Penny Lane, Smoke Bluffs, Squamish, Canada
Posted by sibylle in Spain, women, Canada and PNW (Wednesday August 21, 2013 at 5:49 pm)

Penny Lane Saioa 1.jpg

Basque climber Saioa starts up Penny Lane

This summer in Squamish started with hot, sunny days that sent us to hide in the shady cliffs at Cheakamus, followed by days of showers that made us retreat to the sunny crags of the Smoke Bluffs.

I headed to the Penny Lane cliff with Niko from Germany,  the Basque climbers Joaquin and Saioa, and Quebec native Lucie, amidst a mish-mash of languages - some of us spoke German, others Spanish and Basque , some French - but we had no one language in common.

Penny Lane Saioa 2.jpg

Saioa near the crux of Penny Lane

I’d lead the eponymous climb, Penny Lane, a few days earlier and chose to act as team photographer while Joaquin and Saioa climbed the route.

The climb starts with a few delicate face moves off the ground - on small, smooth holds. Getting off the ground  here has always gotten my attention. Right after the tiny face holds come a few layback moves on tiny  edges and smooth friction for the feet. One more layback move gets you around the corner and onto a good foot hold.

From here, I’ve seen some climbers try to layback the following corner, or like Saioa above, use fingerlocks and toe jams. I generally stem the corner while trying to get  my fingers  into the crack when I can.

After the crux start, the remaining climb consists of great hand jams that easily make up for any struggles lower down.

Penny Lane’s a great warm up for the harder climbs  on both sides, such as Crime of the Century, to the left,  or Climb and Punishment further to the right.
Crime Century rick 1.jpg

Crime of the Century (5.11c), with Penny Lane visible at right

Squamish - Chekeamus - Sacrilege
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Saturday August 17, 2013 at 5:52 pm)

On my first day back at Squamish, we headed to Chek, at Chekeamus - a little out of character for me, since it’s a steep, pumpy, sport climbing area - all things I’m not very good at. But on  a hot day, Chek provides shade, and it was time to work on my weaknesses.


Here, I’m leading pitch one of Sacrilege

Photos by Andy Cairns
We found a great climb: the three pitch long Sacrilege. The first pitch of Sacrilege comprises a left-tending steep ramp that begins with off -balance moves. After the first two clips, the available footholds  are bigger, and a nice crack lends itself to jamming - of which I took full advantage!

sacrilege 2.jpg

Pitch two of Sacrilege. Photo by Andy Cairns

On pitch two, Andy continued up the corner, on good holds to another bolted belay.  On pitch three we find the meat of the climb: lay-backing around a small bulge, and then continuing up and around flakes.

The climb is well worth  all four stars, and a great addition to the limited availability of easier warm ups.

We descended with two rappels, using a 70-meter rope.
sacrilege .jpg

Rappeling from Sacrilege

Photo by Andy Cairns

At the Chek , or main, crag of the Cheakamus  Canyon area.

From the parking area, turn right and pass the Foundation Wall , shoot to Kill Wall, Negative Wall, and Toxic Lichen Wall. Just before the the Circus, look for a ramp that trends up and left to bolted anchors. If continuing on to the second pitch,  pass the first bolted anchor and head left to belay at the second anchor.

Squamish- Right Wing, Slhany (the Squaw)
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Monday September 17, 2012 at 8:25 pm)

RW wall 1.jpg

Right Wing ascends the obvious dihedral in the middle;

the right-hand, lower, corner is Great Game

Photos by Andy Cairns

When we climbed Right Wing this August, it was the most strenuous and exhausting climb I’d done at Squamish.

RW p1.jpg

Pitch 1 finger / hand crack

The climb starts with an easy one (or two) pitch finger and hand crack, a climb of its own called ‘Eagles Domain’. Ironically, I couldn’t find the bolted belay at the top of this pitch - I looked right, I climbed up further, and then back down, looking for it, and finally belayed on a spacious ledge. After Andy climbed halfway up, I spied the anchors over to the left.

RW p2.jpg

Pitch 2, a fingery 10c sport pitch -

Coming off a good foothold, I couldn’t reach the best finger hold. I’m not that short - 5′7″,  so a short leader without fingers of steel may struggle here.  this pitch ended on a comfortable ledge — our last good rest for a while!

R wing p4.jpg

P3 - the long ‘Filibuster’ pitch

From this ledge, we embarked on the endless layback — move after move of pulling on burning arms, with hands about to go numb.

RW wall p 4-5.jpg

A climber on the first half of the ‘Filibuster’ pitch - pitch 3

Pitch 3 has  now been divided into two pitches, both very strenuous and demanding. I could not have done the two as one long pitch — not enough endurance.

RW 5 to GFL.jpg

Looking up at pitch 4 toward Godforsaken Land

When I thought I couldn’t go any further, the belay appeared — a  (very slippery) wooden plank, hanging from bolts like a swing.

Our next pitch - #4 - was no relief — but more laybacking,  with some chimney moves I thought I’d fall out of, as the crack leans so much.

RW : GFL 6.jpg

P5 - the last pitch of Godforsaken land

We opted to finish on the final pitch of Godforsaken land -   at 10c, a little less strenuous than the 10d pitch on Right Wing  - and, less overhanging. Still, it was strenuous. But it’s got a really cool move - you’re stemming between the corner and an arete, and then grab a small finger hold, let go of the corner, and lean right to move onto the arete. After that, it just remains pumpy.

r w p5.jpg

Last pitch - a steep hand traverse

I struggled on that last hand traverse — not much left in the fingers. I’ve concluded that I need to go sport climbing to improve my finger strength. so many of the Squamish climbs feature long, steep laybacks — and strong sport climbers can layback pretty well.  there’s not as many pure crack climbs here as in Yosemite, or the Sierra; the Squamish cracks tend more toward seams and layback.

Rock On, North Gully, Squamish
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Tuesday August 28, 2012 at 4:51 pm)

Rock On p4.jpg

Rock On,  pitch 4

photo by Andy Cairns

Pitch 4  requires more technique and also a bit more pulling than the other 4 pitches of Rock On.

Above, I’ve passed the difficult first few layback moves –  a fingertip layback in small, widely-spaced  tiny pockets spaced at intervals that felt entirely too long.

After those first few fingertip layback moves, the corner steps back to merely steep, or vertical, instead of overhanging, which permitted me to stem to the side on decent footholds, taking some weight off my fingers.

This pitch, in my opinion, is one reason Rock On merits the “Top 100″ climbs designation.  It’s exciting, in a beautiful corner, and the belayer gets to watch form a spacious ledge.

Furthermore, you can choose to rappel the entire climb and hike back down the North Gully, should you not wish to continue to the summit via Squamish Buttress or the Ultimate Everything.

Area 44, Squamish
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Sunday August 26, 2012 at 2:50 pm)

A 44.jpg

The climb, “Flight Deck”, at Area 44

Photo by Andy Cairns
We recently visited Area 44 to climb several of the newly cleaned and  bolted sport routes found here. We’d hoped that it would be quiet on a weekend, and instead were surprised to find many large groups of UBC students with ropes rigged on all the easier routes.

We opted to climb the only route in sight without a rope (or several climbers) on it  -  “Flight Deck”, rated 5.10b.

After struggling on the steeper parts of our “warm-up”, we went on to the easier climbs — Nuts and Bolts (5.6), Nuts and Raisins (5.7), and I’m Not Against It (5.8),  to 5.10b (Monkey Barrel). Both of us found Nuts and Raisins (5.7) to be easier than Nuts and Bolts (5.6). Nuts and Bolts is very easy  for most of the route, but has one technical move that’s quite thin, and a beginner may struggle on this move.
Next , we hiked  up around the corner to the Top 100 Rocky Horror (5.10 a). This climb is truly fun — it combines face climbing with jams, underclings, laybacks, stemming, and  a large variety of movement to keep every foot up interesting. It’s well worth the steep, scree-filled hike in (or out).

area 44.jpg

Merci Me, Squamish Chief
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Friday August 24, 2012 at 2:42 pm)

Merci 1 20-17-54.jpg

The run-out pitch 1 of Merci Me

photos by Andy Cairns
In the heat spell last week, we opted to climb in the shade, which, in the morning, includes most of Squamish Chief.

Andy suggested Merci Me, one of the approaches to the epic Grand Wall,  which I quickly agreed sounded good.

Pitch 1 of Merci Me is rated 5.7 in one of the guidebooks, with the first bolt 30 feet above the belay ledge. The new Squamish Select guide rates it 5.8, which is more how it felt to this visitor, climbing the pitch on sight.

merci belay.jpg

Belay at top of pitch 1

The climb follows a prominent dike for two pitches, and diagonals left to end below a large roof. The second pitch of Merci Me also starts the approach to the infamous Grand Wall — about half-way up the pitch, instead of follwing the dike left, instead, head up and then right to the small roof below the Split Pillar.

merci p2.jpg

Pitch 2 of Merci Me

While I’ve led runout friction pitches on the Glacier Point Apron, and in Tuolumne, this presents a different type of climb. It’s much steeper, and not smearing on friction, but face climbing on flakes and edges formed by the dike.

Equipment is simple:

3 bolts on pitch one

4 bolts on pitch 2.

Not much gear to carry for this climb!

Murrin - World’s Toughest Milkman - Squamish
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Monday August 20, 2012 at 6:12 pm)

milkan 1.jpg

At the top of “World’s Toughest Milkman”

photos by Andy Cairns
The new guide book to climbing at Squamish, British Columbia, “Squamish Select“, in addition to including routes new since the last published guidebook, also offers a “Top 100″ routes list.

As a long time, compulsive list-aholic, we’ve been ticking off some of the “top 100″ climbs  (the ones that are easy enough that I may have a slight chance of getting up them.  They include 5.13s on the top 100 list that I won’t be trying!)

After climbing Rock On, we  were not yet completely exhausted — plus, the weather remained good (always an issue in Canada, or any high mountains), so we decided to drive to Murrin Park , a cragging area which sports over 50 short, mostly one-pitch climbs, several of which are on the Top 100 list.

Out first stop was  the Milkman Wall, to climb “The World’s Toughest Milkman“, originally rated a sandbag 5.8, but upgraded in the new guidebook.

The route follows steep cracks and flakes to a bulge at the top - which, luckily for me, had a crack in it. I threw my foot up in the crack, and pulled myself  up sideways –  perhaps not standard sport technique, but, I had a top belay.

The climb’s as steep as the picture shows - but not that difficult, except for the exit move at the top.


Jungle Warfare, (Squamish)
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Sunday August 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm)

Jungle pitch 1.jpg

The steep first pitch

photos by Andy Cairns
The first pitch of Jungle Warfare - one of the easiest climbs on the Squaw - gets in your face  from the start. Step into a vertical crack, which  gets bigger, wider, and takes you over a pumpy roof.

The next pitch starts with an awkward traverse left– I scooted and crawled across the start, but was finally forced to stand up in order to continue up the crack above.

My favorite pitch was 4 - a delightful thin finger layback (bring lots of small cams and wires), with occasional face holds that made it easier to place gear.  One more easy pitch led to the top, from which we scrambled down through the “cave” descent.

jungle  6.jpg

The top of Jungle Warfare

Rock On, Squamish
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Saturday August 18, 2012 at 12:24 pm)

Rock On p1.jpg

Pitch 1 of Rock On

photos by Andy Cairns
During last week’s heat wave, we hiked  to Rock On, which remains shady most of the day.

Pitch one, shown above, starts with a tricky finger crack to a corner. I found laybacking  around the roof to be burly, but well-protected (I was glad of the #3 Camalot for the wide crack).

After this, I  stemmed the corner easily, until the next flake to layback around - but this one is easier and less strenuous than the first steep part.

rock on p3.jpg

Rock On, pitch 3

Pitch 3, though rated harder (5.9) than pitch 1 (5.8) felt less strenuous. It involves stemming a corner, jams, a chimney move, followed by a traverse left under a roof.  The traverse protected well with 0.5 to #1 Camalots - use long slings to avoid rope drag.

Andy led the crux pitch - the thin fingertip layback of pitch 4, which looks much harder to protect, since it leans quite a bit.

We chose to climb pitch 5 to the top, and rappel down to the Apron descent, but the climbers in front of us rappelled the route. The ledge above pitch 3 became very crowded then: I was there, plus the two climbers in front of us ( one of whom landed on my foot when rappelling); plus the guys who’d climbed “Hard On”, a two-pitch route to the same belay.  Yes - expect crowds: this is a (well-deserved) Top 100 climb!

Avalanche-prone snowpack in Colorado and west
Posted by sibylle in skiing, Colorado, Canada and PNW (Tuesday February 21, 2012 at 5:40 pm)


Snowpack during winter 2012 is much less than normal, but avalanche danger is as high, or higher than, ever.

Four skiers recently died in avalanches in the Cascades, a ski patroller from Keystone was killed near Wolf Creek Pass,    and another near Telluride. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center  warns of considerable avalanche danger.

This year has seen the following avalanche deaths:

Colorado - 6

Utah - 3

Montana - 3

Wyoming - 1

Washington - 4

Canada - 4

It’s not quite as bad as in Europe, which has suffered from mega-cold and snow this winter. One avalanche near Kosovo killed 10 people after it buried an entire house.

I survived an avalanche in  Europe when I was little - maybe 6 or 7. My father had taken his family and some friends on a backcountry ski tour. Suddenly, my mother was screaming my name. the next thing I knew, I was buried to my neck, with only my head sticking out of the snow.

I couldn’t move my arms, or legs. I could still breathe, since my head was sticking out above the snow - which saved my life two ways - I  could breathe, and someone found me.

One of our friends was only partially buried, andwas able to free himself. After that he dug out another of our group, and eventually they got us all free. No one died int hat avalanche, but the memory of my mother’s screams, and of being buried int he snow, completely immobilized, has never left me.

I track ski (classic cross country), and ski alpine at resorts, but rarely ski backcountry since moving to Colorado. We used to do lots of ski tours when I lived in California, with its wet, heavy snow  resulting in a  more stable snowpack, but I’ve really reduced the amount of backcountry skiing since moving to Colorado.

This winter, I’ve taken up ski racing (in gates), partly at my son’s urging, and am finding it’s really, really fun. I’m not good at it ( in fact, I’m lousy) - but it keeps my alive.
Perhaps it’s a good winter for finding other thrills,a nd wait on the backcountry until next year. Or wait for the Sierra in spring.


Sports Blog Top Sites