Thursday, 9 January 2014

North America Trip Part 1: Squamish

After graduating in July 2013 I was more than ready to pack my bags and head to North America to embark on a whirlwind adventure of crack climbing..... or was I! I had heard all the rumours surrounding crack climbing; how hard it is to start off with, how it’s like learning to climb again, how it savages the backs of your hands and makes your ankles burn, but I hadn’t really listened. Hence when, filled with ‘first day psyche’, Howard and I set off to climb Angels Crest into High Plains Drifter I was filled with optimism. At the end of the day, when Howard’s hands were seeping from the 35m 11a (6b+) hand crack, I had failed to climb the 11c (6c+) pitch and we were generally exhausted from climbing 14 pitches and still faced with the hike down, I realised that this crack climbing business was not to be underestimated.
 However, after a week or so we were well on our way to becoming granite masters (extreme sarcasm), working our way through the many classic multi-pitch routes Squamish has to offer. The technical nature of the climbing and the perfect day length routes, which are plentiful in the grade range of 5.11a-5.12a, make it one of the best places I have ever climbed. Some of the highlights were Tantalus into Cerberus (11d, 8 pitches), Freeway (11d, 10 pitches) and Cruel Shoes-Left Side-finishing up Grand Wall (5.12a, 12 pitches), with all pitches climbed onsight.

However, the real gem of my time in Squamish was Alaska Highway into The Calling (11d, 8 pitches). This route is on the North Walls and stays shaded from the blistering sun so is a perfect summer route. The granite overhangs spectacularly, providing a unique climb for Squamish which is predominantly slabby. After climbing the first pitch I found myself underneath an enormous roof at the apex of a wild, overhanging flare, partly wishing that I had the challenge of leading this breath taking pitch and partly glad that I didn’t have to set off on this intimidating lead! Watching Howard seemingly effortlessly squirm up this flare was impressive and I feel I failed to follow in the same style, huffing and puffing my way to the top. Even in the shade of the North Walls we were drenched in sweat from the word ‘go’ and I was forced to rest at the belay until the urge to vomit had passed... bring on pitch 3! Upon reaching the midway ledge that marks the end of Alaska Highway we already felt like we had done a full day climbing, but luckily the change in angle from brutally overhanging to just slightly overhanging makes finishing up The Calling look inviting. However, by the time the final pitch came around (a 10d squeeze chimney/flare) I think it would be fair to say that we had had enough! Fatigue had set in, dehydration had reached an all time high and a certain incident involving Howard’s helmet (having to remove it mid route in order to fit through the chimney lead to it almost getting dropped!) had resulted in much cursing. Nevertheless, once our feet were firmly back on the forest floor and all that remained was to pick our way through the dark forest (with only one head torch) only memories of the cool 3D climbing were recalled. Doing lots of trad climbing definately tires you out mentally and physically so lots of swimming got done in the beautiful lakes and a couple of days downhill biking (this was not relaxing at all and definately not a mental break from trad climbing!).

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