Squamish Chief Apron, Calculus Crack
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Friday August 29, 2008 at 12:40 pm)


Calculus Crack, Tristan Hechtel on pitch one

On our first clear day, we again headed up to climb Calculus Crack. Though wet, we thought we could climb it even if some water remained in the crack. We took a good look at the Apron and discovered that, at the end of the first pitch of “5.7 tree-and-rock climbing” there was a small jog to the left to a supposedly “clean corner (5.8)” to reach Baseline ledge. We’d missed this crack our first time up,  when we accidentally climbed  St. Vitus Dance Direct.

We headed left at the top of the 5.7 tree pitch to a corner that was anything but clean. Water streamed down the crack and, though less tree-covered than the previous pitch, more plants grew here than anywhere else we’d climbed. After surmounting our second wet, bushy approach pitch, we arrived at a nice-looking crack. I headed up the pitch, which turned out to be off-width, with good footholds in the crack, since it’s low angle, but not full of good hand jams. Since we’d still not added the extra big gear to our rack, I tied off small trees and shrubs in the next crack beside me (which would have been much easier to walk up, since it had footsteps in the mud, but I didn’t want to get my shoes wet, nor did I trust my traction on sloping mud). Clearly, climbing in wet areas requires some adjustments and skills we lack!
The next pitch made up for all the mud. Tristan led a perfect finger and hand crack on clean (and dry) rock over the short headwall and up to easier terrain.
I’d definitely recommend this climb if the approach is dry. I’m not sure when that occurs, as we’ve not seen more than three consecutive days without rain! It was fun even when wet, but it’s harder and less secure.

Neat and Cool, Smoke Bluffs, Squamish
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Thursday August 28, 2008 at 3:27 pm)

Continued rain prevented excursions on the longer routes on the Chief, but periods of dry weather in the morning allowed us to climb  at the Smoke Bluffs.
Last year, at Squamish, we  enjoyed sunny skies and did a number of longer climbs up the Apron and also climbed Squamish Buttress, a route to the Chief’s summit. This year, rain soaked the rock, rendering the long routes extremely slippery and getting back down from them proved difficult as well. However, we’d periodically have a morning of dry weather, during which the shorter crags, like the Smoke Bluffs or Murrin Park provided an alternative.

At Neat and Cool, a cliff close to the parking lot and approach trail, numerous climbers waited to toprope the same few crack lines. We were left to choose among one or two climbs  that did not have climbers and ropes strung on them.

Cat Crack, 5.6,  is in the far upper left corner of the photo

Squamish - Smoke Bluffs, Neat and Cool cliff
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized, Canada and PNW (Wednesday August 27, 2008 at 3:30 pm)


Sibylle climbing at the Neat and Cool Cliff, Smoke Bluffs

The sun shining during our first few days of climbing lulled us into complacency and we took a rest day, foolishly planning to climb more long routes the next day. Unfortunately, the next day dawned grey and progressed from drizzle to showers. After a few days of watching it rain and hiking in the rain, we headed to a local crag, the Smoke Bluffs, which features abundant short, one-pitch climbs with rappel anchors, some top roping, and a few sport climbs.

On our first day, we climbed at the Neat and Cool cliff, a cliff with very easy access and numerous moderate routes. The granite here is quite grainy, with more friction than I was used to from Yosemite and Tuolomne, which gives it the advantage of better grip on footholds, but the concomitant disadvantage of grittier jam cracks. I’d gotten used to not taping after a month of climbing Tuolomne’s smooth glacier polish (though some cracks may have crystals in them) and didn’t tape for the cracks. Both Tristan and I received small cuts on our hands after a few hard cracks.

However, stemming should benefit from the added friction so we’ll try some stemming corners when they dry out. Numerous climbers had the same idea as we did – head to Neat and Cool to avoid being caught up high in the rain. We headed up to a 5.7 corner, since most other climbs to the right and left had top-ropes strung on them. Then Tristan found a nice 5.9 crack and led that, while five other climbers top-roped the route immediately to the right.

We concluded that trying another cliff, with fewer toprope anchors, might be best for our next foray to the Smoke Bluffs.

Squamish - Squaw, Birds of Prey
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Tuesday August 26, 2008 at 8:23 am)


The Squaw near Squamish

Our second day at Squamish, chastised after getting lost the previous day, but encouraged that we’d climbed a harder route with minimal gear, we hiked to the Squaw to climb Birds of Prey. We’d climbed two routes on the Squaw and knew where to find the start of the climb.

We reached the base after a stiff hike up steep woods to see people climbing the first two pitches. They looked fast, so we waited to head up behind them. I combined the first two pitches, pleasant hand and finger cracks on a low-angle slab, to a belay below the steep headwall of the crux pitch, a 5.10b crack in a corner.

Tristan zoomed up the crack to a belay in a tree before an easy 4th class pitch. As I led this pitch, thinking, “This sure is hard for 4th class,” I encountered my first bolt.
“Are you sure it goes this way?’ I asked.
“Yeah, they went up to that ledge.”
I headed up a flake with rotten rock, mantled onto a sloping ledge, and clipped another bolt to reach a bolted anchor. The party in front of us yelled down,
“This might be the wrong route. It gets really hard up here.”
Meanwhile, two other climbers reached the third belay, where Tristan discussed where Birds of Prey might go. I looked at the other option, a dirty-looking crack on the wall to the right while standing in front of a clean finger crack in a corner, which seemed clearly nicer.
“Let’s do this one,” I yelled.
Again, we set off onto unknown territory, this time with the added warning that it got really hard. Luckily, Tristan could lead thin finger cracks. When he started yelling,
“Watch me! I might fall here!” I got an indication of what awaited us. He’d led Kangaroo Corner, a 5.11 crack, without any problem. Tris made it up that pitch to another small ledge and I got up with a little assist from above.
Clouds rolled in and a storm approached. We had one more pitch – according to the climbers in front of us, the hardest one.
“Let’s traverse right.” It looked like that might prove easier, but it led to a bolted arête that even Tristan struggled on.
We beat the rain to the top and quickly headed back down.
“We’re not doing well on route finding,” I said.
“No, we’re zero for two,” Tristan agreed.

Squamish Chief Apron
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Monday August 25, 2008 at 9:22 am)


Squamish Chief, with Apron in foreground.

Calculus Crack and St. vitus Dance are at the far left.

We arrived in Squamish to blue skies and glorious sunshine, excited to climb after our drive from Tuolomne. The next day we decided to climb a 5.8 route on the Apron, Calculus Crack, which neither of us had done.

Following the guidebook directions, we walked through trees and shrub toward the cliff we couldn’t see, but assumed would appear. Soon, the trail turned right toward the cliff, under a tight canopy of trees, moss, and vines. At the cliff base, a fixed rope indicated that this could be the moderate climb up trees and shrubs toward the ledge.

Upon reaching the ledge, we saw a right-facing corner with a finger crack in front of us. The book said to head up a 5.8 corner, so I started climbing.
“Boy, this Squamish 5.8 is a lot harder than Tuolomne 5.8,” I grumbled.
After struggling up another 50 feet or so, I reached the wet part of the crack, with water running down my fingers.
“This 5.8 is really difficult when it’s wet!” I yelled down. “I’m running out of gear.”
After more struggles, I finally made it up my 5.8 crack to the ledge. A few feet to our right we saw a crack and Tristan led the next pitch. As I followed, I thought, “Boy, this is hard for 5.6.”
On reaching the off-width, I suspected we were on the wrong route. Rather than Calculus Crack, with three pitches at 5.6, 5.7, and 5.8, we were on St. Vitus Dance, with three pitches of 5.9.
“I think we’re on the wrong route,” I said, when I reached Tristan.
“I think so too. Your lead,“ he replied and handed me our (very skimpy) rack.
Great. St. Vitus Dance is offwidth. The book said to bring four to five cams between three to four inches. We had one cam that was three inches and nothing larger. Nervously, I started up my pitch. It had a chimney section on which I’d get no gear. I did not want to fall on our anchor – two stoppers (one sideways) and a green alien. Not ideal –but I didn’t want to leave behind the only gear I’d have for the crack. With some thrutching, I reached the next ledge, which fortunately had a tree to belay from. Tristan’s led the next hand crack and we reached the top without further incident.
Back at our car, we re-read the guidebook. The first corner on which I’d struggled was the 5.10 St. Vitus Dance Direct. Not what we’d planned on climbing, but still a fun route, which we would have thoroughly enjoyed if we’d brought the gear we needed.

Squamish Chief, Canada
Posted by sibylle in Canada and PNW (Friday August 22, 2008 at 8:39 am)


The Squamish Chief enjoying beautiful blue skies and sunshine

We arrived in Squamish, British Columbia, under gorgeous blue skies and warm temperatures. The granite dome of the Stawamus Chief, usually called just the Chief, rears 2,300 feet above its base adjacent to the Howe Sound, a fjord that juts in from the Straight of Georgia above Vancouver.

The Stawamus Chief Provincial Park contains not only the Chief, but also the Stawamus Squaw, a slightly smaller granite monolith.

The town of Squamish, built in the early 1900s during the construction of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, formerly survived on logging, with the town’s largest employer a pulp mill that permanently closed in January 2006. Before that, the largest employer was a sawmill and logging operation but it closed even prior to the pulp mill, making tourism a greater and greater contributor to the local economy.

Squamish, with a population of about 15,000, provides three campgrounds near the Chief. The park brochure describes the Chief as the world’s second largest granite monolith, after Yosemite’s El Capitan. We know of larger monoliths in Patagonia, Pakistan, and Baffin Islands, but the two above were the first to be climbed. The main climber’s campground, right at the base of the Chief, has 62 sites according to the park website (I saw sites numbered to 66). It’s the social center (or centre, we’re in Canada) of the local climbing scene. In just a few days here, we ran into friends and climbing partners from Ohio, California, Indian Creek, Boulder, Portrero Chico (Mexico), and met climbers from Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Australia, Quebec (tons), Britain, and Poland.
More than anywhere, except possible Indian Creek in spring and fall, Squamish reminds me of Camp 4 in the 70s. The climbing is great, camping is inexpensive ($10 per night with a maximum of three tents), and it’s easy to get around without a car. Lots of climbers live here for the summer, with restrictions to length of stay not yet strictly enforced.
Town, with several grocery stores, restaurants, and entertainment (bars and pubs) is a few easy miles away, reachable by bicycle, and showers are affordable at the nearby aquatic center.

All in all, it’s the best place I’ve seen on this continent where a climber can camp for several weeks and climb regularly. The authorities welcome tourists, including climbers.
“Look”, said Tristan. “They built a ‘climber’s parking lot’. Can you imagine that in Yosemite?”
No, I can’t.

Camping in Tuolomne
Posted by sibylle in Yosemite, California (Thursday August 21, 2008 at 1:07 pm)


Camping at Porcupine Flat, Tuolomne Meadows

Camping in Tuolomne Meadows must rank among the best, with sunny weather, mild temperatures, and gorgeous views—and thus experiences concomitant popularity resulting in full sites. Most climbers stay in the Tuolomne Meadows campground located by the store, grill, and gas station.

Tuolomne Meadows campground has 304 sites, of which 50% are by reservation only and 50% are on a first-come-first-served basis, and has the best RV access (it holds RVs up to 35 feet long, whereas the other campgrounds can only accommodate RVs to 20, 24, or 27 feet long, depending on the campground). Tuolomne Meadows benefits from the closeness to the store, post office, and grill—campers who are too tired to cook can enjoy burger and fries.

Tuolomne Meadows has six other campgrounds: Crane Flat, Hodgdon Meadow, Porcupine Flat, Tamarack Flat, White Wolf, and Yosemite Creek. These contain from 52 to 166 sites and all except Yosemite Creek have some RV access. The campgrounds with fewer amenities cost less. In summer 2008, while Tuolomne Meadows charged $20 a night, Porcupine Flat, Tamarack Flat, and Yosemite Creek charged only $10 per night. These campgrounds have no tap water and pit toilets, which should do fine for climbers who’re used to campgrounds without water.

All the campgrounds provide picnic tables and fire rings. In Tuolomne, they come equipped with bear boxes for food storage. In summer 2008, we stayed at Porcupine Flat, which is quiet, with large sites by the creek, and nine miles from Tenaya Lake. It’s 16 miles from Porcupine Flat to the store and gas station. From the Tenaya Lake picnic area, a number of domes are within about two miles (Bunny Slopes, Pywiack Dome, Dozier Dome, and Low Profile Dome, and Medlicott Dome).

People who arrive when all campgrounds are full can camp outside Yosemite National Park, near Tioga Pass. Several private campgrounds exist just east of the Tioga Pass entrance station: Ellery Lake, Tioga Lake, plus two more at Saddlebag Lake. I camped in a small campground at Ellery Lake in 2007 for $17 per night.

Heading east (and downhill) from Tioga Pass toward Mono Lake, one finds abundant campgrounds near Lee Vining. These provide much warmer nighttime temperatures (but can be unpleasantly hot in the day) and require a longer drive to hiking or climbing in the park.

Tuolomne - Mt. Dana
Posted by sibylle in Yosemite, California (Wednesday August 20, 2008 at 8:41 am)


Third Pillar of Dana as seen from Tioga Road

The Third Pillar is the striking arête left of center in the picture. I climbed it in the 70s with the British climber, Jill Lawrence. At that time, we had only nuts – stoppers and hexes – and no camming devices. The climb was rated 5.9 (according to my son, “everything was rated 5.9 back then!”) and it’s now rated 5.10b. I suspect it got no harder, so either we took circuitous lines, climbing around the hard parts by traversing off to the left or the right, while today the route takes a more direct straight up and ignore-the-added-difficulties approach, or it’s been upgraded. I’m unsure which.

Jill wanted to lead the last pitch, the steep to overhanging jugs, which was fine with me. She was stronger than I, and I had no qualms about giving her the hard pitch. Her friend, the late British climber Pete Livesey decided to come along – sort of. He hiked in near us, reached the base before us, and started off to solo the climb (unroped). He hung around as we climbed to give us pointers on route finding, which was fine with me (but definitely not with Jill. She was furious).

As luck would have it, although Jill carefully arranged for me to first lead whichever pitch would result in her being on lead for the steep final pitch, we somehow either ran two pitches together or added a pitch (more likely the former), and as we approached the top, It became clear that I’d get to lead the final pitch. About that time, it started lightly drizzling, so speed was paramount and changing leaders, with all that would involve – handing over the hardware, re-stacking the rope – was not an option. I gritted my teeth and started up the steep face with little gear. The wall steepened until rain no longer hit us, granting me dry holds for the final section. As the drizzle turned into rain, we topped out and were ready to run back down the trail.

Tuolomne, Medlicott Dome
Posted by sibylle in Yosemite, California (Tuesday August 19, 2008 at 8:14 am)


Shagadellic, belay from top of pitch one

We hiked up the climber’s trail that reaches Medlicott Dome at an iconic Tuolomne climb: the mega run-out Bachar-Yerian. From here, we headed towards the huge corner that forms the Yawn. Shagadellic starts left of a smooth right-facing corner with a hand / fist crack (the direct start of what years ago was known as the West Face.) Either of two corners provides a good beginning, with the easiest start a traverse in from the right.
For pitch one, we climbed up corners to a big ledge with a large tree with a rappel sling. We continued up the corner and then face climbed left of the corner past a fixed pin plus three to four bolts to another huge ledge with a two-bolt anchor.
For pitch two, we started at the far end of the ledge and ascended a left-facing corner for 15 feet past a sloping ledge. We then climbed on knobs to the first bolt, about 15 feet above the ledge and continue past a number of bolts to a ledge with a belay anchor.
The Supertopo guidebook rates pitch 2 as 5.7, but when I asked Tristan what he thought of the 5.7 he replied,
“What 5.7?” and replied that he considered the climbing on pitch two to be closer to 5.8.
On pitch three, we climbed on knobs, friction and dishes, past about 10 bolts to a ledge with an anchor.

Again, the Supertopo guide rates and pitch 3 as 5.8, but both Tristan and I felt it was closer to 5.9. I found it as hard as Dixie Peach or West Crack on Daff Dome; Tristan thought pitch three was as hard as any but the last pitch on the Third Pillar of Dana regular route, which he’d climbed a few days earlier.

I’d love your comments on this climb’s rating, or questions. To comment, click the red numeral in the title.

Tuolomne, Holdless Horror
Posted by sibylle in Yosemite, California (Monday August 18, 2008 at 8:27 am)


Belay at the top of pitch one of Holdless Horror

Holdless Horror 5.7

From Erret Out, walk downhill and right for about 200 feet to a crack that goes all the way from the ground to the top of the wall, with grass growing in the bottom 20 feet or so.
We climbed unroped up past the grassy portion to a good ledge about 40 feet off the ground and set up our first belay here. This crack absolutely eats stoppers, so here’s a good place to practice placing (and removing) stoppers for the recently converted sport climber.
The crack varies between thin crack with knobs on the face as footholds, to handjams and footjams, to wide crack where one can practice Valley-acquired offwidth techniques, like heeltoe for the feet and arm bars or chicken wings (but only on a short section). We took cams up to a number two Camalot and were comfortable with the protection, but if you’re nervous on bigger cracks, take a few bigger pieces for the wide section.

Descent: Walk off right and down toward the creek. Cross the creek at a narrow spot, indicated by a cairn, and follow a trail that skirts the west side of the creek. When possible, cross the creek again and head to the bottom of Dozier Dome. The earlier one crosses, the less climbing back up there is at the end. This descent involves a bit of a hike, so allow time to find it and get down.

Please comment with route suggestions or questions. To comment, click the red numeral in the title.

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