Beginner’s Guide to Squamish
10 Things to Know Before Heading to Canada’s Climbing Capital
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