It’s been a great spring on the coast here in Squamish. My girlfriend Jo Bulmer and I got started early, climbing Freeway in late March. For me, the best way to get fit for the summer season is to repeat all my favourite established multipitch classics. Its gets me in tune on the granite climbing routes below my limit, relearning how to weight my feet on less-than-vertical terrain. And beyond that, I just love Squamish’s long classics: they rate alongside the best granite freeclimbs in the world in my books.
In May, Sonnie Trotter, Peter Cross and I went to Yosemite. Peter is my designated attorney, and old friend from high school- not much of a climber, but perpetually game for anything. He just finished a long push at Law School in Calgary so he was stoked to shelve the books for a bit and climb a couple routes.
Sonnie and I went spirit-questing on El Cap. We discovered some cool pitches, but in the end, got shut down on some technical copperhead seam that seemed over our heads to free. Who knows, though- Tommy Caldwell never takes no for an answer on that sorta stuff, which I think is the right idea on El Cap free climbing. It’s always a joy to be up there nonetheless, swinging around, deciphering sequences. Its a place where you can let your imagination run wild.
It got blazing hot in the valley so we putt-putted the old purple van north to give Grand Illusion a try. Grand Illusion is a wildly overhaning corner first freed by Tony Yaniro in 1979. At 13c it ranked as perhaps the hardest route in the world at the time. And it is one hell of a gem. Perfect sierra granite, burly jamming, at a stellar crag that we had all to ourselves. I managed to do it with pre-placed gear. Sonnie, who had suffered a crack toenail in Yosemite, made many valiant efforts in the one climbing shoe/ one approach shoe combo, but came up short when his approach shoe curiously blew off the slick stone.
Since I’ve been home I’ve had a blast climbing at the this new crag called ‘The Longhouse’. The Longhouse is a remote bluff set way behind the Slihannay on the Chief. Charlie Long, Paul McSorley, Josh Lavigne and Colin Moorhead started developing the cliff and visiting Brit Hazel Findlay added a cool 5.13 pitch she dubbed the Adder Crack to the mix. I was happy to repeat the Adder Crack and add a new pitch: a 13a I called “Sacred Hunting Grounds”.
The highlight of the spring season came last weekend when Jo and I ventured up on the University Wall.
In 1982, Hamish Fraser, Greg Foweraker and Peter Croft freed the U-Wall at stout 12b. They deeked out left in two spots to avoid some blank looking corners. The lower corner, in particular, is jaw-dropping. From the pub to the post-office, this pitch calls out to be climbed. In ’87, Croft onsighted that corner, which hasn’t been repeated first try since despite attempts from some heavy hitters like Caldwell, Honnold and Trotter. I held my horses for years, waiting for that distant day when I felt fit enough to give it a solid first try.
Last year, I finally went up there, and fell off at the top. And that was the end of the dream. Last weekend I tried again, but with far less pressure. Focussing on the subtle granite movement, I chimneyed my way to the top of the pitch. Croft’s upper Shadow pitch proved more of a battle. The clouds were folding up on each other like an accordion to the south. The pitch was covered in that black slick Squamish lichen and crawling with little silverfish, or rock lobsters, as I like to call them. It was a classic gear battle- firing in small wires, willing my feet to stick, all the while getting pelted by fat raindrops, terrified that the deluge would begin any moment. I was really content to finally climb the Shadow on U-Wall to the Dance Platform without falling: perhaps not for the pure difficulty of it, but more so because it was a long-held dream. And the archetypal Squamish weather only added to the experience.
Next week I’m off to the Bugaboos to hopefully complete this project that Matt Segal and I spent all last summer bashing our heads against. I first saw it with Chris Brazeau in ’08 and I’ve been obsessing over it since. I can’t wait to drive down the old logging road and and start the march into the mountains.
The Old Grand Illusion.
Jo at the roof belay on Freeway.
Sonnie spirit questing.
A new pitch at the Longhouse. Sacred Hunting Grounds, 13a R.