Squamish Rock Climbing
Diedre, Banana Peel, Rock On
July 21-23, 2011
Adam Greenstreet and I had been making plans to climb the NE Buttress of Mt Slesse for several months and the weather forecast had been causing me some grief. We had planned to drive up and hike in to the basin on Thursday, climb most of the route on Friday and bivy on the route, then summit, descend and drive home on Saturday. The weather forecast was calling for precipitation on Thursday and then mostly sunny Friday and Saturday. Since we wouldn't be climbing on Thursday and "granite dries out really fast", we decided to continue with our plans.
Adam met me at REI around noon where we picked up a few last minute items and rented a bivy sack and flexible, strap-on crampons (I realized too late that I only had step-in flexible crampons). We loaded up the Highlander and left my house around 2pm. It was a little later than we had hoped but all in all a good start! Earlier that morning I had made copies of all the topos and route descriptions from my guide books: Alpine Select, Northwest Classics, Beckey III, Selected Climbs, as well as the Bindner and Brennan topo. I also printed out the excellent Crossover Pass Descent description by Jeremy Frimer.
With ample reading material, we made the drive up to Bellingham then across the Sumas border crossing. As we approached the border we recounted the return crossing from our trip to the Bugaboos. The US Border guards asked us if we bought or used any drugs while in Canada. We said "no" of course and then after looking through all our strewn about gear in the back of our car (we had packed up in a hurry) the guard held up a freeze dry bag full of Mary Jane's Black Bean Chowder and asked, "Are you SURE you didn't buy any drugs? What's this!?" After identifying what he was holding up, I chuckled a nervous reply that it was food and he let us on our way.
This time Adam and I had no such excitement as the Canadian guard asked us the usual, "Where are you from?", "Where are you going?", "How long are you staying?", and "Are you bringing anything you are planning to leave?" We told him that we were going up to Chilliwack for some hiking and when he asked what we were going to hike, I replied, "Mt Slesse". His eyes widened and said, "What side?" And I said, "the GOOD side: NE Buttress!" He wished us good luck and sent us through. I love Canada.
Once into the Great White North we encountered some traffic on highway 1 and were impressed by the bold driving techniques of our neighbors to the north. One truck had waited long enough and decided to drive the wrong way up an on ramp to gain the secondary road which paralled the highway. Another car created their own exit by driving through the median on the side of the road. Good stuff! We, being foreigners, decided to stay on the straight and narrow and waited out the traffic. Eventually we passed a stopped police car who had pulled over a passenger car on the side of the road and then the traffic picked back up. This was somewhat anti-climatic since there was no broken glass, bent metal or busted hockey sticks anywhere to be found!
Of all the maps and topos we brought with us, the one map we didn't have was of British Columbia. I think I was so happy that we were finally doing the speed limit that we missed the Sardis/Chilliwack exit and soon were well on our way to Hope. After several kilometers of seeing no signs for Chilliwack we realized our mistake and decided to turn around. Since the nearest exit was obviously farther than the approaching emergency turn around, I decided to take a page out of the local driving handbook and make the illegal turn. I was decent enough to make sure there was no traffic (or mounties) present when I executed the illicit maneuver. Having been in Canada for nearly two hours now, we were feeling at home and happily sped back west towards Chilliwack. The signs in this direction were much more obvious and we were able to take the correct exit easily!
We drove through town and soon were on the Chilliwack River road driving through dense forest. We only had to turn around a couple times before we found the Nesakwatch Creek road. This is where our adventure continued by negotiating several washouts on the road. When I bought my Toyota Highlander a new FJ Cruiser had just arrived also and I inquired if it was too late to change my mind... I told Adam this and he replied that this washed-out-scree-strewn-road would be too easy in an FJ and that this was more challenging and thus more sporting! I agreed and we spend 30 minutes taking runs at the incline, backing down, moving rocks, and then taking more runs. We nearly made it past one steep section where a rock slide had taken out the road and you had to 4x4 up and around. We figured we were close enough and decided to just park the car and start hiking from here. About a kilometer and three quarters up the road we came to the "gate" that was barely still attached to the ground. The road had been obliterated by winter and spring runoffs to the point where a 10 foot deep canyon was where the road used to be. We explored this for a little ways then back tracked to the gate where a spur road took us to the site where four posts marked where a cabin once stood. One of the guidebooks we were following instructed us to cross the bridge then gain the spur road on the other side of the creek and follow the trail up to the basin below the Pocket Glacier. Seems simple enough. Instead we found the remains of the bridge on the other side of the raging river. And it started to rain. Hard.
Not ones to give up so easily, we climbed down the bank to the river and followed it up stream as far as we could looking for a fallen log to cross or a passable section. It was around 8pm at this point and with the heavy clouds the light was failing along with our hopes of even reaching the proper trail. It was at this point I turned my thoughts to the sunny slabs of the lower Apron on the Stuwamus Chief in Squamish! Adam had never been to Squamish so with a new goal in hand, we hiked back down the road to the car and drove west to the outdoor capitol of B.C.: SQUAMISH!
Heavy traffic on Canada Highway 1 resulted in our 1:34am arrival at the camp ground at the foot of the Stuwamus Chief. We unpacked our sleeping bags and slept in the back of the car. Morning came early with the light waking us up. We tried to go back to sleep but after an hour of unrestful snoozing we decided to get up. The oatmeal we brought didn't sound as good as coffee, eggs, bacon, toast, and jam so we drove into town and found a cafe. With full bellies and spirits raised we drove back to the Chief and climbed Diedre on the lower apron. This classic 6 pitch, 5.8 route is usually packed with one party at the heels of the next but today there was only one party on the route in front of us. We had looked at Snake, but the water streaks on the third and fourth pitches persuaded us to stick with Diedre.
I had climbed this route once before with Loren Miller and was excited to share this fun route with Adam. At the base Adam belayed me up the slabs to the beginning of the first pitch. We swapped pitches up the route until we caught up with the other party. The husband and wife were from the Netherlands and were moving back so they getting in one last climb. They were friendly so we just took our time enjoying the view of Howe Sound. At the top we coiled the rope and scrambled down to the climbers trail which took us back down to the parking lot. What a fun climb!
While sorting gear at the trail head an older gentleman walked up and started chatting with us. He asked us what we had climbed and we told him about our failed attempt on Slesse. His father was a helicopter pilot who was one of the first to fly in to the site of the 1953 crash of a DC-7. He told us stories of how the officials closed off the area for quite awhile since rumours had surfaced about one of the passengers on the plane having a money belt with $80K in it! I think I saw that movie, or at least a similar one! ;) We talked for awhile then he went on his way. Nice meeting you, Don!
In addition to Snake and Diedre, I knew that Banana Peel was another highly regarded route on the Apron, but I didn't know where it started. So we decided to drive into town and pick up a guide book. The climbing shop didn't open until 10 am so we hung out in the parking lot with another woman waiting for the store to open. As we were chatting we learned that she had been living in Leavenworth and was now beginning a two month climbing trip. Soon a man pulled up with his dog and opened up the shop. We picked up a copy of Squamish Select and continued to look around the shop. While we were gazing up a the port-a-ledge on display another woman walked in and the shop owner left. This was her first day on the job and she had some trouble looking up the prices of a few things. This was good since I wanted to buy a poster of The Chief (and the port-a-ledge). But in the end we just walked out with what we came for: a guidebook! At the counter was a basket full of stickers and we laughed at one that read, "What are ya? 'Merican?"
Armed and dangerous we drove back to the parking lot, refilled our water bottles and hiked up to where Banana Peel started. Adam was leading the way and soon was traversing across an exposed horizontal crack. It was easy climbing but definitely a "no fall zone". Soon the crack ended at a wide ledge where I found Adam looking at the guidebook. "Hmmmm...we just climbed the first two pitches!", he informed me.
Once tied in to the rope, Adam took the third pitch which started off with an awkward step up to an unprotected slab. Little did we know that this was par for the course on this route. "Cheap, socialist, bastards who can't even afford a bolt now and then" became the mantra over the next five pitches. Sure, the route is 5.7 but the runouts are significant. This third pitch followed a runout slab to the base of a step where a small cams protect the moves up left to a tree belay. Very nice lead, Adam! I took the next pitch and thanked my lucky stars that it had decent protection and was pretty moderate. I followed slabs and cracks up a groove to a depression where I could build a gear anchor. Adam got lucky again with this next pitch which immediately put him out on the slab 60 feet to his first gear placement. I took a picture of him, and he took a picture looking back down to me. "C.S.B.'s!" As I was belaying Adam, I was thinking how thankful I was not to be leading this pitch until it came my turn to climb. Now I had to make the rightward upward trending traverse across a sea of smooth granite! Doh! "C.S.B.'s!"
The sixth pitch was highlighted by some polished steps up a unprotectable groove to a crack and then up to a large boulder. At the boulder Adam called up and suggested we just simul-climb the last pitch since it was only 5.4. Getting off this crappy, runout, route sounded good by me so I continued up and soon we were both at the Broadway Ledge walk off. At the top, I commented, "That route got four stars? What a bunch of sick, cheap, socialist, bastards!" We laughed at this as we hiked back down again and made our way into town where we treated ourselves to a nice dinner at the Howe Sound Brewery.
After dinner it was still light out so we drove back to the camp ground and decided to hike up The Chief. We parked on the outside of the gate where we slept earlier that morning and walked into the campground past folks cooking dinner, playing guitars and banjos, and slacklining. Everyone was enjoying the pleasant evening. We made our way through the tent sites to the back of the campground where the trail began. I had hiked up to the second summit a few years ago but forgot about all the stairs that were in place! Someone had done A-LOT of work to put in this "trail". The stairs were steep, but we made good time getting up to the top. We decided to not use our headlamps for as long as we could - allowing our eyes to adjust to the dim light. Once on top we turned off our head lamps and admired the starry night and the glow of Squamish far below. While looking for meteors and satellites we saw what I believe to be an Iridium flare. It was around 11:30pm when we started hiking back down. I was glad to be back on the trail since being on the smooth summit of the third peak spooked me a little. Soon we were back at the parking lot climbing into our sleeping bags for a well earned nights rest.
The next morning we woke up and drove into town with thoughts of coffee on our minds. As luck would have it, on the drive into town Adam received a text from Emma, a woman who lives in Squamish whom he met earlier this spring while climbing in Red Rocks, NV. Adam had left messages for her when we arrived but hadn't heard back from her until now. She invited us over for coffee and breakfast. We had a bit of trouble finding her place as her French-Canadian accent coupled with a bad cell phone connection made the directions somewhat unclear. But after asking directions from a man with a heavy Scottish accent, and a woman with a German accent, we finally found her house. Emma's house has a great rooftop deck with a nice view of The Chief. Emma's friend, Ann, was visiting from Montreal so we all visited while enjoying coffee, toast, fresh fruit, and an egg-scramble. It was nice sitting in the sun in comfy recliners so the morning went. After breakfast we walked two blocks down to a Saturday market where we bought some fresh blueberries and cherries. Lot's of families were out enjoying the sunshine in a nearby park so we sat on the grass and chatted. Upon recounting our experience on Banana Peel, Emma - who is rather outspoken, informed us that "if you can't handle the 5.7 grade then maybe you should go down to 5.6 where you belong!" Touché! We all had a good laugh at this.
It was very nice sitting in the sun but Emma and Ann had errands to run and Adam and I had some more granite to climb! We said goodbye and drove back to our parking lot where we hiked up to climb the five pitch, five star route, Rock On. The forest was very muggy as we made our way up the steep drainage creek to the start of the route. We had hoped that our late start would allow the crowds to have already left or to be well ahead of us. As it turned out, a party of four arrived just after us. They were planning to climb a new route on the other side of the gully from Rock on but since it was still wet they followed us up. I took the first lead which was a pumpy, hand crack up a corner. The slow start to the day and the hot weather made it difficult to get into the climbing and I moved up slowly. The protection was good so I sewed up the cruxes with gear. As Adam was belaying me he overheard the other climbers talking about projecting the 5.13a overhanging Great Arch which was up and left of our route. This information in addition to the speed at which the leader behind Adam was climbing influenced our decision to let them pass us. Little did we know that the sceond was a rather slow climber. No worries, they were really friendly and we enjoyed chatting with them as we shared belays.
Once the other climbers were ahead of us, Adam took off on the second pitch. This pitch lead up a face then out left around a corner to a chimney which exited via an awkward mantle. Adam got a nice shot of my fingers just before I reached the belay. In my memory I executed the mantle perfectly which the other climbers called, "a paragon of grace". And since Adam didn't send me the pictures of the actual event, you will just have to take my word for it.
I took the third pitch which followed another left facing corner crack up to a roof then traversed left across some slabs and around a corner to a large ledge with a bolted belay. Adam cruised up the pitch and commented on the tricky traverse under the roof. I told him that I had more trouble below on some of the crack transitions. Earlier we had made to only climb the first three pitches since the upper pitches were still wet. This decision was reinforced by the late hour of the day due to the time it took to let the other party pass us. But it all worked out as the other party let us use their ropes to make the second rappel saving us a lot of time. Once we were all back down at the bottom we packed up our gear and said goodbye.
The late afternoon air was much cooler now as we hiked back down through the forest to the road. Back at the car we changed clothes, drank the rest of our water and headed down the road back to 'Merica! Thanks Adam for another great international climb! Looking forward to getting back to Slesse with you!