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Squamish - The land of cracks and slabs

Submitted by naim on 2010-06-11

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by Ian Martin

SQUAMISH – The land of cracks and slabs

I’d heard a lot about Squamish. The information that I could gather mainly involved tales of splitter cracks and run out low angle slabs. Add to that some perfect granite rock of a variety of heights and angles and you’ve pretty much summed the place up! Having heard so much, I decided to travel from the UK to go and see for myself.

Arriving into the small town of Squamish in a heatwave, we were pointed in the direction of the Smoke Bluffs. The local’s enthusiasm for the place was entirely justified - an easy walk up from the parking lot led within minutes to more crack climbs than you could shake a Camalot at. With a mixture of multi pitch and single pitch routes of varying lengths, I had to admit that this did make it a pretty good place to get a feel for things.

The routes at Squamish did seem to mainly come in two categories – slabs or cracks and often in a combination of the two. Initially, I thought I’d prefer the slab routes, but after padding my way up a few protection-less slabs it was clear that I would either have to get braver or learn to hand jam. It was at this point in our trip that the advantages of crack climbing became apparent. No matter where you are on the climb, be it scared, tired, pumped, you can almost always plug in a cam and make yourself safe!

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The Chief in all its glory. (All photos: I. Martin Collection.)
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Admiring the Grand Wall.
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Clare Mason 'slab padding' on 'Didre.'
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Getting stuck into Klahanie Crack (5.7).
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Another classic splitter.

I’d never entirely understood what people meant when they’d call down from the lead to rejoice that they’d got a “sinker jam in” or on the ground where, fellow climbers would flamboyantly gesticulate how they jammed their way upwards to glory at the crucial crux moment. I’d mostly been of the opinion that hand jams were scary, painful and somewhat un-trustworthy arrangements. But then again, I hadn’t been to Squamish. Love them or hate them, they are what climbing in Squamish is all about and if you are not sure about hand jamming and want to learn, it might as well be there. The place is made for it.

And, albeit with a little practice, I found that hand jams really do work! It was like suddenly everything became clear. No longer was it a painful, terrifying experience – you could literally hand on these things all day! Pain free! The crack climbing crash course had begun.

And so, with hands – and sometimes even whole arms – comfortably placed in the cool granite cracks, I began my initiation. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not entirely necessary to wrap ones hands up with tape. The sensation of hanging from a scrunched up fist was remarkably comfortable on all but the steeper routes, where a little tape helped to ease the wear and tear on the back of ones hand.

As for footholds, it had never consciously occurred to me that a foot jam, could make an equally secure footing on an otherwise blank sheet of rock. On a route that bears no useable footholds, it can get pretty tiring, pretty quickly, if you try to smear your way up a route. Trust me – I’ve tried! However, by placing a toe or foot into the crack and adding a slight twist, a surprisingly good foot placement can be achieved. Amazing. I was learning fast.

From Smoke Bluffs, the budding crack climber can graduate to a number of nearby crags, depending on the aesthetical preferences. The Upper Malamute for peace, tranquility and views of the coast. Murrin Park for sheltered forested ambience and the Chief for those looking for multi pitch adventures and a longer day out. The Chief is the crag of the town. It dominates the view for miles around and is home to countless classic routes. In fact, the Squamish guidebooks, rate many of the climbs with five stars, as three is simply and underestimation of the quality.

For those who don’t know, Squamish is in Canada, a few hours north of Vancouver and is relatively straight forward to get to via car or public transport. So, if you’ve not made summer plans yet and want to improve your technique, then maybe Squamish has an adventure lined up for you?

As for giving a crack climbers hit list, it’s probably pointless trying to reel off the routes that you should try – the list could get pretty long. A swift flick through any of the guide books will point you in the right direction as well as getting your palms sweating in anticipation… Go take a visit!


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I'd really like to go there, nice article!

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