Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Zero Waste Adventure - Climbing in Squamish, British Columbia

When my friends told me that once I get a taste of Squamish life I will never want to leave, I didn't believe them. After a three week trip, it took all of the resistance (and love for my UK home) that I could muster, to not apply for working visa and move over there. The climbing is superb. Big granite walls, single pitch lines with perfect cracks and tons of boulder problems most of which you will want to get on, all pretty much walking distance from town. And to top it all off, the climbing community is some of the tightest and most welcoming/helpful that I have ever experienced. It is really hard to not feel settled when you come to Squamish and it is hard to not fall in love with the place.

This is what I would call my ''psyched out of my eye balls'' face

As this is the first time that I have ever travelled to a climbing destination on my own, I was a little bit worried (that is a bit of an understatement really) about whether I will be able to find partners to climb with. It turns out that Squamish is the perfect place for a solo climber. Largely because there are so many people who are in the same boat as you which makes finding climbing partners easy. Most climbers stay in the Chief campground campsite and so all it takes is to strike up a conversation with someone whilst you are making dinner. It is that easy. Or leave a note on a notice board or post on Squamish Facebook page and during the season you should not struggle at all to find people to climb with.  Zephyr cafe- the climbers hub is also a really good place to meet people.


The cracks make some really good aid climbing practise too

You can literally spend years and years in Squamish and not try all the lines. A lot of the granite routes in Squamish will have some sort of a crack and a slab attached to it so you constantly change the pace of your climbing. Bolted belays are common which makes it really quick to do lots of routes in the evenings. New thing for me was seeing mixed routes with mostly gear and then a few bolts where needed. I had two objectives for my trip this time around, firstly to work on my crack climbing skills and the second- to get on big walls. Squamish has both of these nailed to the T.

1. The Chief and other awesome multi pitch crags

                The view of the Chief from the campground

The first time you see the Chief as you approach Squamish, you can't help but feel a sense of wonder. It is imposing and beautiful at the same time. Every day it looked different based on what the weather was doing at the time. This September was unusually rainy so I didn't get to climb on it as much as I planned as the routes were either wet, I needed a rest day or I couldn't find a climbing partner who was free all day. (rare occasion in Squamish). When I finally managed to get on it with my climbing bud Mooey, I was psyched out of my box!

                         After the last pitch of Banana Peel 5.7

Bolted belays make for a quick change over and if you go fast and light ( new thing for me) you can do some of the easier routes in no time.

My calves were burning after 17 pitches of mostly slab climbing!

You can link several different routes which is what we did and 17 pitches later, you feel a good sense of achievement.

                                                                Topping out into the sunset

If you need to warm up for the exposure on the chief, there are other great multi pitch crags. I joined my friend Ava on her project in Slhanay which is a lovely crag with some great lines and stunning views.

I am not usually a morning person but 7 am start to project a route out of my limit with Ava seems to get me out of bed okay

I always knew that I fancied projecting trad routes which are out of my limit but this girl taught me how it is done! 7 am pick up, abseiling into the second pitch and cracking on with the route until fingers bleed and it was time to go to work - that is how the crushers get things done here!

I love this photo - Ava demonstrating how you roll in Squamish (send update- a few weeks later Ava sent :)

Smoke Bluffs

First day on the Bluffs - my mind was blown there and then!

Coming from Sheffield and having learned trad on grit stone I was very ashamed to admit that my jamming skills needed a good bit of work (still do really). The Bluffs are a collection of very accessible (walking distance from Squamish) mostly single pitch crags with varieties of cracks so it served me as a good training ground.

I tried. I failed. I tried and failed again on those cracks but the objective was to really improve as much as possible and by the end of the 3 week period those finger locks felt a bit less desperate! The Bluffs are the perfect after work crag for a lot of the folk who live and work full time in Squamish so the classics do get busy in the evenings. I could spend a long time just in the Bluffs for sure.

There was some climbing in the dark too (unplanned).  When the route is safe thought, it can be quite a meditative experience to only focus on your movement within the small beam of the head torch light. (Thanks Luke for the head torch climbing initiation).  


                                           Trying to trust my feet here

As a mostly trad climber I will usually opt for trad where I can so I only got out bouldering once in the whole of 3 weeks. Needless to say that I was gutted that I didn't have a go at more boulder problems whilst I was there. It is really similar to grit stone bouldering, smeary feet, slopers and tiny crimps. The boulders are literally a few minutes walk from the campsite which makes it so easy and accessible. There is so many problems, if you have a few years to spare you might just be able to have a taste of it.

Sport Climbing

Andrei crushing The Animal (12c) on Pet Wall

There are several good crags around Squamish which are bolted and often stay dry in the rain (like Cheakamus). Pet Wall is where all the crushers go to get strong so I have been told and I joined my two pals Andrei and Ava on their project (Animal 5.12.c). I was mainly top roping their proj, trying to stay on a wall for more than two seconds each time. It was pretty fun regardless!


Squamish town has some pretty awesome setting - photo by Hywel Rowlands

It seems that Squamish town is so well designed for climbers. You have everything that you need both for day to day life as well as an an indoor climbing wall, yoga studio and lots of gyms to choose from. There is a laundrette too although I have never used it as I washed my clothes at my friends houses.

            When it is raining, the indoor wall is a pretty good substitute!

Most climbers will stay at Chief campsite as it is walking distance to all of the climbing. It costs 10 Can$ a night and the camp site has toilets and water source.

The campsite setting is on the edge of the forest- just don't leave any food in there otherwise you might get a night visitor!

Coming from the UK, the idea that you can encounter bears on your way to the crag is kind of incomprehensible. Canadians and people who have lived here for a while are really not bothered. There are precautions that you need to take, like storing your food in bear boxes and cooking well away from your tent and you should be fine. 

There are no showers in the campground so you can either go for a swim at one of the close by lakes or there is a swimming pool which has discounted entry for the last hour. I went to the gym a few times as you can get a cheap weekly pass. 

When it rains, the whole of the Squamish climbing population is usually in Zephyr, using the wifi and chilling in front of the fire. If you ever make it there - the purple sofa is the best. Literally.

Purple sofa beta- you can thank me later

I always knew that I had a bit of a climbing dirtbag in me. I now own a van and spend the majority of my free time talking/thinking/writing about climbing. Van life for the purpose of climbing is common in the UK but I feel that back home it is almost reserved for those who are pro climbers. In Squamish (and North America I guess) no one cares. The only requirement for living in a van is that you love climbing, grades don't really matter. It is about the lifestyle rather than achieving pro status. I really did love that and it opened my eyes to different ways of living. It is okay to spend your life doing what you love rather than always striving for the usual- conventional career, big house etc etc. There is nothing wrong with those things. But the pursuit and the acquisitions of these does not equal happiness. At least not for everyone.  These guys and girls prove that. They really live their values and I really admire and respect that. But don't take me wrong, you also meet some serious crushers living in vans too!

One of my climbing partners Mooey rocking the van life

Zero Waste

          My usual Zero Waste essentials seem to work in Canada too 

Having never been to Canada, I was worried what the situation will be like. No need to worry as Squamish has everything you need for Zero Waste. I will post a separate post with more details so have a look if you want to get some tips. You can get everything from tea, coffee, vegetables, meat and all other groceries. Canadians are just so friendly and I found it really easy to ask for no plastic in shops. In the whole of the 3 weeks I produced hardly any trash. It is more than what I would do at home but if you are camping and without a car, sometimes you have to accept that your best effort is good enough in the moment! To estimate, it would be about a half full plastic bag filled with mainly bits of plastic from food shopping. I recycled a lot and have also managed to compost the organic food waste. 

The community of people in Squmish is really what made my experience so good 

The community is really worth the mention. People are so friendly and they help each other a lot. If you need anything, your new friends will hook you up with their friends and vice versa. I have always felt this community back home too but in Squamish it is so much more palpable. Maybe it is because the town is so much smaller or that often people's main objective is climbing (rather than work). The community seems to understand that everyone in the climbing community is here for the same purpose - to do what they love doing - climbing.


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