The Sher­iff’s Badge of Squamish

Over 50 Years of Cut­ting-Edge Climb­ing

Gripped - - CONTENTS - by Kieran Brownie

It was July 2016 and my feet were numb; the har­ness I had been sit­ting in for the last four hours had cut through the fat of my thighs and was re­strict­ing blood flow. I cursed my­self for not bring­ing a be­lay seat as I awk­wardly leaned away from the wall to get a glimpse of Will Stan­hope, just be­low me, but 30 feet away as he en­tered the Escher-es­que hor­i­zon­tal mon­stros­ity that pro­trudes dra­mat­i­cally half-way up the Sher­iff’s Badge.

In 1962, 25 years be­fore Stan­hope was born, Fred Beckey, Les Mac­don­ald and Hank Mather had skirted the up­per ridge of this wall, the An­gel’s Crest has seen thou­sands of as­cents since it was first climbed due to the un­ri­valled po­si­tion atop the Badge – it pro­vides many climbers with their first taste of an alpine ad­ven­ture. Although Beckey scooped the ul­tra-clas­sic ridge line, lo­cal climbers were still eye­ing the out­ra­geous gold pen­tan­gle rockscar be­low; one could es­ti­mate it be­ing 500 me­tres tall, two-thirds of which are over­hung, and then there was the Big Roof – would it even go? What would hap­pen if it did? In 1976 Paul Prio and Greg Shan­nan couldn’t re­sist their curiosity any longer; The Sher­iff’s Badge A4 was cut­ting-edge for the area, Prio and Shan­nan es­tab­lished a new standard for the lo­cals to test them­selves against. Steve Sut­ton aid-soloed it shortly af­ter, one of the first ma­jor solo walls in Squamish.

As was the sta­tus quo at the time, all as­cents were ground-up and thus a by-any-means methodology was nec­es­sary, but once word was out that a route was pos­si­ble it was just a mat­ter of time un­til some­one came along to realize the climbs po­ten­tial. For in­stance, An­gel’s Crest was climbed in two parts, at first Beckey et al ap­proached via the North Gully, ac­cess­ing the ridge just be­low the Acro­phobes. Beckey would re­turn later with Eric Bjorn­stad to climb the lower pitches. At the time, climbers couldn’t be both­ered to con­sider such mat­ters as free climb­ing, first-as­cents were to be had. In 1975, 15 years af­ter the first as­cent, Dave Loecks, P. Charak and L. DuBois would climb An­gel’s Crest from the ground, with­out aid.

The un­der­ly­ing com­pet­i­tive na­ture in the climb­ing com­mu­nity has al­ways been to im­prove upon the style of pre­vi­ous as­cents. If it can be climbed in five days, can it go in one? If it can be aided, can it go free? If it can be red-pointed, can it be on­sighted? If it can be on­sighted, can it be free-soloed? It is a form of dis­til­la­tion, the process of many gen­er­a­tions slowly boil­ing down a dis­ci­pline to its essence. The cathar­tic pur­suit, though pu­ri­fy­ing, is born from cer­tain en­er­gies that can also cause great harm. As in the in­ci­den­tal (and un­in­ten­tional) first prospec­tive “in a day” as­cent of the Sher­iff’s Badge in 2000 – when the leader, Chris Geisler, took an un­ex­pected fall in mun­dane ter­rain and broke his leg, forc­ing a re­luc­tant re­treat. Geisler is no stranger to this wall though, and no slouch – his new-age A5 route The Temp­ta­tion of St. An­thony stood as the least likely route to be re­peated (ever). That was un­til in 2011, when 23-year-old Marc-An­dré Le­clerc be­gan ex­plor­ing the seven-pitch route as a free climb. Apart from adding a vari­ant to the se­cond pitch (which he aided, plac­ing pro­tec­tion bolts on lead) Le­clerc did not al­ter the route, even when faced with pitch-four where a thin white dyke splits a black wall. Three bolts pro­tect the first 30 me­tres of se­ri­ous climb­ing up to 5.12+ and the dif­fi­culty re­lents for the fi­nal 20 me­tres. This pitch, which Le­clerc named Cere­bral For­ni­ca­tion; went free at 5.12d r/x in 2013, closing a

two-year project that had re­quired hun­dreds of hours of ef­fort from Le­clerc and friends.

This is the new standard, th­ese new-wave as­cents of­ten re­quire odi­ous amounts of work to pre­pare. Cracks choked with dirt and rain­for­est must be ex­ca­vated, loose blocks trun­dled and, for the harder pitches, the holds need to be cleaned. In mod­ern day Squamish, so much of the bedrock has been ex­posed that it al­most seems as if it was al­ways this way, but with­out heavy clean­ing prac­tices most of the gran­ite would still be buried un­der a foot of dirt and moss, ex­cept for the steep­est walls. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of hours of hard labour have gone into pre­par­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence for us. It is a mas­sive ef­fort, one that started small in the mid 1970s as a new gen­er­a­tion of climbers be­came in­ter­ested in push­ing the ath­letic stan­dards on the smaller rocks, crags which the hard­core had con­sid­ered pid­dly, mere step­ping stones on the path to the alpine. Why bother wast­ing time on “prac­tice rocks” they would say. But it is in this era, some­times re­ferred to as “the golden age,” that Squamish climb­ing as we see it to­day be­gan to take shape. A ded­i­cated group were be­gin­ning to feel their way up the gran­ite, squan­der­ing the un­quench­able en­ergy of their youth on pur­suits con­sid­ered mean­ing­less among the main­stream cul­ture.

Their names are linked to routes that are sought af­ter by thou­sands of climbers each year: Perry Beck­ham, Scott Cos­grove, Peter Croft, Tami Knight, Hamish Fraser and Eric We­in­stein (among many oth­ers). They are linked to a pe­riod of Squamish climb­ing that par­al­leled the Stone Masters in Yosemite. It was an era of free­dom and of ex­plor­ing the un­known for those with the priv­i­lege to do so. The lo­cal free-climb­ing stan­dards rose rapidly; 5.12 be­came the new norm be­gin­ning with Eric We­in­stein’s 5.12a Sen­try Box at Mur­rin Park in ’75, fol­lowed by a host of hard

“As in the in­ci­den­tal (and un­in­ten­tional) first prospec­tive ‘in a day’ as­cent of the Sher­iff’s Badge in 2000 – the leader, Chris Geisler, took an un­ex­pected fall in mun­dane ter­rain and broke his leg, forc­ing a re­luc­tant re­treat.”

climbs around Squamish, most of which still stand as test-pieces for the mod­ern “trad smith.” As they worked their way through the plums, a few of the tribe be­gan to take th­ese new abil­i­ties to the big stone. In 1981, Perry Beck­ham and Blake Robinson ex­plored a strik­ingly clean di­he­dral on the bot­tom left edge of the Sher­iff’s Badge and a year later, Beck­ham freed the route at 5.12a with Mike Beaubien and John Simp­son. Simp­son re­turned that year and soloed a se­cond pitch, prep­ping it for Beck­ham and Beaubien who un­locked it be­fore con­tin­u­ing up to com­plete a third pitch, which Croft freed af­ter on­sight­ing the first two pitches with Hamish Fraser. By the end of 1982, The Daily Planet was three pitches long, still shy of the great roof, and the way for­ward was un­clear and con­sid­ered damn near im­pos­si­ble.

Be­fore 1982 was over, Beck­ham, Beaubien and Simp­son es­tab­lished an­other route in the area called Blaz­ing Sad­dles. It’s a clas­sic 5.10 crack on the left edge of the Ter­race (the ramp that ac­cesses The Daily Planet). Croft would re­turn to the Ter­race in ’84 to free As­tron­omy (orig­i­nally Mad English­man and Poo­dle A1) at 5.12b, slightly up­ping the ante. McLane and Beck­ham joined forces in 1985, adding a three-pitch 5.11+ called Hot Rod, also off the Ter­race. One year later, Beck­ham was back, adding a fourth pitch at 5.12b to The Daily Planet with Brooke San­dahl. They came within arm’s reach of the mas­sive roof be­fore call­ing it off. Beck­ham would re­turn in ’89, alone, with his fo­cus on the cen­tre of the wall and the pos­si­bil­ity of a new aid route. He re­treated af­ter three pitches, but his in­fat­u­a­tion with the wall would reach be­yond the golden age. In 1999, when Matt Mad­daloni and Damien Kelly (the up-and-com­ing young guns) were re­peat­ing the Sher­iff’s Badge route, they spot­ted bolts in the mid­dle of nowhere that they ques­tioned Beck­ham about upon their re­turn. Beck­ham, seem­ingly caught up in the flow of life, started as if he had for­got­ten to turn the oven off and a few days later, and 10 years af­ter it be­gan, he topped-out Cow­boys and In­di­ans A3, solo. It is one of the most out­stand­ing mod­er­ate aid lines on The Chief in terms of po­si­tion and qual­ity of rock. Dur­ing Beck­ham’s decade-long hia­tus dur­ing the ’90s, the Badge had seen more con­tri­bu­tions. In ’97 Su­san Bolton, David Har­ris and Eric Hirst linked dis­con­tin­u­ous crack sys­tems above the Ter­race to­ward the lower pitches of An­gel’s Crest and called it Bor­der­line 5.10d. It’s an­other “clas­sic” by to­day’s stan­dards and is a vari­a­tion to Beckey’s An­gel’s Crest. It adds a few bonus pitches of de­light­ful 5.10 climb­ing to an al­ready stel­lar out­ing.

Mad­daloni and Kelly were among a new gen­er­a­tion of climbers that had ar­rived. In 1996, Skull Fuck, a techno-aid A5 night­mare through the en­tirety of the white wall, was cre­ated by the in­creas­ingly agro duo of Sean Isaac and S. Eas­ton (their Cana­dian Alpine Jour­nal en­try is both hi­lar­i­ous and hor­ri­fy­ing). The se­cond as­cent was quickly claimed by Chris Geisler, solo, which he de­scribed as no-big-deal de­spite com­mut­ing from his tent to his high-point ev­ery day, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously or­ga­niz­ing an in­sur­ance claim. In 1999, An­drew Boyd would make his con­tri­bu­tion with Der­rick Horne and Mike Mott. I Shot the Sher­iff A4 is a com­mit­ting line on the less ex­plored right side of the Badge; the wall is steep and scale is easy to lose as the im­pos­ing roof crowds your pe­riph­eries. As the mil­len­nium loomed, the Badge was

be­gin­ning to fill in with the imag­i­na­tive vi­sions of four gen­er­a­tions of Squamish climber and, as a re­sult, the ques­tion was no longer would it go free, but when.

In 2001, Croft re­turned from his adopted home range of the Cal­i­for­nian Sier­ras to catch up with friends in his old stomp­ing ground. Plans were made to re­visit The Daily Planet. Hamish Fraser, who Croft has de­scribed as the best climber you’ve never heard of, along with Greg Fow­er­aker had been eye­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of free­ing the Big Roof and con­tin­u­ing to the top of the badge. The three climbers spent sev­eral days pok­ing at the prob­lem, ex­plor­ing ev­ery di­rec­tion un­til they fi­nally dis­cov­ered a way through the Roof in the dark rock off to the left. Croft aided the last two pitches with Dave Humphreys to reach the wall’s log­i­cal fin­ish, Sasquatch Ledge, where they fixed ropes for easy ac­cess. Croft and Fow­er­aker spent a day scrub­bing in the rain to pre­pare th­ese pitches and on the last day of the trip, Croft and Fraser freed the five-pitch ad­di­tion de­spite the lin­ger­ing wet­ness. They named it The Fortress (of Soli­tude) to hon­our the seem­ingly im­pen­e­tra­ble Big Roof. A won­der­ful ex­am­ple of Crofts re­solve is printed in the 2001 Cana­dian Alpine Jour­nal en­try: “On the down­side there was no shin­ing sum­mit, I had to yo-yo the wet 5.12 pitch and worst of all, Greg [Fow­er­aker] wasn’t there. On the up­side, we got but­tered in mud and af­ter fin­ish­ing our climb af­ter sun­set, had to feel our way down in pitch dark, on all fours, like bugs. Per­fect.”

In 2015, 40 years af­ter the first as­cent of the Sher­iff’s Badge, Tony McLane and Jorge Aak­er­maan set off from the top of The Daily Planet, forg­ing into ter­rain deemed un­climbable by their he­roes. The vi­sion was a new free vari­a­tion to the top of the wall that would solve the prob­lem of the Big Roof, once and for all. Where Croft and Fraser had gone left, The Daily Uni­verse tra­versed right, join­ing the orig­i­nal Sher­iff’s Badge aid route through the Big Roof via a se­ries of dif­fi­cult boul­der prob­lems. In the end, they sent a new 17-pitch 5.12c free-route.

This is where we started the story, with Will Stan­hope con­sid­er­ing his next move. He gave the se­quence a fi­nal thought be­fore com­mit­ting, with his feet tucked into his chest, his hands al­most at the same level and be­low him a thou­sand feet of air. He gen­er­ated force through some in­ef­fa­ble means and hoisted him­self up­wards, stab­bing a long arm at a shal­low pocket un­der the main roof, he missed. The air rushed up to greet him as he plum­meted. He stared up at the spot he just came from, a slow “fuck” es­caped his lips as he slowly ro­tated at the end of the rope, now level with Tony McLane at the be­lay. The climb­ing is phys­i­cal and un­for­giv­ing, no place for sub­tleties or se­cond chances. Stan­hope swang back to the be­lay and un­tied, pulling the rope to give the pitch an­other go, only to come fly­ing off a se­cond time.

A few weeks later, I found my­self at the lip of the Big Roof again. Stan­hope had sent the boul­der prob­lem and was bat­tling to turn the lip, but just as he seemed to solve the se­quence, he was pumped off the rock on the fi­nal moves. Af­ter he rested for a minute, the climb­ing ap­peared mun­dane – so close. About 50 me­tres of dy­namic moves be­tween slop­ers weave be­tween patches of fri­able rock with a mix­ture of bolts and cracks. By the time they fin­ished climb­ing it was dark and their long descent was il­lu­mi­nated by cell­phone. Stan­hope’s ground-up ef­forts were im­pres­sive but, as of yet, the route has not seen a se­cond free as­cent.

Over the course of al­most 60 years, the white stone of the Sher­iff’s Badge has re­flected the val­ues and de­sires of a tena­cious group of in­di­vid­u­als. Their clothes have changed, the equip­ment is now re­fined and the style has pro­gressed, but the same ques­tion that has burned brightly in the imag­i­na­tions of each gen­er­a­tion: what’s next?

“Croft and Fow­er­aker spent a day scrub­bing in the rain to pre­pare th­ese pitches and on the last day of the trip, Croft and Fraser freed the five-pitch ad­di­tion de­spite the lin­ger­ing wet­ness.”

Op­po­site: Gemma Wil­son on Blaz­ing Sad­dles 5.10

Left: The Chief

The Acro­phobe tow­ers on An­gel’s Crest

The start of An­gel’s Crest

The mid-way point of An­gel’s Crest

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