Sunday, 25 August 2013

Pilgrimage to the Pillary--Part 1

Several weeks ago a fantastic new area was made known to the world.  Developed by the same fine souls who brought us Area 44, The Pillary currently boasts 37 bolted climbs, graded from 5.7 up, with several projects on the go.

It's going to be another awesome international day, bright and clear with the promise of some significant warmth later on, the team departs bright and early for Squamish.  Representing France are Cecile and Adrien, on behalf of Turkey, we have Mert, and the hometown hero, myself.  Sprits are high, we have been waiting a few weeks for this chance.

Arriving at the parking area, there are already several cars here, and I expect that they are probably all heading for the Pillary, not Area 44 today.  We start our hike in, following the well-marked Area 44 trail until we begin seeing some of the signs of the craftsmanship that I have come to expect here.  New, beautifully-made, signs marking the trail, depicting the crags, and advising of concerns for rock-fall are frequent and easy to see as we travel up the trail.

We come through the trees and see a beautiful vista before us.  We have arrived!  This looks beautiful!  The climbing areas stretch out beneath us, tall and proud, with that same beautiful view out towards the Squamish River Valley.  Again, this is an area with wonderful, tall climbs to challenge us. 

The first climb we come to, the lone climb on 'The Forlorn Horn' has a large sign, indicating that it is closed due to unstable rock...  Remembering how much rock still peels loose at Area 44 makes me very happy to have my helmet, as I expect the rock to be very similar in composition here.

The next area we come to, 'The Berlin Wall" has five climbs currently ready, graded at 5.8-5.11a, so we decide to start dropping our gear and picking our spots.  Likely warm-ups are the 5.8 and the 5.9, and I think the 5.8 sounds utterly delicious. 

The Forlorn Horn--Closed For Now
'Der Weiner Schleisser' has a very, very interesting start.  Stemming your way up a fairly featureless face using a TONNE of pressure off the opposing faces of rock, leading to a deadly sharp arête to the anchor.  Mert starts us off, heading deep into a large crack that has a lot of large, loose rocks in it.  He starts getting a bit unnerved by all the movement, and has a horribly awkward time getting the third bolt in from inside the cavern.  He manages to find a way out, only to start running into some pretty sparse space as he begins the ascent of the arête.  About halfway up and running out of holds, Mert has to descend, rattled from his experience in the crack of loose rock.

Mert In Front Of The Crack Of Doom
As I prepare to make my ascent, I'm trying to see a route that will steer clear of the direction that Mert went, and I formulate a plan of action.  I start off in an awkward sprawl, with my legs at ninety degree angles out from my body, pushing HARD.  I alternate this move up a few times to gain the minor handholds that are available, and start to get in to territory that has some more conventional foot action.  At the second bolt I find a pleasant handhold, and start to really grab it, until I notice that the rock is cracked, and likely ready to tear off the face...

I make it up through the third bolt onto the arête with an awkward balance that lets me reach my left hand around behind.  Now I'm facing the arête, and lacking much in the way of anything useful.  I can see why Mert ran out of steam here.  There area some pretty tentative holds, but sitting astride of this deadly sharp ridge, a slip here would be very... uncomfortable.  There is a bolt there, just out of reach, and getting that clip would make this next move a reasonable option...  Employing every millimetre of my height and reach, I take several swipes at the bolt before getting a draw to catch.  Getting the rope into the other end of the draw is pretty easy, and I make a very uncomfortable move up to the next decent stance. 

Still climbing up the edge of disaster, there really aren't the holds that would be expected on a 5.8, but I persevere.  A lot of searching for small spots to give me some purchase for my feet and a lot of gripping with my left on the ridge continues me to move up.  A few times I toss my left foot in behind the arête and heel hook the stone to steady myself as I advance. 

Nearing the top, I run completely out of apparent feet, but the arête starts running horizontal, so it looks like it's all on the arms.  I start moving hand-over-hand along one of the sharpest rock spines I have ever felt, taking much more weight than I am especially pleased with on my hands.  I'm not finding much for my feet, so I continue my hand-over-hand traverse.  I find a useful broken spot to jam my foot in to relieve the pressure on my hands and secure myself to the anchor chains as I arrive at the end of the climb.

What a rush!  My left hand is cut open in three spots, bleeding pleasantly on my shorts as Mert lowers me back down.  That was way tougher than a 5.8!!

Cecile and Adrian are done with 'Klettern Gehen' the 5.9, and so we swap climbs.

Adrien Belaying On Klettern Gehen
As Mert is starting this one he's already much happier with the climbing.  Much more up his alley, the start is a beauty, with some deadly sharp rock spires directly beneath the start.  Thankful for the low first couple bolts.  As he arrives at the second bolt Mert runs into an issue, and finds a terribly awkward solution.  Faced with a shortage of reasonable holds, he puts his left foot up distressingly high into a very nice pocket, and uses it as leverage to gain the finger crack above!  Wow!

Mert climbs it out and I get my shot.  I'm determined to find something better at that second bolt, because I really don't think my old bones can handle that kind of force being exerted on my hips.  Quickly there, I search for quite a while before arriving at the determination that there is only one solution to this spot.  Gross.

I toss my foot up into the pocket and shift my weight underneath my foot so I'm at least centred while I start levering my way up the wall, and soon I'm getting some better hands coming within reach.  Quite the move, that one!  The next section features a small, tight crack.  Not too much width, but decent depth, with some good edges for your feet, this section is a beauty to work, lots of tough little moves that keep me exerting a lot of force while I stand so off balance.

Moving through the crack and up onto a big outcropping, I pause and work my fingers out for a couple of minutes before launching myself up onto some easy climbing to the finish.

An awesome second route done, we compare notes about the climbs we just completed.  Everybody agrees that the 5.8 must have lost some holds already or something, because nobody sees it as a 5.8.  I must admit, however, that I quite liked it!

We are off to discover another crag, and I am going to break this trip into two posts, because somebody won't get off my back for taking too long to post!  More adventures at the Pillary to come!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Where it all began...

After Friday's nightmare on the buttress it just seems logical that there must be some kind of successful climbing expedition mounted this weekend.  With absolutely zero desire to head back up towards the Squamish music festival grounds and the traffic associated with, we decide to head for Sulley's Hangout in beautiful North Van.

It's not a beautiful day, and looks like the weather might finally cool down for a few days, which probably won't upset too many people, but makes for a  great morning climbing.  After hiking up to the little crag nestled in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park I am pleasantly surprised to discover that the crag is not too crowded, which is always a possibility up here.  I am also reminded that the only topo for this area is horribly out of date.


I'm not going to have too much to say about what was climbed this day, as I'm not sure what it was, and completely disagree with the grading of the climbs, but it was a very nice morning of climbing.  We hit it hard, climbing every route on the north wall.  There are seven climbs bolted there now, although the topo only shows three!

We started out on something really light and easy, and although the climb was over before you knew it, it was nonetheless very pleasant.  Reachy in spots, it didn't seem to concern Heather, as she proceeded to find things to use that only exist in her imagination.

The next climb, I think, was called 'Lefty', a "10a" of questionable difficulty.  The crux is certainly balancy, with not much more than a single finger-crack for stabilization, but would probably be better graded at 5.9.  It was a lot of fun, however, so I can deal with it.

As Heather was dancing her way up we were shaken by some LOUD thunderclaps that really can't have been originating too far away!  Occasional raindrops starting finding their way through the tree cover, bringing a refreshing cooling sensation.  Glorious!

It started raining lightly as we were making our way onto the slabbiest climb of the bunch, and that really complicated matters, which was kinda ok, since we were feeling like we were close to packing it in anyways.  Taking that extra day off to try to get ourselves murdered on StarChek left a fair lot of chores behind at home!

We finished up our last climb and left the birthplace of one of the most wonderful things in my life behind.  What a pleasant morning!

Friday, 9 August 2013

Eighty Five Metres Of Fail

Heather is on vacation this week, and work is slow for me, so I decide I'm not going to work on Friday to free up a golden opportunity to attack the legendary climb on the Galaxy Buttress, Star Chek.

Ringing in at 5.9, ranked in the top 100 by Squamish Select, this climb has been in my head for over a year.  A big three-pitch beast, Star Chek climbs out of the Cheakamous River gorge, up to the side of Highway 99.  It's pretty difficult to imagine a more awe-inspiring backdrop to a climb, and we can't wait to get it on the tick list.

We arrive at the area recommended for parking shortly after 9AM, and start gearing up.  There are two accesses to this climb, a 1.5km hike along the river, or a short walk to the top of the climb, followed by a rappel down into the gorge.  I'm not really interested in a big rope carry, so we're rapping down.  We select minimal gear to keep the weight down, and empty pockets of unnecessary items to prevent losing anything important into the raging river.

We find the path to the top of the climb with no effort, everything matches the photos that I remember from the book quite clearly.  We left the guidebook in the car, as there is only one climb here that we are interested in, and I'm sure it won't be that hard to find, with how popular it is.  As we descend the trail, following the fixed lines, we quickly arrive at the ledge above the river.

What a view!  The torrent below is so loud we have to speak with raised voices, bringing concern about communication while we are working the climb.  We have a short discussion to set up the communication plan, and Heather decides to be the first person down to the secondary rap station.

As she's trying to descend she has a sudden change of heart, and moves herself down to what appears to be a very friendly ramp down to the middle ledge.  As she's descending she starts to spot bolts, a great sign, as it would appear that we will get a chance to scout out the third pitch as we descend.

After joining her on the ledge below, I decide to throw myself over the second ledge first, so I can be the one to find the route to a rappel station somewhere above the river that we just can't see.

As I descend the sheer face of the Galaxy Buttress, I very quickly start to get nervous.  This pitch is supposed to be easy, ranked at a 5.8 if memory serves, and looks like anything but that as I'm descending.  The bolts are a million miles apart, and the holds, when there are any, are miniscule.

Houston, we may have a problem here...  But we're in the right place, so I must just be missing something.  I continue rappelling, very slowly now, as I feel that I should have already arrived at my destination, and am missing something big.  I can't hear anything as I close in on the river below, getting nearer by the second, and I long ago lost visual contact with Heather above.

I never knew just how lonely I could feel, and there is a tiny bit of fear poking around the fringes of my mind now.  I have the end of the rope in site, but there is no second set of bolts or chains anywhere on this face to secure myself to and await Heather.  I am absolutely in the wrong place, there is no question in my mind.  Perhaps I am rappelling down 'Apollo 13' which I know exists on the buttress, but that is not described in any guide that I have.

I stop and think.  I am not going to descend the last 3 metres of rope just to confirm that I have made a mistake, and I can't secure myself and ask Heather to belay me up to her as I try to climb whatever route I find myself on.  I'm left with only one real option, and that is to ascend 27 metres of rope with just my ATC to depend on. 

A daunting task, I begin working my way back up the rope, thanking Mert again for all his work teaching us about awesome, useful things like prussic knots, which are now literally saving my life.  As I slowly and painstakingly make my way upwards, trying whenever possible to take some pressure off with whatever holds I can find, my shoulders start to protest.  Hauling my weight up this rope is going to take everything that I have.  I notice the Rocky Mountaineer passenger train crossing the Cheakamous just downriver from my position, and wonder if anyone notices this poor climber struggling his way up the thin blue line...

An eternity later I finally arrive back at the ledge that Heather is on, and I can finally relay the information that I have to her.  This is bad.  We know we don't know where we are, and that's all.  We are on an ample ledge on the Galaxy Buttress, my right elbow is throbbing, and I can't lift my left arm much past my waist. 

As we look around we spot lots of bolt lines, but nothing that looks promising.  We discuss the possibility of climbing out via the route we came down, which looks pretty reasonable, but has a distressingly high first bolt.  Any other day and this would be the right answer.  Right now, however, I'm hurt and my confidence is shattered.  Heather volunteers to take the lead and get us out, but I just can't let her go.  I'm eyeing up a bolt line above our position that looks much more challenging, but has a first bolt I can almost reach, and I try to convince myself that this would be a good option, but no.

Here we sit on one of the best-travelled routes in the Sea to Sky corridor, and after an hour we haven't seen another living soul.  Any other day and this would be cause for celebration, but not today.  I'm starting to think crazy thoughts, and something is going to have to happen soon.  I'm pretty much married to the idea that down is the only safe direction of travel, and we concoct a plan that might make this happen.

There is an belay position about 2M below and 4M beside us which doesn't seem to have any bolts associated with it, but we agree that there appears to be another pair of chains about half way to the base of the cliff that will allow us to escape the ledge.  The sketchy part will be the 'traverse' to get over to this other line.  The potential for a major swing-fall is significant, to say the least, and Heather and I go through all the possible options thoroughly before deciding to move ahead on this hare-brained scheme.

I set up to rappel again, confident that our reasoning is sound.  There appears to be a solid ledge underneath this belay station, and it extends across most of the face towards a tree 4M below our position.  I'm going to work my way down and over to the tree and try to move across to the belay point from there.

I set out with my back to the goal, and my left side flat against the wall to provide as much friction as possible to fight gravity's desire to swing me back to oblivion.  I slowly let more rope through my ATC as I move diagonally down from our position, seeing the potential for injury increase with every inch.

I have never felt so relived as I did when I got my right foot resting underneath the trunk of this hapless sapling, Quickly rotating my body to face the wall, my left foot slid comfortably into a huge, mossy, crack underneath the overhang that I had been aiming for.  Finally some good luck, I had solid purchase for both my feet, and I used this as a great thoroughfare to move closer to the promised land. 

When I got to the end of the crack I was within striking distance of the prize.  There was decent formation to the rock here, and now I was just one move away from getting my hands on the rappel rings.  Looking over to where I started I felt a jolt through my stomach.  What a huge 'traverse' to screw up.  If I slip, this will be disaster.  Focusing on the goal, I chalked up for the first time today to prepare for my first climbing move of the day.

Left foot way out and up, right hand on a decent knot in the rock, poised and ready, I shot upward from my right foot, aiming a big dyno at the ring.  My left hand easily reached, and my right followed with a mighty death-lock that would have made the hardware cry, I clenched so tight.  I quickly secured myself in and secured the rope to my harness so Heather wouldn't have to worry about the deadly swing.

She handily made the traverse over to our new location, and we abandoned one locking carabiner on the ledge at Star Chek.  Small loss, I couldn't possibly care less.  Ready to be out of here, we set up and I rappelled down to the next station, a mere 6M above the valley floor.  Heather was beside me in moments, and we were down to the rocks in no time.

Upon arriving at the base of the buttress, we saw a fixed line proceeding down to the river, and a suggestion of a trail heading in the other direction.  In no condition to climb, we started upriver, hoping to find a clear path back to the highway, and eventually back to the car.

We passed many routes bolted to the sides of the gorge below the highway, but the temptation to stop and explore simply did not exist as we trudged upriver, our feet throbbing in our tight climbing shoes.

The path become more clear the farther we went, and soon we were back at the side of highway 99, happier than ever before to see asphalt.  Once we recovered our flip-flops and made our way back to the car we looked at the photos in the guide book again.  My heart was crushed.

We had indeed rappelled down the final pitch of Star Chek, but from there had I had likely descended Apollo 13.  The route that we traversed to and rappelled down is an unknown, and somehow we completely missed the bolts for the bottom two pitches of Star Chek, which would have been obvious if we had followed the fixed line down towards the river.

If we had taken the book with us, we probably would have successfully completed our mission and avoided near-tragedy.  We now humbly go in search of beer.  Lots of beer.  What a challenging day!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Long Weekends are Horrible... Right...

The record-setting sunny weather is persisting here in Vancouver, and B.C. Day long weekend is upon us.  Not ones to camp on extended weekends for all, it's nonetheless a great opportunity for some awesome fun.  After biking the city with the daughter, and going for an epic ride to the Deep Cove Kayak centre the following day, Heather and I have organized another solid group to join us for some more outdoor climbing at Area 44.

Dominic, who is visiting from England, has been climbing with us pretty much since his arrival here in Vancouver, and is a very, very strong climber.  He has only climbed outdoors once, however, down in Texas, so today will be his first experience with the Squamish granite.  Jordan is game to round out the posse again, so we should have two setups going full steam.  This will be great.

We decide to start at Preview, as there are some solid 5.10 range climbs to either side once we're good and warmed up.  To open up I lead 'I'm Not Against It', enjoying the cracked flake crux as I start breaking in a new pair of 5.10 Stonelands.  Hoping that they will behave similarly to my old Spires, I trust these shoes to grow enough to make my feet happy about life.

The 5.8 out of the way, Dominic is ready to start his first experience with Squamish stone as Jordan begins scoping out 'Monkey Barrel' a 5.10b offering, to start his day.  He starts it with some beautiful layback moves, and progresses through the centre section handily, making an impressive off-balance move where 'I Might Possibly' moves towards 'Monkey Barrel'

As he moves out of sight above I can hear him discussing some ideas with Dominic about the crux on the route that he's climbing, and upon returning smiling to the earth he's gushing about the opportunity to practice some hand-jamming techniques in the parallel crack at the top of the climb.

As I start out on this climb, I'm finding it difficult to get into a solid groove.  I'm progressing, but it's not exactly coming easily to me on this route.  I would say the start wasn't graceful today, but that's life, I guess.  As I moved into the crux of the route I got myself up too high in behind a huge arête, and ended up having to take a little fall to get back down to where I wanted to be.

Blue Du Jour, 5.9
Trying the fourth-bolt crux sequence for the second time was all I needed to get myself on track, I guess, because it came pretty easily the second time, and the remainder of the climb was a lot of fun.  The sweat was just pouring off, that was a really tough climb!  I'm sure glad we got here so early, because in the heat of the day this might not be awesome!

As I am coming back down, Jordan is preparing to have some fun with 'I'm not Against It' and I'm setting up on an old favourite, 'Blue Du Jour'  This is one of the most enjoyable climbs on Preview, an absolutely beautiful 5.9 that climbs up a giant, exposed arête.

I remember my first ascent like it was yesterday, and just how exhilarating and terrifying it was to succeed on this climb.  I also clearly remember climbing almost half of the climb on the back side of the spire, groping around the front to set the draws.  I have seen three people go up the front today, however, and decide that this will be my route as well.

I really don't see how this climb didn't make it into the top 100.  It's just priceless, really.  As I'm working to find holds that will keep me on the front side of the route, and succeeding, I reflect again on just how much fun there is to be had in climbing, exercising your mind and body in such a beautiful environment.

I complete the climb feeling very pleased with myself, and head down to the Insite Wall, where Jordan is waiting to take a shot at another 10b, Jean-Jean.  This climb starts off a fallen log, which is neat, but leads to some questions about appropriate belay stance.  The start is tricky, too, and I'm ready to act at a moment's notice if Jordan slips this close to the ground.  He finds a crazy little pinch to stabilize a perilous layback to get enough elevation to proceed past the first bolt. 

Jordan on Jean-Jean
The holds through the middle look good, but there's some confusion as he nears the top...  This climb shares it's anchor with 'Tantalizer' beside it, and the correct routing through the final three metres is questionable, as the only remaining bolt that he can see is clearly part of the neighboring climb. 
Wade on Jean-Jean
After he's back down we examine the topo and decide that there may have been some route blending at the top, but who's counting, really?

Up on the log, all tied in, I'm trying to get my aching feet to work with this weird pinch.  It's not comfortable, and if I wasn't tall enough to clip the first bolt in I would probably have walked away from this beast of a move.  Doggedly examining my options, I keep coming back to a decent crimp on the arête, which, coupled with a big, high step, gets me to the second big layback without having to use that teeny little pinch.

Just another example of style options, I'm off and moving.  Unfortunately, I can't seem to deal with jamming my feet into anything, and even putting pressure up on my toes is starting to get very unpleasant.  Stupid new shoes!

Dominic Battling the Arete
After getting about half of the way up, I just can't bear it anymore, and I ask to return to the ground.  I have never ripped shoes off my feet faster in my life.  My feet hurt almost as much now as they did up in Skaha with the Mythos on my feet.  Damn!  End of my day, Jordan climbs Jean-Jean again to retrieve my gear and try the correct finish.  Like a champ, he wants to take a shot at a 5.10c just around the corner, Forty-Six.

It's a thin, pumpy, beast, and he makes a great show of it, fighting hard to advance after the third bolt.  But he's too spent from the last three 10b climbs, and Jordan is unable to top out on his last climb of the day.  We return to find Heather and Dominic comparing war stories from Blue Du Jour, and the consensus of the group decides that it's time to return to the city.  Dominic has work, and the other three of us have a tasty pitcher of R&B Sungod to find.