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


  1. The only comment I would like to add is, Saif was so focused that during our conversation between climbs on pitch 3 he told me to shut up so he could focus on the move. LOL
    Great report!


    1. haha I think that was pitch 4, no? Where I was so sketched I slammed 4 pieces to build the belay instead of the standard 3.