Ex­as­per­a­tor

THE EX­QUIS­ITE FIN­GER CRACK THAT I NSPIRED THE AU­THOR’S TRAD- CLIMB­ING CA­REER

Climbing - - TOPO - BY JULIE EL­LI­SON • PHOTO BY CO­LETTE MCINERNEY

Years ago, I saw a photo of an aus­tere crack zigzag­ging up slate-gray gran­ite above a for­est. The photo trig­gered a de­sire like none I’d had: I needed to climb that route. I read the cap­tion: Ex­as­per­a­tor (5.10c), Squamish, Canada. “I bet­ter start trad climb­ing,” I thought.

At the leg­endary Squamish, just 40 miles north of Van­cou­ver, hun­dreds of thuggy boul­ders dot the dense for­est be­low the 2,300-foot Stawa­mus Chief, which of­fers trad routes rang­ing from sin­gle-pitch split­ters to 12-pitch ad­ven­ture climbs. Ex­as­per­a­tor carves a per­fect line at the base of the Chief ’s west-fac­ing Grand Wall. Jim Sin­clair and Jim Bald­win claimed the first as­cent, on aid, of the 150-foot route in 1960, but it wasn’t un­til 15 years later that it went free at the hands of Eric We­in­stein and Dave Ni­col. To­day, Marc Bour­don, au­thor of the Squamish Se

lect guide, lists Ex­as­per­a­tor as a Top 100 climb. The first half fol­lows a straight-up crack be­fore reach­ing a small stance and an op­tional an­chor. From here, the line takes a sharp turn right, travers­ing through 20 feet of del­i­cate fin­ger­locks and techy foot­work on pro­trud­ing grains. A fi­nal sec­tion zags back left, widen­ing to thin hands.

Af­ter I served a five-year trad ap­pren­tice­ship, my big LO­CA­TION day came in sum­mer 2018. I Squamish, racked up, charg­ing through Bri­tish Columbia the 5.10a first pitch. Af­ter years of buildup, it was time for the crux. With my small dig­its, each hold in the tra­verse felt like a fin­ger jug, and I was soon clip­ping the an­chors, feel­ing melan­choly that my dream was end­ing. So I did what any sane climber would do: I low­ered, pulled the rope, and climbed Ex­as­per­a­tor again.

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