Squamish TR : Fear of A Black Granite
To be honest, I wanted to climb the Split Pillar very badly, but I had to
admit that the fire in my partners eyes was wilder, and I had conceded the
pitch to him beforehand. Wolfang took the entire rack, every Camalot, every
Friend, and every wired nut. The crack looked even more beautiful than it
had in my fantasies, rising vertically up, in a strenuous and almost
continuous layback to a ledge beyond my view. From my vantage point, the
climb looked like pure enjoyment, with highly frictioned smearing, good
laybacking, and optional jamming. I could not have been more wrong.
Wolfang began the climb well enough. He made it 10 metres up the crack
before collapsing on a Camalot in utter fatigue. I could see the strain on
his face was immense, and he panted on the rope like a fish gasping for air.
I encouraged him as best I could, but he seemed completely drained of
energy. He would start to climb again, gain a few metres elevation, place a
cam, and collapse again. I was beginning to regret giving the lead to my
friend, wishing I had been able to lead this beautiful climb myself. Looking
behind me I could see the parking lot far in the distance was full of
climbers and tourists, all watching our slow progress up the Grand Wall.
Many times we had been the ones looking from that parking lot, staring at a
lone figure as he inched his way up the crack, moving at an imperceptible
The sun was moving slowly towards the mountains, and the shadows were
creeping to the base of the cliff. I had shifted positions on belay so many
times that I could not get comfortable again. Wolfang was still up there,
and had been so for over two hours. The tyrannical crack had repelled him at
almost every attempt for upwards progress, and after all this time, he still
remained 10 metres below the Pillar's ledge. He looked utterly spent, and
his voice betrayed his emotions whenever he called for tension or for slack
: he was utterly frightened. All I could think about was a prayer that he
would finish the climb, and reach the anchors, so that I might have a chance
to climb it in the remaining daylight. I did not realize the ordeal he was
going through above me.
After many false starts near the top, he finally made a difficult move, and
arrived with an exhausted shout at the top. I rejoiced at the news, and
attempted to liven my body after two and a half hours on a hanging belay.
Making everything ready so that I would be able to go immediately when he
shouted "on belay!", I prepared myself mentally that I would climb the Split
Pillar without falls or rests.
I soon began up the crack, laybacking quickly and smoothly. I felt very
strong, and the smears were good and plentiful. I cleaned the first few cams
without difficulty, but soon the laybacking seemed to be getting more
strenuous. Each time I had to stop to pull protection out, I found myself
panting for breath, straining to hold on to the edge of the layback. It
wasn't long before I, like my partner before me, collapsed on tension.
Fighting off the onset of fatigue, I began climbing again, but this time it
wasn't very long before I felt limp, and again fell onto tension. It was the
beginning of a vicious cycle, and I was soon beyond fatigue, in a place
where one knows the climb is beyond oneself. And yet I continued...
After an exhausting time, I finally got to the section where the layback on
the crack could be turned into fist jamming, and I quickly made use of it. I
jammed up the crack more quickly now and soon arrived at a bulge before the
top. I now came to the first of four over-expanded Wild Country Friends. I
worked on my Gold Friend for a long time before I finally extricated it from
the rock. Moving up I came to my green one. A quick glance proved it was
futile. The Friend was stuck for good. Taking the biner from it, I continued
up to where a large hole before the top provided a rest. In the hole was my
Blue Friend, and it was so overexpanded that I could not budge it from its
place. At first I wondered many questions to myself :
"Does Wolfang know he needs to add a sling on these Cams? The slings are so
short, they walk in easily."
"Maybe he was so scared that he just jammed it in."
"Maybe it's both."
Whatever the case, I did not care at this point. I was very tired, and
thoroughly frightened from having to hang like a spider above the abyss so
many times. After extricating the second of the four over-expanded Friends,
I found myself at the last crux section. I tried and fell many times, but
finally I made a wild leap for the ledge, smearing my feet wildly on the
granite, and mantled out like a whale flopping onto a beach. I lay there in
the dying sun like something sick, unable to comprehend how Wolfang had made
his way up that monstrosity. I felt that, and perhaps still do, that I have
never climbed something so difficult in all my life.
Wolfang was desperately worried about the fact that the shadows had almost
caught me on my ascent to the top of the Split Pillar, and he threw the
ropes over for rappel. I had not been on the top long before he was sliding
down the rope towards the stuck cams. I had assured him that they were
difficult to retrieve, and certainly impossible given our situation and
time. Somebody would get them, but it wasn't going to be us. He agreed, and
continued rapping down the line.
Suddenly he swore audibly, and I looked over the edge to see what was the
matter. The ropes had somehow gotten stuck in the Split Pillar below us! I
could not believe our bad luck! Wolfang cursed loudly, and he was quickly
becoming as stressed as he had been on the Apron Wall. Tugging on the ropes,
he could not get them unstuck from the crack. I sat back against the wall,
and let the dying sun bath my face in alpenglow. I was not as worried as my
friend. I accepted the possibility of our failure, as surely as I accepted
the possibility of our success. There was no point in worrying about
anything. Either he would succeed in freeing the ropes, or I would be
sleeping on this ledge tonight.
Before long an angry shout came from below, and I could see that Wolfang had
made it to the belay below the Pillar. I soon joined him, ignoring the cams
completely. The second rappel was soon set up, and he was off. Waiting for
him to find the next anchors, I made everything ready to join him below. The
sun was gone, and the entire cliff was becoming darker and darker. Far below
us in the black forest, Alejandra was shouting for us to hurry up.
I rapped down to the next station, and Wolfang began pulling the rope
through the anchors above. Suddenly I shouted for him to stop. Looking 10
metres to our right, the rope was traveling to the anchors with a knot in
it. Had we not noticed, it would have become stuck above, and we would have
been in a terrible situation. Wolfang became very angry, and started blaming
me for not checking the ropes before he pulled. Thinking quickly, I tied
myself off to the anchors using the end of the other rope, and started
traversing out towards the rope on the smooth slab. A fall would have
resulted in a nasty pendulum, but I moved slowly and deliberately, until I
had reached the rope. Untangling it carefully, I crept back to the belay,
where Wolfang had almost finished setting up the next rappel.
We were about to start down when Alejandra told us that the ends did not
reach the ground. His rope was 60m, and my rope was 50m, but together we
needed a full 60 metres to get safely to the ground. Once again we were
stuck in a dilemma, and Wolfang shouted at Alejandra to try and find an
alternate rap station. She soon spotted one, but it was an awkward sideways
rappel, 10 metres to our left. We quickly made the preparations, and rapped
over to it.
When we arrived, we found that the anchor consisted of just two bolts, and
no chains to feed a rope through. This meant that when we tried to pull our
rope through the bolts later, there was an excellent possibility it would
get stuck. At this point Wolfang was so desperate to get down, that he
placed a nonlocking biner on one of the bolts, and was preparing to rap off
it. I immediately declared there was no way I was going to rap off one bolt,
and one nonlocking biner. Stressed and exhausted, it was difficult to reason
Wolfang into using two carabiners to make our escape. But he soon came
around, and we made two more sacrifices to the Chief to make our escape from
On the ground safely again, Wolfang and Alejandra packed up quickly and
started walking away. I had been slowly removing my shoes, and trying to
find some water for a drink. I was practically dehydrated. There was a brief
argument as Wolfang demanded that I hurry up, and then he promptly left me
there. I continued to put my hat, jacket, and approach shoes on, and slowly
remove my climbing gear, packing it in my bag. I did not mind navigating the
forest in the dark. I was not at all upset at either Wolfang or the
darkness. The climb today had left me utterly spent.
When I was finally ready to depart from the base of the cliff, I saw a light
heading towards me. It was Wolfang. Without words, he began to guide me down
the path, and through the forest. He looked back many times to check that I
was okay. By the time we arrived safely at the campground, the
unpleasantness was once again forgotten. All that remained was the memory of
a very spectacular day.