Be­gin­ner’s Guide to Squamish

10 Things to Know Be­fore Head­ing to Canada’s Climb­ing Cap­i­tal

Gripped - - FEATURE - Matt Stet­son is the photo editor of Gripped Pub­lish­ing and a bur­geon­ing Toronto-based climber.

Ac­cess: The Squamish Ac­cess Coali­tion keeps up-to-date in­for­ma­tion on their web­site about ac­cess is­sues. Ev­ery­thing from where you can and can’t park to route clo­sures due to nest­ing birds can be found at squamishac­cess.ca.

Brief His­tory: Rock climb­ing in Squamish started in the late 1950s and rose in pop­u­lar­ity af­ter the high­way from Van­cou­ver was built. The climb­ing com­mu­nity was rel­a­tively small un­til the 1970s, when the Squamish Hard­core (a lo­cal group of top climbers who opened dozens of test-piece routes) were or­ga­nized by Gordie Smaill. Al­though hun­dreds of new routes have been added, the clas­sics have stayed the must-climb lines.

Style: The gran­ite is coarse with small crys­tals and is quick to be over­grown by fo­liage. While some cracks are easy to pro­tect, oth­ers have awk­ward ta­pers that make them more dif­fi­cult. Some of the sport crags are steep, but gen­er­ally the climb­ing is on slab and good foot work is a must.

Run-outs: Many of the crack climbs will have short run-outs, but most of the older bolted routes will be very run-out. Study the guide­book be­fore head­ing up your ob­jec­tive. If you’ve never climbed in Squamish, start on eas­ier grades to get used to the pro­tec­tion place­ments.

Rack: Bring a dou­ble rack from mi­cro­cams to four inches. Have a rack of sport draws, but also a rack of shoul­der-length ex­tend­able quick­draws. Keep some slings around your chest with sin­gle bin­ers, so you can clip them to cams that al­ready have a biner. Bring slings and lock­ing bin­ers for an­chors.

An­chors: While many an­chors are bolted, you’ll have to know how to build gear an­chors on most climbs. Al­ways have a three-point equal­ized an­chor. Seek proper in­struc­tion be­fore at­tempt­ing this on your own. If there are bolts, then use all of the bolts avail­able for your an­chor. Squamish gets busy, so be pre­pared to share be­lay ledges.

Walk-offs: Most of the routes on The Chief can be de­scended via a trail. There are only a few routes that you’ll need to rap­pel down. Nev­er­the­less, al­ways be pre­pared to rap­pel in case of an emer­gency or bad weather. For de­scent trails, re­fer to a lo­cal guide­book.

Line Ups: Squamish is one of North Amer­ica’s busi­est climb­ing lo­ca­tions in the sum­mer. If you don’t want to line up, then bring a head­lamp and get an early start. There are enough climbs to go around, so do some re­search and try a more re­mote or not-so-clas­sic route on busy week­ends to avoid the crowds.

Best In­tro Routes: There are a num­ber of great first-crack-climbs in Squamish, but these are the safest and most-lapped: Laugh­ing Crack 5.7 at Smoke Bluffs, Corn Flakes 5.6 at Smoke Bluffs, Kla­hanie Crack 5.7 at Shan­non Falls and Ba­nana Peel 5.7 eight pitches on The Apron.

Best Hard Routes: Squamish is known for its hard and burly crack climbs. Some of the best hard routes are: Univer­sity Wall 5.12 eight pitches, Left Side 5.12 on Grand Wall, The Call­ing 5.12 six pitches, Zom­bie Roof 5.13a at Smoke Bluffs and Made From Fire 5.12 at Top Shelf.

some­thing four grades harder. But hey, this is what the academy is all about.

By the time I was low­ered off my first route by Ian, one of our guides, a few other fa­mil­iar faces ap­peared, in­clud­ing Jon Walsh, Paul Mc­sor­ley, Ines Papert, Luka Lindic, Nina Caprez and Em Pel­lerin. What I thought was go­ing to be a quiet day at the crag turned out to be a ses­sion with leg­ends from all over the world. As if I wasn’t starstruck enough, when head­ing to grab a snack from my bag, I ran into leg­endary Amer­i­can climber Lynn Hill. I spent most the re­main­der of the day yelling at event pho­tog­ra­pher John Price to “shoot here” and “shoot there,” so we didn’t miss the his­tor­i­cal crag ses­sion tak­ing place. We capped the day with a beer and lis­tened to Hill re­gale a full field with sto­ries of her ad­ven­tures. Af­ter Hill, live bands got ev­ery­one bounc­ing around un­der a weighed-down-by-pud­dles tarp – not bad for a rainy day.

Satur­day marked the first day of clin­ics. I was signed up for boul­der­ing, and I was look­ing for­ward to get­ting tips from Alan­nah Yip and J.J. Mah. Squamish is al­most as fa­mous for its boul­ders as it is for its multi-pitches. The clinic started with talks about pad place­ment and spot­ting be­fore a setup at a few dif­fer­ent boul­ders and prac­tic­ing man­tles. Mah and Yip were a wealth of in­for­ma­tion and happy to an­swer ques­tions and give ad­vice. It turned out that I could climb a grade harder when some of Canada’s top climbers are spray­ing beta at me. The clin­ics weren’t struc­tured to the point that you’re on a tight sched­ule, but the op­por­tu­nity to learn and try new things was al­ways there. Af­ter shuf­fling around from boul­der to boul­der un­der The Chief, we made a quick stop off at Dream­catcher 5.14d, one of the hard­est sport routes in the coun­try. The day fin­ished with a screen­ing of the Squamish Ex­posed, which fea­tures slideshows by pro­fes­sional photograph­ers of photos they took the week lead­ing up to the academy. As a pho­tog­ra­pher my­self, this was a high­light of the trip. It was inspiring to see the cre­ativ­ity and pas­sion of the climb­ing com­mu­nity.

By Sun­day, I was feel­ing the ef­fects of two days of climb­ing and three nights of beer­drink­ing. How­ever, it was the fi­nal push, and my last day of climb­ing in Squamish. I signed up for the Gym-to-crag clinic. We climbed at the Smoke Bluffs and learned how to rap­pel, which was a bonus. In ret­ro­spect, I wish I had signed up for some­thing more ad­vanced. How­ever, it made for a great day of climb­ing harder routes and was an­other ex­am­ple of the range of what is of­fered at the academy. Don’t be afraid to sign up, even if you have zero out­door ex­pe­ri­ence.

Pack­ing up and head­ing home was bit­ter­sweet. I was tired and sore from the week and ready for rest, but also stoked at the idea of stay­ing longer and see­ing what the area has to of­fer on my own. I have the Arc’teryx Academy to thank for show­ing me the area, in­tro­duc­ing me to leg­ends of the sport and teach­ing me some much-needed skills that will help my climb­ing in the fu­ture.

Our Gym-to-crag crew from above at the Smoke Bluffs

Alanna Yip giv­ing our Boul­der­ing crew a les­son on pad place­ment

Arc’teryx ath­lete Jon Siegrist

Arc’teryx ath­lete Em Pel­lerin

Arc’teryx de­sign fa­cil­ity

Kathryn Cooper on Lounge Act V6

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