Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Squamish Summer

Returning from Alaska, I stopped at my storage in Bellingham to change out winter mountaineering accoutrements for summer climbing gear. I also needed to contemplate my next destination. The desert would be fun...but hot. I wanted a mix of rock climbing and alpine climbing, and if there was some glacier travel mixed in, all the better. The more I thought, the more I realized that everything I wanted was right here in the good old Pacific Northwest. I would divide my time between alpine climbing in the Cascades and rock climbing in Squamish.
The alpine part of the equation came to naught, as my ankle had gotten quite a bit worse during the trip to Denali. For a few weeks after returning from Alaska I could barely even walk. I went once to Squamish early in July, climbed three pitches, and had to call it quits. In fact, the third pitch I aided as I couldn't stand (literally) to put my foot in another crack.
Chaco Foot
Summer was slow to develop in Squamish so I spent about ten days in Leavenworth. After a quick trip to Vegas (which included a haircut, shorter than I really wanted) the sun returned to the Pacific Northwest, as well as some of my ankle strength, and I spent the last week of July, all of August and the first week of September in Squamish. The return to climbing form took much longer than I thought, but then again so have all aspects of the recovery. At least I have regained, if not improved upon, my form and confidence. I completed at least one climb that I would have never even contemplated a year ago.
Climbing to the sun on Diedre

Squamish is between Vancouver and Whistler, about two hours north of Bellingham. The Chief is a granite monolith 700 meters high (2,300 feet) with several main walls split by deep gullies. This provides for a wide variety of climbing difficulty, and is a mecca for both novices and expert climbers from all over the world. The first climbs were done in the late 50's, and there are now thousands of routes, anywhere from one pitch climbs to routes with pitches numbering in the mid-teens.
Squamish is an extremely climber friendly area. There are routes for beginners, and there are routes that challenge the strongest climbers in the world. The single pitch cragging areas are close together and boast multiple climbs on a single crag. The approaches are short, the guidebooks are comprehensive and easy to use, and the paths are quite clear. While this makes for weekend crowds on the classic moderates, with a little effort even on long weekend holidays solitude can be found; there are just so many areas in which to climb.
The campground at the Chief is the social hub of the summer climbing scene.
The life of the party!
I spent some evenings there with new friends, but I would drive up a nearby forest road to camp for the night. The Subaru is my home on wheels, and I can comfortably sleep in the back. And for over thirty straight nights I did just that. The area where I camped is a side road that requires some clearance and all- or four-wheel drive, and there were others camped in the area on only two occasions. Well, three if you include a morning spent watching a mother black bear with two cubs. They stayed in the area for about 45 minutes, eating and playing on some nearby rocks. They were aware of me, and I of them, and we kept our mutual distances and enjoyed our respective breakfasts.
Campground visitors

The weather, once summer settled in, was consistently good. There were only a few days of really hot weather and only a few periods of rain. I had no troubles finding partners to climb with, and ended up climbing with eleven people during my six week sojourn.
Shaz on Angel's Crest

Three were from Australia, one from Germany, and the others were from either Canada or the U.S. With one person I shared one pitch; with another I shared a week of climbing. Most were experienced climbers; a few were beginners.
But every single person I climbed with was a great partner; I had no bad experiences, no bad days.
Sally on the Squamish Buttress
Lauren on Angel's Crest
With Steven on Rock On
Cassie on Diedre
Brayden, no bad days! My friend Brayden Jones, second generation stuntman from Canada. Brayden was in town with his Mom, brother, and cousin, and joined me for some days on the rock. Stunts, Parkour (Free Running), mountain biker, rock climber, and all around athlete extraordinaire! Search for Jones Stunts on the web!

Squamish is my last major climbing destination on this trip. My budgeted funds are gone and it's time to find a new place to live. Somewhere in Colorado is the likely target, though I've never been to the state. Someplace with after work accessible climbing, hiking and biking are the requirements; a job is a necessity as well! But first, I think a detour to the desert is calling me...but that's the next installment.