Squamish TR : Fear of A Black Granite
The time had come. We had prepared mentally for many days, and waited for
good weather. Wolfang and I wanted to climb the Split Pillar, and nothing
was going to stand in our way. Our first full attempt on the Grand had
failed due to a late start, and so we reasoned that a much earlier one would
give us a chance, even if the wall repelled our attempts. This was the plan
anyway. It's a different story to drag oneself from a warm sleeping bag to
face the chilly September air.
Wolfang and I arrived at the base of the Grand Wall at 11 in the morning,
the sun shining everywhere but on the Stawamus Chief, leaving us feeling
chilled and stiff. The last thing I felt prepared to do was lead a pitch as
difficult as Apron Strings. I even reasoned with Wolfang that we should
simply walk along the "Flake Ledge", a thin ledge which would connect us
with the beginning of the third pitch of the Grand Wall, bypassing the
strenuous 10b. But Wolfang was opposed to the idea, preferring to start
"from the ground up". Despite his difficulties on Apron Strings before, he
wanted another chance on it, and I gladly agreed.
He started up the now memorized beginning of the right-facing crack with
ease, making quick work of the menacing layback. I began to think that he
would walk the route easily, as he clipped the familiar fixed protection.
But soon he ran into the difficulties again, and was on tension. Remembering
my own experience a week ago, I could sympathize with his fears completely.
The crux section on the route was nothing to sneeze at, and it took a lot of
confidence, commitment, and care to navigate onto the slab above. After a
long time of indecision and reluctance, Wolfang aided past the crux, and
made his way to the anchors. Fighting off the cold, I raced up the climb,
trying to get my blood flowing, knowing that my lead would be next. I felt a
small sense of personal satisfaction that I was able to clean the gear
without falls, and soon joined my partner at the belay.
I grabbed the rack, and with the confidence I had gained in the last few
days, I ran pitch two quickly and confidently, once again relishing the
gorgeous fistcrack which zig zags all the way to the Flake Ledge. By now the
sun was on my back, and I allowed the rays to sink into my skin and melt my
fears away. Wolfang followed just as quickly, and soon we were looking up at
the long runout dyke again.
Whatever difficulties Wolfang may have had on Apron Strings were easily made
up for by his proficiency on these two pitches. He led them as confidently
as last time, although more quickly, since he now knew where the bolts were,
and what moves to expect. For some reason, in the early afternoon sun we
were able to see the bolts quite clearly on each pitch; they had been
thoroughly "camouflaged" last time, despite scanning the rock with our eyes
And so we arrived below the gigantic roof on the Grand Wall, staring at the
5.10b traverse which would lead to the bolt ladder. The rock was slightly
wet in places, the water dripping down from the enormous roof, and I
attempted to place my climbing shoes in strategic locations. The exposure
was inspiring, as the ropes dangled beneath us on the slabs which swept
away, down and down towards the forest. I was already carrying the rack,
since the previous pitches required little protection beyond a few
quickdraws, and so wiping chalk on the base of my shoes, I started out on
the wildly exposed traverse.
The beginning was easy, with nice thin ledges for feet, and decent handholds
in front of me. The rock jutted out, pushing my face back, and forcing my
body away from the usually comfortable stance one has on slab climbing, but
I was completely confident as my feet danced forward. I soon came to a bolt,
almost with a sense of disappointment, as this exciting traverse was not
short of protection placements. I clipped in, and the sense of danger was
almost immediately lost. The "sportingly placed" bolts on Merci Me below us
had been understandable, since the rock afforded no natural placements. But
here, where small cracks and ledges left the traditional climber with ample
choice, I could not understand why a bolt had been placed.
I continued the traverse, coming to a horizontal incut flake. It was very
thin, and the feet disappeared below me. My excitement rose again, and I
began traversing right along the flake, placing hand over hand, and smearing
my feet on the small dimples below me. The section soon became more
difficult, and I found smearing awkward, so I lifted my left leg and
heel-hooked the flake, giving my arms a good rest. All the while I was
traversing, I was living completely in the moment, realizing that few such
climbs in the world carried so many simultaneous pleasures : the exposure,
the technical moves, the quality rock, and the sustained pump.
I continued right on the flake, moving my heel hook along as it acted as a
third arm, until I arrived at a crux move. The incut flake became difficult
to hold, but I could see very large holds further along. My hesitation was
tiring at first, but I decided to simply move quickly through the section;
the idea of climbing back to the bolt did not appeal to me. Crossing my left
through my body, I made a bouldery move before I finally sank my hand into a
deep hole, and then matched on it. Mantling quickly, I scanned my rack for
something to stick in the crack for protection. After some tiring fiddling,
I sank two cams in, and clipped in safely, breathing significant relief.
Lifting my head to once again face the now-vertical rock, a piton and a bolt
met me at eye-level. I shook my head in frustration both at my blindness,
and the superfluous bolt.
Wolfang made the traverse to meet me below the bolt ladder, and I began
girth-hitching slings together to make "etriers". 6 slings would serve the
two of us well, and I was quickly on aid, linking the bolts together as I
angled rightwards towards the familiar tree at the base of the Split Pillar.
We were now so close we could taste it. Arriving at the hanging belay at the
base of the 40 metre crack, I arranged the rope perfectly so that my partner
would be able to start climbing immediately. Despite our attempts to climb
quickly, it seemed to be late in afternoon already, the sun traveling
towards the mountains over Howes Sound.