Monday, August 6, 2012

Squamish BC - Trip Report from Diedre, Boomstick Crack, and Sunshine Chimney

Talk to climbers in Squamish and ask them to recommend a fun route; over and over, the response will be the same: “Diedre.”  I had heard about Diedre so much, it was like she was everybody’s favorite prostitute.

“Yeah, Diedre is a good time, but gets really busy with parties.” 
“Diedre is a lot of fun, great for beginners.  You should bring lots of protection for practice.”
"You should totally do Diedre."

OK, so I guess I was going to have a date with Diedre too.

You remember that time when you were picking on your little sister in front of your friends, and then she violently pushed you back?  In your mind you’re thinking, “whoa, where’d that come from?"  And “if she kicks my ass, everyone will laugh at me.”  That’s how I felt climbing the first pitch of Diedre. 

Look closely and you'll see people smeared all over the route
The first pitch was supposed to be an easy 5.7 slab climb, I was supposed to just cruise up and own the pitch.  But after climbing almost 20m without a single opportunity to place gear, I was thinking, 'whoa, this is serious."  It was like… well it was like my little sister pushed me back and was about to kick my ass.  If I fell, it would be painful, and I’m almost certain people would laugh.

After slowly, gingerly making my way a few more feet, I finally slung a tree.  I then looked down and saw 3 guys walk up to the bottom of the pitch, nonchalantly throw on their climbing shoes (without actually tying their laces) and walk halfway up the first pitch before traversing right, out of sight. 

OK, what the hell guys… was that really necessary… just then?

A few meters later and I was at the top of the pitch, sharing bolts with another party. 

2nd pitch of Diedre
Before we had started the climb, getting roped up and slinging gear, a party hiked in behind us.  “Hey, what are you guys doing here” they had asked.
“Same thing you are, Diedre” I responded.
“OK, we’ll get in line” came the curt reply.

It’s a funny thing about climbers.  We love to share knowledge and recommend climbs.  We love to find the classics so we can check them off our list.  But when we arrive at the route, we’re surprised and always slightly offended to find somebody else already there.  Go figure.

The whole rest of the climb was the same story.  Parties were strung out like beads on a string.  It was as if someone announced that Reel Rock Tour would be having a showing at the top of Diedre and everyone wanted to be there first.  The lines of people were longer than a verse by Tupac.  At times I would start a pitch with legs numbed from hanging in the belay so long.

I was so frustrated with the delays I (accidentally) lead the last two pitches as one, subsequently running out of gear the last 20m, freaking myself out at the crux, and forcing Joryce to impromptu simul-climb behind me.  Note to self: don’t do that again.

From the top of Diedre we continued up Boomstick crack, a hallowed diagonally running crack that looks about ready to peel off off and tumble down the mountain at any moment.

Finding still more crowds, we decided to admit defeat and make way to camp.  On the way down, Joryce suggested taking a peak at Campground Wall, a section of short, 1-2 pitch climbs.  There we found Sunshine Chimney. The route followed an off-width, and then literally into the rock and came out the other end.

Joryce lead it, and the whole time he was laughing like a baby playing with a rattle.  “Oh man, this is fun” and “wow, wait till you see this move” he kept repeating over and over again.  His laughter was contagious, and at the belay I couldn’t help but smile.  I soon followed, and understood why he was having such a blast.

Exiting from the bowels of the chimney
It was the kind of fun you have in the summer as a kid, running through the sprinklers in your underwear or catching tadpoles in the creek.  And in the depths of the rock, I felt like a big kid, getting dirty inside Sunshine Chimeny.  Stemming with my body, jamming my arms deep into dark cracks, and spitting out the dust that would inevitably cover me after every move.

At the top of the climb, I slapped Joryce on the back.  “Good call man, I’m glad we did that.”
“Yeah, that was fun!” Came his reply.

While Joryce had a snack, I laid back, hands under my head and looked into the distance.  It was late in the day, and the sky was beginning to take on a blue-orange hue.  The water shimmered lazily and the mountains rolled in the distance. 

The day had started with aspirations of linking several climbs in a big multi-pitch day, but ended climbing at a humble crag; and that’s ok.  I was reminded that, for me, climbing isn’t about simply getting pitches under my belt.  It’s about the relationships I build and the simple joy of rediscovering the 5-year-old kid in me who still loves getting dirty.  The masses had Diedre that day, but Sunshine Chimney was all mine.  

Squamish as seen from Sunshine Chimney

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Olympics - Off topic but I don't care, it's my blog

Many of us are drawn to the Olympics because of the real life drama that plays out as we watch; the Fab Five winning gold while the Russians crumbled under pressure, The French comeback victory over the Americans at the 4x100 relay.  We cheer for America, celebrating every gold medal win.  When expectations fall short, we sulk a little, slightly envious of the competitors place on the podium.  After all, why should we cheer for the opposition, right?

However, a different kind of competition is being played out at the ExCel Exhibition Centre, where weight lifters compete for their share of Olympic medals.  One by one, competitors walk through a tunnel, climb a few stairs onto the stage, and attempt their lift.  Throughout each lift, there is one consistent theme: everyone cheers for everyone.  At first, it’s kind of odd.  A largely English crowd gave Lin Qungfeng of China a standing ovation for his gold medal lift.  After Bakhram Mendibaev of Uzbekistan failed to lift 135kg on his first two attempts, the crowd gave such a welcome on his third attempt you would think he was representing the UK.  And when Sibel Simsek of Turkey failed to lift 133kg, a ring of disappointment swept through the crowd. 

After you watch a few lifts, you begin to understand why things are different here. When a competitors walks out, you see broad shoulders and melon shaped thighs indicative of hard work and hundreds of hours of preparation.  You are taken through a mental ritual with them.  Parting words with their coaches, a breath to release nervous energy, chalking up their hands, greeting the crowd, and then the intense focus that seems to overcome them in an instant.  They meditate over the bar for a moment, inhale a breath, and attempt the lift.  It’s an intensely personal moment, alone on the stage publicly displaying their successes and failures, and a relationship between the athletes and the spectators starts to emerge.  You see them as something more than just a representation of a country. A personality emerges; you see their joy, you see their disappointment.  You see how they respond to adversity, and in every athlete you see the most human of emotions, hope.   In their moment, you want every athlete to succeed.  You want every competitor to lift their target weight.  And when they do, you want to celebrate with them.  But if they fail, you want to applaud the attempt.

And maybe, that’s what the Olympics should be about.  It’s nothing short of a miracle, that despite all the political turmoil our little planet experiences, we can manage to gather over 200 countries in one city and peacefully watch their athletes compete.  Why then, should we not see beyond the simple boundaries of nationhood?  After all, the Olympics aren’t meant to celebrate the successes of a single star country, but rather the limitless boundaries of human potential.   

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Squamish BC - Climbing Calculus Crack; A Trip Report (Kinda)

There are days when weeks of hard work come together in an effortless symphony.  When the motto “with hard work, nothing is impossible” rings true.  And you feel like you are, in the words of Leonardo DiCaprio, the “king of the world.”

This wasn’t one of those days.  I was floundering up the 4th pitch of Calculus Crack.  Two pitches below another climber had warned me that 5.8 leaders have a hard time with the finger crack on the 4th pitch.

You don’t say?

My hands were like a fish flopping around out of water as I slapped at the crack, the rock, anything to make some progress.  I slipped the rope through a draw, TAKE!

Oh yeah, I was on lead too.

Christina was patiently giving me a belay, smiling the way she always does, as if to say: don’t worry about it Saif, I got nowhere else to be. Sameer and Joryce (a Frenchman we had met at the climber’s campground) were climbing ahead of us.

I looked down, I had barely gone a few feet and my arms were already pumped… this was going to be painful.  So I did what any climber in my position would do.

“Christina, you’re a better climber than me, you want to just lead this one real quick?”
“There are two parties behind us, that will take too long.  You can do it” Christina responded as she sat onto the anchor.


So I leaned back into the crack.  I jammed my right toe straight down into a constriction, smeared my left foot, and reached up with my right hand and pulled sideways on the crack.  Yes, it was as awkward as it sounds. 

Extend my leg, index and middle finger in a deep finger pocket, left foot jammed sideways into the crack, cam it by flattening the foot, right foot out for balance, right hand on a sloper, stand up. 

I grunted and cursed my way up the finger crack in glorious agony, inspecting each placement before I clipped a draw.  The end of the crack mellowed out to a near horizontal plane where I could stand up, flex my fingers, and curse Squamish.

Squamish, as seen from the Smoke Bluffs (top of Penny Lane)
At home, my desktop image is an aerial photograph of Squamish, BC.  It features a massive, 2000+ foot monolithic structure simply called "The Chief."  It dominates the landscape like Godzilla about to devour Tokyo.  There are climbs all over The Chief with routes dating back to the 60s.  When I first saw the picture, I knew one day I would climb there.

Two years, one flight, a call to Christina and Sameer each, and I was finally in Squamish.  However, the first two days there, we were forced to stare up at the rock as rain poured down all over our juicy granite, turning it into slick slime.

So when the rain finally stopped, and the sun dried out the rock, there was only one place to be.

Sameer on the first pitch of Calculus Crack
By now I was out of Christina’s sight.  The route followed left off the face of the chief and into the shade.  From so high up, the exposure made it seem as if we were climbing an arĂȘte.  The crack had opened up and allowed for consistent hand jams.  I was swimming.  My arms wind-milled up as I karate chopped into the crack and shoved my thumb into my palm; every hand placement was a belay.  On and on it went, and I was at peace.  For once I was able to take my mind off the intensity of the climb and just observe the exposure. 

The breeze had picked up slightly as it kissed the rock and howled down into the valley.  The granite cooled my sweating arms as I placed them into the crack.  I could see the top of an endless sea of moving green trees as they leaned left and right.  

But the magic of the moment didn’t last long.  I moved a few more steps and realized the hand jams disappeared and the climbing suddenly intensified.  A moment later I found myself lying back on a flake, using opposing forces to smear my feet into the rock while I pulled back on my hands.  I looked right and suddenly my heart was pumping pure adrenalin; I had run out the last 30 feet without a single placement.  A fall now would be disastrous.  

I quickly drew a pink tricam off my gear sling and shoved it into the flake.  Whip on a draw, clip the rope, breathe. 

For the moment I was ok, but I knew that somehow I had made a wrong move and that I should be climbing above the flake, not laying back on it.  I kept following the flake up and left and then found myself on high angle featureless rock.  It made a gradual slope, but there was nowhere for me to place gear, and I realized I was going to have to climb far above my last piece again. 

Christina cleaning the 4th pitch
So I moved slowly, methodically, balancing every step and testing every hold to make sure I was solid before I moved on.  Inside of me I could feel an overwhelming sense of panic and fear.  Around me, the exposure was suddenly scary.  I dared not look down at my last piece; my fear of heights would almost certainly paralyze me.  I shut down my peripheral vision, quieted the fearful voices in my head, and started talking to myself.

“Stay focused.” 
“One move after another, you got this.”
“You’re ok, just listen to your hands and feet.”

Push my left toe onto a small ramping feature.  Bend my knee overtop of my ankle.  Crimp with my right hand.  Gradually bring my weight on my left foot.  Reach up with my left hand.  Find a small ledge.  Push back on a vertical feature with my right heel.  Lift myself up.  Match my left foot with my left hand.  Hip into the rock.  Slowly, gradually, stand up.  Breathe a desperate sigh.  I was way out of my comfort zone.

And then, I found the most perfect hold.  It was as if God, while he was shaping the universe, designed a feature in the rock to fit my fist in the most perfect union of anatomical design and rock creation.  That piece of the rock rose out of the ground, from the depths of the earth’s core, just for me.

I slipped my hand into the crack, made a fist, and leaned back on my arms.  It was a beautiful moment; butterflies and bright yellow Jesus light could have burst from the seam. A sense of relief washed over me; I laughed off the tension, feeling it melt away from my body.  The panic and anxiety I had known were already a distant memory.

A few minutes later I was at the top of the pitch.  Sameer and Joryce had moved on.  For a moment I was by myself, a hanging belay on an isolated, exposed section overlooking an expanse of wilderness from hundreds of feet.  Above me the route climbed a flake before settling back into a hand crack; the route would give us one more pitch of slab after that before finally coming to an end.  I pulled up the remainder of the rope, and put Christina on belay. 

As she cleaned the route and I pulled up the slack, the rope made a whizzing sound slipping through the ATC, the carabiners clicked against each other as the friction caught.  Whizz, click; whizz, click; whizz click.  I could have been listening to Mozart, or Bach.  There’s something special about that peaceful moment between leads, when you’re by yourself, secured by an anchor you built, where you can let the noise of a lead just settle, and enjoy the silence.

From the top of Calculus Crack.  Left to right: Saif, Joryce, Sameer, Christina

Related links: 
Calculus Crack Beta
Diedre Trip Report