The trip is off to a great start - our first week in Squamish has been a blast. Here's what we've been up to.
Thursday, 21 July
Erik: My friend Clara and I had been climbing some cruisey sport climbs at the Cheakumus Canyon area North of Squamish, and now that it was getting late, it was time to meet up with Nick and Dan. They had driven the van to the Stawamus Chief campground parking lot. Soon my friend Clara would be introduced to the Choss Boys. For better or for worse...
Nick & Dan: Driving into Squamish was like a scene from an old movie; the winding road provided incredible mountain views through our cracked windshield as Frank Sinatra serenaded us in the background.
Just as we approached town, there it was... Our first view of the chief!! We rolled up in the early afternoon and immediately raced to the campground for some introductory single-pitch climbing. After an easy but strange chimney that featured a hand-carved pig statue halfway up, and a classic 5.10 crack climb, we returned to the van for supper. It was time to meet up with Erik and his friend Clara.
Erik: We pull up to the parking lot and spot it right away: the Choss-mobile. And out comes Nick, grinning and wearing his bucket hat. "We're about to make supper." Curried veg and quinoa, enough to feed a horse. Among scrawny climbers with clinking racks and muscly boulderers surfing their pads in the lot, we weave our way to the picnic benches and eat supper together. The sun over Howe Sound and the Chief's white granite walls glowed. This would be the Choss Boys' first night in Squamish. What would tomorrow bring?
Friday, 22 July
Alright, rev her up. We're going to 'Star Chek.' The guidebook's description left little to discuss on this matter: "the awesome ambiance directly above the foaming rapids of the Cheakamus River is hard to beat." Clara added that this route was on the top of her ticklist. Sold.
Nick: The underwhelming climbing the previous day left Daniel and I hungry for a more exhilarating experience. The 4 pitch climb looked perfect. Star Chek has the added bonus of providing the perfect opportunity for me to practice some climbing photography. Perfect!
Daniel: British Columbia is imbued with lush wildlife and impressive landscapes. Unlike Nick and Erik, this trip is my first experience with 'Beautiful BC'. The scenic climbing route Star Chek left me wide eyed and fascinated with nature!
Erik: Clara and I rack up at the base of Star Check. The base is right by the roaring 'Chek' river which gushes ice cold glacial melt water. Star Chek is a four-pitch bolted sport climb that follows a 70 degree arête feature directly above the river and with a stunning backdrop of the Tantalus Mountain Range. At a grade of 5.9 and designation of 'Top 100 Squamish Classic Climbs,' it would serve as the perfect introduction to BC climbing. We swap leads and Clara gets the money pitch: 5.9 technical face moves on the airy arête of the final pitch. She nails it.
The crew gets limbered up at the edge of the river. The powerful current provides natural energy to fuel excitement.
We drive over, park, and make the laughably short approach to the 'Forgotten Wall.' Hours pass by, the shadows lengthen, and lactic begins to burn in our forearms. Someone asks what time it is and Nick says, "5:30, we need to drive to Vancouver soon and pick up Jacqui." The plan had been set to climb the Chief the next day and bring Jacqui along for the experience. A belated birthday treat, courtesy of the Choss Boys.
We pack up up our stuff and eat a wonderful feast in the van. Gnocchi pasta and a side of tomato salad with Manchego cheese that Clara had brought back from a recent trip to Spain.
Nick: I was planning the climbing day for tomorrow with Danika during free time, and we finally had things stamped out. It would be a proper alpine start: 5am wake-up to beat the crowds. A Saturday during peak season in Squamish on the most popular multipitch climb... there would surely be a crowd of people lined up at the base before long. Supper time rolls around and I know I have to inform Jacqui of our plans. On the phone, she can barely hide her joy about the late night pick-up and early morning. Atta-girl Jacqui! Time to head into Surrey to collect our virgin multi-pitch partner.
Erik: Clara and I head out of town in her '07 Forrester with Kansas plates. We decided to visit Hunter's place in East Vancouver while Nick and Dan collect Jacqui in Surrey. They'd pick me up on the way back to Squamish and Clara would return home. Soon enough it was getting dark and I heard a rumble outside the house. The Chossmobile. Soon we were back on our way to Squamish, Jacqui wide-eyed in the passenger seat, Nick and I racking up for tomorrow's ascent of the Chief. Our alarms set for 6am (I managed to temper down Nick's enthusiasm for a deathly wake-up).
The night is a short one. In the Lower Apron parking lot, Nick, Dan, and Jacqui sleep in the van and I (Erik) bivouac right there on the lot under the starry sky.
Saturday, 23 July
6am wake-up, breakfast, and go. At 6:30 we meet Danika Wheeler, an old friend from the Newfoundland climbing community. Danika and Erik would partner up; Nick and Dan would tie in together with Jacqui in the middle. At 7am we're at the base of Lower Apron looking up at the Chief in soft early morning light.
Erik: Danika and I start up the Diedre route while Nick's party climb a line to the right of us. The Diedre route is a Squamish classic, heading straight up the Lower Apron along friendly slab and well-protected dihedrals at a grade of 5.8. The climbing is buttery smooth and instantly enjoyable. Once at the Upper South Apron Danika and I take the 'Boomstick' route, a pleasant 5.7 slab that naturally protects with trees that grow seemingly straight out of the white granite. Now eight pitches up, the climbing starts to get airy. We walk through the forested area on top of the Apron towards the Squamish Buttress. Here in the shade of the trees we meet Dan, Nick & Jacqui and eat lunch. I make fun of how much food Dan and Nick packed: two bananas, a banana-peanut-butter sandwich and hummus sandwich... Each! In light spirits Danika and I continue up the towards the Squamish Buttress. Four cruisey pitches up and we reach a plush ledge with plenty of space for a break. And in fact whether we want a break or not, looks like we're getting one - slow climbers ahead have caused a small traffic-jam. Three parties are ahead of us - one of which a party of three: a clearly inexperienced German couple and a tired-looked Squamish guide. So... This is what they mean by traffic jams! Personally it is my first time experiencing traffic on a popular multi-pitch climb. One hour passes. The mood gets silly and we joke that we have 'ledge fever.' At the view is nice. Two hours pass... Okay this is getting crazy. The time is 8:30pm, the sun will set soon and we'll top out in the dark at this pace. Having come to this realization, Daniel, Nick, and Jacqui decide to rappel the route back down to the parking lot. Danika and I resolutely decide to push on. Besides, there's only two pitches left!
Nick & Dan: After seeing the lineup for Deidre, I (Nick) decide there had to be a less crowded way up the apron! I snap a picture of the page from Erik's guidebook, and set off to lead Daniel and Jacqui up a different route. We decide to string together 5 not-so-classic pitches going at 5.9 to hopefully make Broadway ledge well in advance of Erik and Danika. It works, and we can see our friends way below us from the ledge. Daniel and I devour the first sandwich of our measly lunch, and set off to try "Memorial Crack" (5.9), to bring us to the top of the Apron. The airy lead doesn't phase Daniel, and soon enough we all top out the climb. Erik and Danika have already arrived at the second portion of the climb, Butt Light, and we meet them for our second lunch. Although a second sandwich barely staves off our hunger, we can't help but notice how diminutive Erik's own lunch is, just nuts, and raisins! How does he do it?
Erik: Finally the traffic jam at the top pitches are cleared. The time is 9:30pm. Danika crushes the 5.9 crux pitch at the Butt Light, completing the tricky face sequence with a single power-grunt. I lead the exciting 5.8 chimney to gain the final ledge. It was now pitch dark. We scrambled the final 5.2 non-pitch and made the summit. We high-five and then... Darkness. "The headlamp battery ran out!" To my disbelief I recall I had packed spare batteries in my pack a full year before, while in Australia, and there they still were. We swap the batteries and descend the tranquil trail to the Chief campground. I noticed some effects of dehydration; Danika too. We had had less than 1L each all day. After 17 hours climbing in full sunlight we were left feeling sluggish and stiff, minds addled. We didn't expect lines to slow us down to that extent. Later we learned it was due to one team of inexperienced climbers that got stuck in the chimney pitch. And we took away a valuable lesson: don't climb the Chief's most popular moderates on a Saturday! And if you do, start EARLY.
We all meet in the Lower Apron Parking Lot. The time is 12:30am. A feast of refried bean burritos and instant mashed potatoes ensues. A solid mini-epic!
Sunday, 24 July
Erik: Waking up at noon on Danika's plush couch at her house in Kitsilano, I migrate to the kitchen and become acquainted with Danika's roommates. Climbers! I barely have time to finish coffee before a trip is planned to check out the North Shore climbing areas just 40 minutes outside Vancouver. We hop in Steffan's truck and cross the Iron's Worker's bridge towards Cypress Mountain. We tick off a couple sporty routes at a crowded crag called Sully's Hangout. The old growth forest of Douglas firs and brush-resistant moss sets this crag apart from any I've ever seen. A real fairy tale crag in this temperate North Van rainforest.
Nick & Dan: After a couple of nights in the van, certain organizational foibles have begun to get on our nerves. Not to mention the lack of basic living supplies. It is time to go shopping. We set off in the hopes of fully stocking our tiny kitchen on a tight budget. First stop: the local dollar store. Daniel meticulously combs through the shelves hunting for the best deals while I (Nick) get excited about almost every remotely functional item we see. We buy a few basic items and head for Walmart, with high hopes. One way to know you are a true dirtbag: getting appalled by the high prices at Walmart. However, we couldn't help buying a few essential items on sale; most importantly, a coffee press! It was not the shopping spree we hoped for, but we ended the day with enough essentials to fix a proper meal. We indulged in a delicious sweet curry; curry spice, raisins, honey, and plump basmati rice. I may have given Erik a run for his money in the kitchen.
Monday, 25 July
Tuesday, 26 July
We climbed to the limits of our trad climbing abilities that day. With a lot of huffing and puffing, it took Erik and I 40 minutes each to climb the daunting, meandering, and overhanging route 'Neat and Cool' (5.10a). Nick on the other hand seemingly walked up effortlessly. 'Kangaroo Corner' (5.11a) is a very thin finger crack in a short corner. Erik and I gave it our best shot and got spat out of the crack a couple times. With all our flailing and falling, Erik and I both managed to get a piece of gear stuck in the crack. Nick impressively bounded up in the blink of an eye, then, as if by magic, retrieved the gear Erik and I had fallen on and failed to dislodge ourselves. Overall, we definitely pushed our crack and trad climbing abilities, got scared, and learned from the experience.
Nick: It's been a packed first week here in Squamish. Erik introduced us to several of his climbing friends, and we managed to squeeze in some van stocking between all the great climbing sessions. Can't wait to tell you guys about what's to come!
We are Daniel, David, Nick & Erik.
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