Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Climbing the Chief: Calculus Crack to Squamish Butt Face (Butt Lite)

The alarm buzzed and I pretended not to hear it. "Lets get a move on" Kyle urged. We were trying to beat the Saturday rush to the bottom of Calculus Crack (5.8, 7 pitches) and I was really glad we had pulled the plug on the little campground party that had been happening outside our trailer the night before at 10:30, evicting the boulder pad sitting beer drinkers into the night to find another campsite to occupy while swapping stories, meeting climbing partners and planning adventures for the days ahead. The Chief Campground is a temporary home for climbers from all over the world who have descended on Squamish with one thing on their minds, climbing the amazing granite and world-class cracks. Some are only there briefly, others manage to avoid the park wardens and stay well beyond the maximum 14 day limit, which occasionally means having to pack up and leave for a day or two before returning for a new 14 day stretch. Everyone dreams of showers and seems to talk about them incessantly, but nobody seems to have time (or money) to spare on this highly praised commodity. The days blur, scraped up hands turn to callous and the tick list never seems to get any shorter despite climbing something new every day.

My visit was a quick three days to meet up with Kyle who is most of the way through a three week road trip around BC, the majority of which has been spent in Squamish and Apex. He had already made a bunch of friends and had been pushing it hard all week with the Calgary crew occupying the sites beside him. My number one prerogative for this trip was to climb the Chief, a dream of mine since I started the weekly pilgrimage to Whistler and would drive through Squamish staring up at the huge granite face trying to spot tiny climbers clinging to the wall by what seemed like magic. I also wanted redemption on Calculus Crack, a route that had taken a chunk out of my knee in 2013, as well as my lead head. The former has since healed, but the psychological scars of the fall have stuck with me and have been a huge barrier to my climbing progression over the last three years.

We got to the bottom of the route at 7:30 and nobody was there. It seemed too good to be true. Sure enough a guided party of three showed up shortly after Kyle started up the pitch and there was another party on the direct start to our left. Despite the traffic, we made quick work of Calculus Crack and topped out in under 3 hours on Broadway Ledge. We made our way over to Broomstick Crack (5.7 - 2 pitches) and ran into a number of parties in line for the route. One of the groups had started up Diedre at 5:30 in the morning! We also ran into Tristan who had been soloing up Banana Peel, which I thought was quite the coincidence!
Waiting in line for Broomstick Crack - a typical Saturday on the Apron
The day slowed significantly as we found ourselves behind a number of parties. We were able to overtake one group by linking the two pitches of Broomstick into one long 58 m pitch, but caught another group at the bottom of the Squamish Buttress. We had to wait at all the belay stations from here on in, but it was warm, the other climbers were friendly and it gave us some time to eat our sandwiches and enjoy the views.
Waiting for our turn on the first pitch of Butt Lite
 We followed the Squamish Buttress route up until the 5.10c pitch, before heading out left to the Butt Lite/Squamish Butt Face route (5.9), the easiest route to the top of the Chief. There was far less exposure than I was expected and the climbing was true to the grade and protected by the occasional bolt in crack-free sections. It was definitely much less of an adventure than Europa which we had climbed the day before. Kyle lead most of the pitches and I helped out by carrying the pack with all our supplies for the day. There were a few times when I regretted this, especially in the chimney on the second to last pitch, but I channeled my inner Sherpa and carried on.
Kyle scopes out the crux, Courtney of the party ahead wonders what the hell she got herself into
Getting ready to head up the crux
Kyle waits his turn patiently to start up the chimney pitch, only 2 pitches from the top
We topped out around 4 pm after climbing 15 pitches of granite. I would say that the hardest parts of the day were the crux pitches on Calculus Crack and patiently waiting for parties ahead of us on the upper pitches. That was my biggest day ever (in terms of number of pitches) and I was able to tick off a huge item in my to-do list. It really helped that we had perfect weather and that Kyle was stoked to do so much leading. We spend a while on the summit taking pictures then pretty much ran back to camp, feeling really pumped on what we had accomplished! 
Kyle at the top of the first peak of the Squamish Chief
Top of the Chief, via the slow way up!
My interpretation of our route up the Chief - do not use for beta! Calculus Crack - Broomstick Crack - Squamish Buttres - Butt Lite
Sunday we slept in then met Tristan to go climb in the Smoke Bluffs. It was grey and cool, and it started to rain not long after we arrived. We managed to get a few climbs in and checked out a new crag, but the rain was just teasing us and every time we thought it had stopped, it would start up again. In the end we called it a day and went for a bike ride before I had to head down to Vancouver to catch my flight home, not before stopping for sushi and bubble tea of course!
Tyler tries to decide if its too wet to climb slab 
Sunshine to the south as I say goodbye to Squamish and head for the airport
Monster rolls at Samurai Sushi in Oakridge

Europa! 5.8 A0

Europa - 5.8 A0, Trad 
7 pitches, 260 metres
Topo for Europa from the VOC Wiki
The description in the guidebook and comments online leads one to believe that the establishment of this route was a huge waste of time, money and effort. It was cleaned of vegetation by a number of members of the VOC (including some good friends) and cost upwards of $8000 to do so. What it fails to mention is that it is a total blast and a super fun way to spend a day. It was a bit more of an adventure than your typical Squamish multi-pitch and based on the amount of tree-climbing, climbing through bushes and occasional loose rock, we felt that it was as close to alpine climbing as you can get in Squampton. It would definitely make for a good intro to alpine if one was planning on heading to the rockies, and were this route found in the Bow Valley, I am sure it would be a classic moderate route with guidebook descriptions commenting on how solid the rock is and how good the belays are! However, this is Squamish so that is not the case and the route doesn't see much traffic. This was perfect for us as we found our party of 7 alone on the route all day.

David and Alex suggested Europa, as a joke but in that sort of "I'm only pretending to be joking about this in case everyone just laughs at me and says 'are you crazy'?" kind of way. We left camp at 10 as a group of 7 and made our way through the boulders above the campground to the base of the climb, just to the left of the route "Arrowroot". David and Alex took the lead and started up first, followed by Tyler and Richard and finally Kyle, Angela and myself as a party of three. What we didn't realize until the top of the route was that the first party up spent a significant amount of time excavating holds and gear placements, often having swarms of insects crawling out of cracks as they climbed. We had a nice, clean route to climb, with the occasional chunk of moss falling from above. 
Hanging around in the trees, waiting to start the climb
I found the hand crack (in a right facing dihedral) at the start of the second pitch (5.8), and a crack at the top of the third pitch (5.7) to be the most challenging parts of the route. The start of the pitch was quite amusing because you had to climb straight up into a bush before disappearing so your belayer couldn't see you for the rest of the pitch. A few belays were gear or off trees but there was the odd bolted belay. 
Me on my way up the first pitch on Europa
The top of pitch three ended in a bit of a cave that went below a tree and a big boulder. Starting up pitch 4, you had to climb the belay tree to top out on the boulder that made the cave, then down climb and traverse to a bolted belay station. Pitch 6 involved aid climbing up a series of bolts, followed by a much easier crack to a very unsettling hanging gear belay below the final chimney that topped out on Bellygood Ledge. There was a serious amount of exposure and I was happy to move out from that belay stance and get into the chimney.
Kyle on pitch 4 - looking impressive climbing a tree
Cave belay at the top of pitch 4
Angela chillaxing at a tree belay
We took our time and made a day out of this route. I found it to be way more exhausting than the following day climbing on the Chief, but had a really good time because the climbing was so unique. I really enjoyed the caves and trees on the route and found that the crack climbing was a good challenge, despite being a bit dirty. The top out was just to the climbers right of the Bellygood Ledge belly crawl which was fortunate as I was not interested in doing that at all!
The view from the top 
The Europa assault crew
Click for the UBC VOC Wiki Page for Europa
Pitch by Pitch Route Info (from UBC VOC Wiki Page)
Pitch 1 -- 5.7 (5.8 in Squamish Select) (40m): Start up a blocky chimney/corner crack system. At the top lieback up and left to gain another blocky corner. At the top there is a spacious belay ledge. Gear belay. 
Pitch 2 -- 5.8 (45m): Head up a corner crack (crux) to a system of ledges. Follow the corner system until you are level with a large fir. Belay on tree.
Pitch 3 -- 5.7 (35m): Climb an intimidating but solid section of overhanging blocks and then follow a finger crack into a short, wide tunnel. Belay on tree.
Pitch 4 -- 5.5 (30m): Climb up belay tree and gain the top of a large flake. Traverse right and climb up into a chimney. Bolted belay. The bolts here form the top of a rap line made for a single 60m rope, that will allow climbers to retreat from the top of pitch 4 during the falcon closure. If falcons end up nesting near the area, the rap station will be moved lower on the route.
Pitch 5 -- 5.6 (45m): Mostly easy climbing up a right-trending line of blocks, with a couple of chimney moves. Bolted belay.
Pitch 6 -- 5.7, A0 (45m): Traverse right and up to a ledge where a nine-bolt ladder starts. Aid up to reach a hand/fist crack. Gear belay at the top of the crack.
Update (2014) The original bolt ladder got removed due to some re-routing for "Sunset Strip". New beta: Aid up 5 bolts to a steep, short crack. Gear-aid that crack on bomber cams (#2 camalots do nicely here), then meet the easier 5.7 crack of the original line.

Pitch 7 -- 5.6 (30m): Chimney to the top. Belay on tree.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Birth Canal - A Squamish Rite of Passage

Upon my arrival in Squamish, Tyler took us into the boulders for a night-time wander. It was fun checking out the area in the dark, but the purpose of the mission was to show us the Birth Canal, a tiny squeeze between two boulders that is apparently a Squamish rite of passage. One of Tylers friends showed us how it was done and slithered through with what seemed to be no effort at all. Angela went next. It took her a few more minutes but she wiggled her way through in no time.
Angela making it look easy
 Kyle had been contemplating trying it and after much enthusiasm from the peanut gallery, he gave it a shot. Apparently Kyle's frame is not designed for the Birth Canal in the same way as the other two and he was stuck in there for at least 20 minutes making little progress. At one point he wasn't able to move forward or backward and would have to breath out all the air in his lungs and wiggle his whole body just to move a few millimeters towards the exit. In the end, he made it through, but not without ripping his shirt to shreds and recruiting Tyler to push and me to pull in order to free him from his rocky prison.
Kyle very stuck in the Birth Canal
Almost through
 I was up next. I was slightly apprehensive but after seeing that Kyle was able to fit I wasn't too worried about getting stuck. The whole process felt like it took forever but it probably only took a few minutes to move through the tunnel. You really had to coordinate your breathing with pushing and couldn't tense up too much or you wouldn't make any progress. I squeezed my way out but my sternum was sore for days afterwards! I guess we have joined the ranks of many Squamish climbers and boulderers before us having conquered the Birth Canal!
That smile is hiding how concerned I am that I will be stuck in there forever!

Mt Abbott Hike - Rogers Pass

Mt Abbott via Abbott Ridge Trail
Distance: 14 km round trip
Elevation: 1200m
Trailhead: Illecillewaet Campground

When I started looking up hikes in Roger's Pass, Abbott Ridge was by far the most highly recommended because of its spectacular vistas. I met Patrick and Rebecca in Revelstoke for the weekend and wanted to show them the beauty of the pass, and to convince them that they need to come back and visit me more often! Abbott Ridge was the obvious choice. The hike starts at the day use area of the Illecillewaet Campground, along with a number of other hikes. The trailhead has a great map with trail descriptions that was much more useful than the hiking guide pamphlet I had picked up at the visitor centre the day before. There was a bear warning for the area, but Abbott Ridge was the only hiking trail that didn't require traveling in groups of 4. I had the bear spray close at hand anyway. For people wanting to hike the other trails, a check point was available where you could wait and join up with other groups to ensure everyone was in a big enough group. 

After a few hundred metres of well signed gravel road through the ruins of the old "Glacier House", the Marion Lake/Abbott Ridge Trail veered off to the right and started its upward progress through the forest. The trail was steep but well established and we made short work of the first two kilometres up to Marion Lake, which was a bit of a disappointment so we didn't bother stopping or taking any pictures. Soon after the lake, we came to a Y intersection and a sign that displayed "short way" and "long way". We opted for the short way and were soon out of the trees and into an amazing alpine meadow with our first of many view of the huge mountains in the pass. We could see the "long way" trail out to the left and were happy with our choice as it cut off a lot of distance. 
Looking down the meadow from where we had just been. Abbott Ridge in the top right corner
Alpine meadows looking across to Cheops and beyond
The trail took us up towards Abbott Ridge, then traversed out around to the right to gain the ridge and a whole new set of mountains to look at. From there, we followed the well worn path up the ridge to the sign marking the end of the trail. We had been hiking for less than 2 hours but had gained 1000 m of elevation.
Looking up to Abbott Ridge from the meadow below
Rebecca is happy, just beyond the end of the trail
My research had told me that you could easily traverse the ridge of Mt Abbott to gain the summit with some mellow 3rd class scrambling. The ridge traverse ended up being the best part of the hike. There was lots of exposure down either side of the ridge, but it was wide enough that everyone was pretty comfortable. There were some cool ledges (described elsewhere as "sidewalks in the sky") and some easy scrambling up and over rocks, with amazing viewpoints along the way. We took our time on the ridge and stopped at a snowy spot to plant our beers for a cool beverage on our way down. Did I mention that it was 27 degrees and we were cooking?! 
Excellent views of Sir Donald and Uto from the Abbott Ridge
Patrick on the ridge
Rambling along the sidewalk with the highway below
Mt Afton (NW ridge scrambling descent to the right of the peak) and a glacial tarn
Another picture of Sir Donald and the Illecillewaet Glacier - I imagined I could see Liam on Sir Donald (he summited that day)
 The final approach to the summit was a bit more scrambly, mostly because we had to go out of our way to find a good patch of snow for our drinks. Regardless, it was all very enjoyable and safe and it took us a total of 3 hours at a moderate pace to make it to the top. The last hour along the ridge had been significantly slower due to all the photo ops. At the top, we enjoyed a big lunch and took in the views of peaks and glaciers as far as the eye could see in a perfect 360 degree panorama.
Summit of Mt. Abbott. Looking back down the ridge towards the trail
Looking up the Mt Afton's East Ridge - the scrambling ascent (4th class)
 After lunch, we grabbed our stashed beers and scrambled down to the col between Mt Abbott and Mt Afton. I had thought that if we were feeling bold, we could go and tag Mt Afton as well that day, but the scramble looked steep and loose, and we hadn't brought any helmets or other gear. To keep with the casual atmosphere of the day, we opted to skip the scramble and instead glissade down from the col to the glacier tarn we had spotted earlier and enjoy our cold drinks.
Easy scramble down to the col
Patrick picks up some speed with Mt Abbott summit in the background (left) and E. Ridge of Afton on the right
Sliding down to the lake
Cheers to warm days in the mountains! I came prepared for Rockies weather but was not disappointed by the sunshine
 We spent while at the tarn soaking our feet and soaking up the sun. To get back on the trail we had to ascend a few metres back to the ridge but it was well worth it. On our way down, we stopped at a small cabin that we had passed on the hike up. It was locked so we couldn't check it out inside but it had one of the better views I have seen from a hut! We also stopped at Marion Lake for a snack but were not particularly interested in a swim as it looked shallow and muddy.
Little cabin, big view

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Baynes Lake Relaxation

Jenn invited us to her parent's little slice of heaven on Baynes Lake for a weekend in mid July. Our climbing plans had fallen through due to the forecast and it was a rare treat to get away for some R&R. Upon arrival, Kyle and I went for a swim and Kyle promptly lost his wedding ring in the lake. What a disaster! We tried to look for it with headlamps but there was no way we were finding it in the dark. The next morning, Kyle was out on a paddleboard hunting for it without success. He was going to require some additional tools to help him in his hunt. 
Beautiful Baynes Lake as seen from the cabin porch
Ring hunting aside, Jenn, Cody, Kyle and I went for a delicious breakfast at the Baynes Lake farmers market before driving out to Kimberly to go biking. We got stopped on the highway for about ten minutes while a cattle drive crossed the road, an event I had never witnessed before that seemed to be more of a loosely organized social event on horseback riders than anything. It was fun watching the stubborn cows getting chased back into formation by the well trained dogs. The forecasted rain arrived as we were driving so we took a detour into town to check out a very soggy medieval festival in Kimberly as we waited for it to pass.
Cattle Drive
We caught a break in the rain and managed to squeeze in a ride at St. Mary's. Jenn and Cody kicked our butts on the single track climbs and we accidentally ended up on a double track fire-road for the descent instead of an actual bike trail. What a waste of energy! Fortunately the ride was salvaged by a fun little trail that took us back to the car, but I felt like the whole ride had been one big climb.
View point on the bike trail

Back at the cabin, Kyle and I spent ages sifting through thick weeds and muck looking for his ring. Kyle had purchased some dollar-store swimming goggles and a mesh garbage pail to help him strain through nasty detritus at the bottom of the lake but all we managed to do was clean up some weeds and stir up the water. Eventually we came to the conclusion that the ring was gone for good and abandoned the endeavor. We were able to relax and enjoy a campfire by the lake, and I went for a sunset paddleboard. Jenn had bought a "reverse smores" kit with oreo cookie biscuits and white chocolate. They were the best smores I have ever had!!
Getting the fire started
Evening glow
Making reverse smores, so good!
On Sunday we returned to St. Mary's to do some cragging. The crag is tiny but jam packed full of long sport routes. It also has the benefit of a 5 minute approach and a great view of St. Mary's Lake. Jenn and I took turns leading some of the fun low grade routes while Kyle put up top ropes on some of the 5.10 routes. It was hot on the wall in the full sun and the lake below looked tempting, but when Jenn and Cody jumped in it was freezing! 

Feeling accomplished for managing to do some riding, climbing and relaxing despite the dismal forecast and the lost ring, we said goodbye to Cody (who is firefighting in the Kootenays this summer and living in Baynes Lake) and returned to Calgary. Another successful summer weekend! Thanks Jenn and Cody!

Revelstoke Long Weekend

When I think of Revelstoke, I usually think of skiing, but as I found out last August Long Weekend, there are plenty of summer activities also! For our second annual Revelstoke Long Weekend, we met up with David, KD and Tristan for a few days of biking and climbing. This was my first time riding in Revi and the trails were all time. We spent Saturday morning and Monday afternoon shuttling Boulder Mountain, and did a really long shuttle up Sale Mountain to ride the legendary Martha's Creek Trail on Sunday afternoon. Thanks to the unstable weather, we did a lot more biking than we had anticipated, because after all, who really wants to climb in the rain? The theme of the weekend was getting caught in thunderstorms and trying to squeeze activities in between monsoons.
Stoked to drop in at the top of Martha's Creek - Kyle Duran Photo
One highlight of the weekend was riding Martha's Creek, a really fun 10 km/1600m descent from the top of Sale Mountain. The upper section of trail was slow and technical, winding through alpine meadows with lots of sharp rocks and beautiful mountain view. It was really pretty but pedally. After that, we started to descend. Unfortunately this part of the trail was really wet and muddy and we felt pretty bad that we were riding it in that condition but it was a bit late to turn back. There were lots of ladder bridges and even more slimy roots. As we got lower the trail dried out and got really fast and flowy. It was a blast! By the bottom I could barely hold my bars and was exhausted. It took us almost an hour to ride the trail top to bottom and we were not moving slow!
Microwave Tower at the top of Sale Mountain
Great views of Revelstoke Lake from Sale Mountain
Bikes at the beach after riding Martha's Creek
Riding at Boulder was wicked. I haven't shuttled in ages and it was so fun to ride some true downhill trails. We rode most of the trails which ranged from fast single track to steep and techy to big wooden stunts and dirt tables, sometimes all in the same trail. Tristan and Kyle were pushing each other to try all the jumps and stunts while Kyle D and I watched in awe. The best part was that the trailer was parked at the bottom of the mountain so we could rip back down for a hot lunch.
Boondocker wallride

Kyle and Tristan on some of the Boondocker Stunts (click to play)

Lots of flowers and greenery this summer
We camped at the sled staging area, along with a big crew of kayakers who were in town for some sort of kayak festival. They were very friendly and didn't mind sharing the parking lot with some smelly bikers.
Dirtbag paradise - photo courtesy of Bryce Shaw
The climbing was a bit more sporadic than the riding. Every time we thought about heading out to a crag, it would start to rain. Eventually we just took a chance and drove to Begbie Bluffs, despite storm clouds all around the valley. Sure enough, as we arrived the rain started to fall. We did a few quick routes before darkness fell and the rocks got too slippery. We tried again on Sunday with a bit more success. This time we were able to climb three routes each before the rain started. It had been sunny and warm when we left camp so I was the only one with extra layers. When the wind picked up everyone got really cold and we were sharing my hoodie and raincoat between the three of us. Thankfully the wind blew away the awful bugs that tormented us all weekend and were capable of biting through jeans. Tristan was getting antsy because he wanted to climb hard stuff and we kept getting shut down by the weather. To appease Tristan, we got an earlier start Monday morning and returned to the crag. The weather was way better and Tristan finally got his chance to try the 5.12c route he had been eyeing up all weekend, Wascally Wabbit. He didn't send but gave it a good shot. I know what he will be training for this winter!
Someone forgot their jacket
Tristan gets ready to send at Rabbit Wall
Tristan heading up the 5.11b
Wascally Wabbit 
Tristan on the roof