Squamish, “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada”

SQUAMISH – the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada”

Peaceful, calm, tranquil, romantic, sensationally beautiful… are all words that spring to mind when looking at this photograph – but how many of you out there know how much you can do in Squamish, British Columbia and how many adrenaline pumping sports are available to those of you looking for something different?

For starters the district of Squamish is home to an extensive network of single-use and multi-purpose trails for walking, hiking, biking, dirt biking, and horseback riding, skiing at nearby Whistler, kayaking and river rafting. There is also  wind- and kite surfing at the head of the Howe Sound which has awesome wind on many clear days during the summer. The name Squamish means ‘Mother of the Winds’.

However, our interest today lies in … ROCK CLIMBING and what sort of rock climbing is available in the area and, as some of you surely know, Squamish is probably the best known rock climbing area in Canada. Less than an hour’s drive north of Vancouver, it is home to the Stawamus Chief, the world’s second largest granite monolith, at 2,100 feet (640m). It is second in line to El Capitan, which stands at a massive 3,593 feet (1,095m) in Yosemite National Park, California.

It’s the huge granite faces of The Chief that attracts climbers from around the world. With over 1,500 routes it has something for everyone from casual beginner climbs to 5.14 test pieces.

Apron strings at the base of the Grand Wall

The rock is exclusively granite and mostly of exceptional quality though it does range widely in texture, but it is possible to generalise: the climbs near the town of Squamish are cracks and slabs on monolithic chunks of granite, while further north, face-climbing predominates on more metamorphosed rock.

The 500 metre walls of the Chief offer some fine big wall climbing, ranging in difficulty from 5.7 to 5.13 as well as a number of aid routes. The Cheakamus Canyon, a half hour north of the town of Squamish has a number of sports crags with routes from 5.8 to 5.14, while Whistler has at least one decent crag.

There are enough climbs to keep the average climber busy for many many years with a wide variety of styles to choose from. Single pitch climbs include sport routes, cracks, friction slabs and boulder problems. Amazing climbs in lush old-growth forests or on bluffs overlooking the ocean.

But it’s the multi-pitch climbing that the Stawamus Chief is particularly famous for…  granite climbing routes for all abilities.  While it’s not possible for a beginner to climb to the top of the Chief (about 15 pitches—some are rated as high as 5.13 or more), it’s perfectly feasible to make it about halfway up by climbing “The Apron,” which is shallow multi-pitch slab climb that has excellent five to seven pitch routes in the 5.7 to 5.9 grade range. For those with more experience, a climb to the top of the Chief is entirely possible with many excellent 5.10 and 5.11 routes from which to choose and if you’re an advanced climber, and it’s sport climbing you’re after, then Cheakamus Canyon between Squamish and Whistler is the place for you.

Almost all the climbs at Squamish may be climbed with a standard rack of nuts and cams to about 2.5”. If you are thinking of tackling a more challenging route please check with the local climbing authorities or a guide book to see what you will need. Although you can have a nice easy day out clipping only bolts on a sports crag, the true Squamish experience is doing it all yourself although some of the older routes still have a few rusty fixed pitons for protection. For the aid routes, you will need lots of iron including a number of hooks, as well as heads and perhaps a few rivet hangers.

From May to September the weather is usually sunny, with the temperature in the low to mid 20’s (C). March and April have common dry spells, though some climbs may still be wet. The rest of the year is often wet, or else too cold except for the die-hards who will climb in any climate or those who look for routes uncluttered by other people.

There are more climbs further north and there is still plenty of potential for further development in the whole region.

Dreamcatcher is here – a mind boggling Cacodemon boulder conquered only by Chris Sharma (bigupproductions):

As far as I know this climb has not been repeated despite several attempts by other strong climbers. Correct me if I’m wrong please. The Dreamcatcher is a route that starts on a technical slab that wedges the climber against the start of the overhang. Then a dyno to a sloping rail leads to a bouldery traverse across slopers and incut crimps. The crux of the route comes at the end with a deadpoint to slopers and a jug.

If you’re inspired by this article and decide to take a weekend break to Squamish please remember that this is also bear country – so keep your eyes peeled!

Also, it is an area much loved by the locals who would prefer that you left nothing behind but your footprints. Leaving trash, particularly plastic, really is unfair. Leaving graffiti on the rock faces is unforgivable.