This was another outing of the Boealps Intermediate Alpine Climbing Class, and another opportunity for us to practice our rock technique and our lead skills. Since I'd heard that the area was really pretty, and good camping abounded, Maren and Bryden came along on the trip to share the adventure! We drove up Friday afternoon, skirting Vancouver to the east to avoid rush hour traffic heading out for Victoria Day. Most the folks seemed to be headed to Vancouver Island, so we had a liesurely 4 hour drive to Squamish. My first view of Squamish Chief left me rather stunned - I'm sure I've never seen as large an expanse of granite as the Chief is, and this was awesome! We found the campground near the Chief we were going to be staying at, and after laying claim to one of the tenting sites we headed in to town (such as it is) for dinner. Our meal at the Howe Sound Brewery was excellent, but the service was painfully slow. On returning to the campground, we met up with the other Boealps folks, and the students and instructors were paired off for the next day's adventures.
Saturday morning several of us headed over to the Smoke Bluffs area. The weather was great, but promising to become quite warm in the afternoon. To warm up, I ended up following Five Fingered Sally (5.8) and Cat Crack (5.6). I was given the option of leading Cat Crack as well, but felt kind of shaky through one section, so I just top roped it a second time. After that, we moved over to Corn Flakes (5.6), where I did manage to lead, although rather slowly. I still don't have the confidence in my climbing I used to have before the fall down at Smith Rock. We then moved on to Left Corner Crack (5.8) which I followed, and then found a funky little 5.6 (or was it harder?) crack up above the bluffs for me to lead. We rapped down the Corn Flakes line, and I was taught a little lesson. After my instructor rapped down, I readjusted our anchor, and then headed down without seeing if the rope ends both still reached the ground - after all, they'd been fine for my instructor just a minute ago. Well, about halfway down I could see that one end of the rope was fine, but the other was about 15 feet in the air - rats! What I needed to do was slide the rope through my ATC until everything was evened up again. I managed to get my feet on kind of a ledge where I could get some of my weight off of the rope, so Istood up until I had a little bit of slack in the system, and pull the slack tight through one end of the ATC. This didn't "skootch" the rope up very fast, but after 15 or 20 iterations I finally had both rope ends on the ground. I suppose another option would have been to build a quick anchor and clip in, then readjust the rope, but it's always easier to think of that sort of thing when you're already on the ground! The afternoon was getting pretty warm by this point, so we wandered around the base of the crags, getting a feel for where all the different climbs were. We only did one more climb that day, Burgers and Fries (5.7) which starts out as a straight forward crack, and ends up with an interesting friction section. Again I followed, and was pleased with that decision!
Sunday we headed out early to get in line to climb Diedre, the multi-pitch 5.7 classic. We got to the base of the climb around 7:00, and were the third group. For as popular as that climb is, and as nice as the weather was, there were only two more parties that followed us that day. The long weekend must have taken most of the folks out of town. My instructor and I had agreed to swing leads, and he started out on the first friction pitch. I led easily up to the belay tree, and visited with two other parties that were crossing our route and heading over to Banana Peal as I brought my instructor up. He immediately got off route on the next pitch and did a fun (if you're on top rope) 5.9 friction variation instead of staying further left on the more featured rock. We hung out at the next belay station for a while letting folks ahead of us move on. I took the third lead, and skizzled on across the slab to the beginning of the dihedral proper. We again waited here for a while to let the parties ahead of us finish the pitch. Here's where the climbing got more interesting. There are great places to slot your fingers all along the base of the dihedral, but for a tall climber like me that meant leaning way forward to reach down that low - just the opposite of what you wnat to be doing on slab work. I was happy to follow that pitch to start getting the feel for that kind of climbing. I started out leading the next pitch, and did well while I could work my hands along a large fin above the seam in the dihedral. Once I ran out of that, though, my climbing just didn't feel solid enough to be leading. I set one final nut, and told my instructor that I was downclimbing back to him. He finished the lead, and in following, I felt I had made the right decision. On retrospect, it actually might have been easier for me to leave the dihedral, and just run it out on the slab a few feet to the right. My 5.7 slab climbing is pretty good, and I think I would have felt more confidant out there where the angle was a little more gentle, rather than having to bend over and place pro right at the base of the dihedral. Next time! My instructor took the next lead as well, which turned out to be a bit slick in places from some water seepage. I was again glad to be following. I bucked it up for the final lead, however, and walked pretty easily to within a few feet of the old fixed piton. Working carefully up to clipping distance, I breathed a sigh of relief to have the rope conected to something other than the belay station 30 feet below me! I backed up the piton with three(!) other bomber pieces, then went to work on the crux of the route, the 5.8 exit move. Being tall may have hindered me along the dihedral, but a good reach was most welcome here! I was able to do just a couple of moves before I was able to pull myself up on the trunk of the tree at the top of the climb and clip in. Whew!
We stopped here for a bit to eat some lunch, and I started relaxing, thinking the adventure was over - wrong! Instead of taking the nice gentle path through the forest for our descent, my instructor lead me down the right side (as you're facing it) of the slab. This descent isn't hard, and the rock has excellent friction, but it must be 15 or 20 degree granite, rolling on down to forever, with no hope of stopping yourself if you were to slip and start rolling. My heart was pretty much in my throat the whole way down, and even thought I haven't taken the trail descent, I'd highly recommend it over walking the slab.
After getting down we decided it was too hot and too late to really get geared up for any other climbs. Instead, we headed back to the parking area and hung out, waiting for the other climbers to finish their day, and swapped stories with each before heading back to Seattle.
Although this was my first trip up to Squamish, it certainly won't be my last. From talking with several of the other folks, there were lots more excellent moderate routes to be climbed, and there's a bunch of sport climbs that we didn't even look at. With as beautiful as Squamish is, and as fun as the rock is there, I'm sure we'll start making at least one trip a year north!