with Reuben from Australia. We went up the lower apron of The Chief, the famous behemoth in Squamish. He lead on trad and I followed. It was my first experience in removing gear, and by “removing gear,” (for anyone reading who doesn’t know) I mean taking a piece called a “cam” out of a crack in the rock. The climber places the piece into a crack then feeds the rope through a carabiner on the opposite end, thereby creating an anchor that will prevent the climber from falling to the ground in the event that they loose their grip on the rock. Further explanation can be found HERE.
As you may well know or guess, learning how to place gear into rock correctly is very important and not a skill to take lightly. Thus, rather than have the responsibility of teaching me put on my new partners, I was happy to follow on the rope and remove the gear as I went. Together, Reuben and I did five pitches on the Apron, then moved back to Smoke Bluffs where I tried my first hand at crack climbing, and quickly fell in love.
The next time I went out climbing was on my birthday. I found a partner in Franjo through my friend Shira. We ventured north on the Sea to Sky Highway, out of the town of Squamish to Cheakamus canyon, otherwise known as the sport climbing area. (Side note about the Sea to Sky Highway: Signs for the exits for different state parks, canyons, picnic areas, etc are posted 2 km out from the turn, but not actually ON the turn, and there are lots of little FSRs that lead to nowhere, so it’s always a weird guessing game as to where the turn actually is. I can easily say that this made me learn how to gauge the distance of a kilometer better than anything, because the number of times I had to turn around after realizing I had missed my turn quickly became tedious. Why are there no signs AT the turns???)
Franjo and I took it easy on the first set of climbs, trying to find the dry routes. I felt very conservative up on the rock as it had been a while since I had hopped on any lead routes. The wet rock made it that much more thrilling and I found myself humming along in nervousness as I picked my way up the short and slippery routes. As nice as mellow routes are, they become a bit boring, so we decided to head to “Conroy’s Castle” for a two pitch route that supposedly had a nice view.
We got a bit turned around, and Franjo ended up leading a pretty burly 5.10d that was frankly waay to wet to climb. Thinking it was a multi-pitch, I followed, and found myself pulling on gear for the first time. There was simply no place to put my feet, and the climb was challenging anyway. I somehow managed to get my ass up the rock. Once there, however, it became clear that we were NOT on a multi-pitch. There was simply nowhere to go at the top.
We lowered and meandered around until we found the route we were actually looking for, a lovely multi named “Charlotte’s Web” that was remarkably dry (comparatively) and had a much more approachable rating of 5.9. That being said, it was still a tricky 5.9. A bit hair-raising at points despite the fact that I was on top-rope. The view from the top was pretty nice and of course I insisted on taking a dopey “summit selfie.”
Our way back to Squamish afforded me my first actual view of the Tantalus range, which before had been obscured by either darkness or clouds. Franjo was in a bit of a rush to get back to Squamish, “We have to meet Shira at the Smoke Bluffs!” he said, but he was willing to stop at the lookout so I could take a picture. There, a lovely Iranian family was having tea and watching the sunset. They shared a pumpkin cake with me, and I felt that my birthday was officially celebrated.
But as soon as we got back to Squamish, Franjo, impatient to meet Shira, shuffled me along to the Smoke Bluffs.
“Why are we meeting her here?” I asked, “It’s dark!”
“Just wait,” he said, “It’s just a quick walk to where they are.”
They? I thought.
We walked through the park, past the now quiet crags, the moon lighting our way, when we arrived at a little playground where the south side of the park meets up with some neighborhoods. There, Shira and a bunch of her friends were waiting for me so they could light the candles on the cake Shira had gotten for me for my birthday.
As I went to blow out the candles on my cake, although I could feel a cold settling in, and despite the fact that circumstances had prevented me from fully reaching my climbing goal, I felt there was no need to make any wishes. Kind friends were helping make my dreams come true. If I could say just one thing that my 25th year on earth has taught me, it’s that I can trust myself, even when things get a bit dark; and more than likely there will be someone else around who will want to share the way.
Thank you to all my kind friends; new, old, at home, and around the world for your love and support.
The Climbing List: now including top rope (TR) climbs by 09/20/2016
- 7-11 Spur, Allenspur, Paradise Valley, MT
- Gobis in the Dark (5.7)
- Jens (5.7)
- White Imperialist, Grassi Lake, Canmore, AB
- Gizmo (5.8)
- Guides Rock, Mt. Cory, Banff, AB
- Aftonroe- 4 out of 6 (5.7)
- The Golf Course, Grassi Lake, Canmore, AB
- Chip Shot (5.6)
- Hole in One (5.7)
- Gardener’s Wall, Grassi Lake, Canmore, AB
- Pothole Alley (5.9+)
- Burgers and Fries,The Smoke Bluffs, Squamish, BC
- Peaches and Cream (5.10a) TR
- Wall Area, The Smoke Bluffs, Squamish, BC
- Laughing Crack (5.7) TR
- Neat and Cool, The Smoke Bluffs, Squamish, BC
- Corn Flakes (5.6) TR
- Layback Flake (5.9) TR
- Stumps (5.7) TR
- Flying Circus (5.10a) TR
- The Apron, The Chief, Squamish, BC
- Rambles (5.8, 5 pitches) TR
- Foundation Wall, Chek Canyon, Sea to Sky Corridor, BC
- The Flaming Arete (5.7)
- Unnamed (5.8)
- Real TV (5.10a) TR
- Conroy’s Castle, Chek Canyon, Sea to Sky Corridor, BC
- Charlotte’s Web (5.9, 2 pitches) TR
TOTAL: 26 individual pitches climbed wooo!