Training Trad

Photos of the Chief near Squamish, British Columbia Canada taken in May 2016.

The granite dome dubbed as “The Chief” hides half of its 700m height on a cloudy day in Squamish, BC, Canada.

“Impossible to go on, impossible to descend impossible to stay where he is. […] With cheek and ear pressed against the canyonland bedrock he feels, hears, shares the beating of some massive heart, a heavy murmur buried under mountains old as Mesozoic time. His own heart. A heavy thick remote and subterranean thumping sound. The fear”

-Edward Abbey

The Monkey Wrench Gang

 

Over the past year I have been pushing aside and ignoring the subtle yet ever-present and stubborn goal of mine to improve at traditional climbing. My excuses were plentiful; I did not have the time to go out to trad crags to improve, I didn’t have the money to gather up a proper rack, what little trad I have done made me good enough (5.8 leader…) for some basic alpine objectives, and crack climbing hurts. In reality, becoming a competent trad leader is a central and essential skill I knew I would have to learn if I were ever to achieve my larger, long-term and more complex goal of becoming a strong and well-versed rock climbing goddess. (Okay, maybe not a goddess.. but just a half decent all-around climber). I want to be able to ascend a feature using a variety of techniques and skills that could only have been garnered by years of experience on different types of rocks and in different styles. My resumé with sport climbing wasn’t so bad, but was seriously lacking with traditional climbing. The fact of the matter is, trad climbing is the TICKET to the alpine, the ticket to some bigger mountains and objectives, and no truly well-rounded rock climber should lack in the ability to utilize a good hand-jam in a splitter crack. I was scared, though. I was scared to fall on gear, scared to take the leap and hesitant to push my trad grade the way I had my sport grade. As the final month of my trip was approaching, though, I knew I would not be able to call it a success if I didn’t spend a concentrated amount of time exploring and growing in this discipline. So, I got my passport and headed to Canada.

I apologize to any non-climbers who have found this blog, because this is a particularly jargon heavy post.

 

 

In total I spent about four weeks in Squamish, BC- one of the premier climbing destinations in Canada with world-class rock climbing involving very convenient approaches. While one can practice all types of climbing in Squamish and its nearby crags, I decided to solely focus on trad climbing. I chose Squamish in particular because  the rock type was granite and I felt that the protection and style would be similar to the Sierra Nevada, where I would be working and living over the summer and where I have some bigger alpine goals and specific routes I’d like to get done.

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Almost immediately I was welcomed by a very motivated group of local climbers/dirtbags, embracing the living out of the car lifestyle. On my second day a local took me up the classic “Grand Wall” , a 10 pitch mega-line ascending the chief. It was arguably the best multipitch I have ever done. Here he is descending across the Bellygood ledge, with the port of Squamish and the Tantalus mountain range in the background.

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Leading the first pitch of “Grand Wall” an easy but runout 5.8 slab.

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I also hit up the local crags in an effort to practice crack climbing in the comfortable “Crag” setting vs. in the middle of a giant wall. Sometimes I felt as though I was excelling quickly. Here I am flashing my first 5.11a trad climb , “Perspective” at Murrin Park

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The PET wall at Murrin park. High quality granite sport and trad routes.

 

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A 5.9 off-width at “The Cirque”, the same crag that boasts the classic “Cobra Crack” (14b)- one of the hardest crack climbs in the world.

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I ran into some pretty cool people in Squamish, like Nina Caprez, one of my female climbing idols. Here she cruises a burly offwidth at the Ciruqe. It was an absolute pleasure to watch her and Luka Lindic, a talented alpine and rock climber, float up these intimidating lines.

 

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Pretty soon I actually started to enjoy crack climbing, which before I sort of hated. I owe this to the fact that I began to learn and utilize good technique, versus trying to find crimpers in the crack per my face climbing ways. Here is “chink in the barrel” a 5.10+ finger crack I was able to send 2nd go at the “Longhouse” an excellent shaded crag away from the main drag in Squamish.

 

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epic butt shot of me on Chink in the Barrel.

 

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While single pitch climbing is arguably the most effective way to improve technique and gain strength, the reason I want to get better at trad climbing is to be able to go up harder multi-pitch climbs. Here I prepare to belay my friend up the second pitch of Rock On (5.10a) which is a stellar moderate route. The final pitch is a 50meter 5.10a that felt stout for the grade and was much steeper than expected- I was happy to have on-sighted it.

 

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A new friend wanted to join us on the rappel down from “Rock On”

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My partner leading up the burly 11b/c second pitch of “New Life.”

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Me starting the 4th pitch traverse on New Life (11b) and about to enter into major freak-out mode. A month of trad climbing is obviously not enough to temper the fears associated with placing and falling on your own gear. I often got stuck in the mindset about worrying whether or not my last piece would hold if I fell above it. Sometimes it was obviously that it would, other times this fear was completely rational. This was one of the latter moments. Here, the gear was shit and I mis-read the sequence and found myself in a “no fall” situation as I crossed the arete. I had one bolt protecting me  , but if I had fallen all of the gear would most likely have ripped and I would have injured myself for sure. I am a very risk-averse climber and don’t like to put myself in those situations, but they sure do test your ability to keep cool in a stressful situation- a tool every climber must have. I definitely vocalized my fear to my partner, who graciously stuck with me through my mini freak out. Glad to say I completed the pitch with no falls.

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Another sweet butt shot of me on another engaging, steep crack climb at the Longhouse. An interesting thing about crack climbing is that it is very hard to grade because- especially with pure crack climbs that do not utilize many other features on the wall- the difficulty is very much dependent upon the size of one’s hands. Here the “crux” of this route was easy for me because it involved hand jams that were perfect for my size. However, as the crack narrowed up near the top, and I could not get hand jams nor fingers in, I began to sweat.

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I avoided clipping bolts for the majority of my trip… until the very last day. I had planned to do a very long 12 pitch 10d route up the Chief but it was too wet from a previous storm. So, I recruited someone to come try “Cerberus” (11d) with me- a classic face climb up the Tantalus wall. We swapped leads and both got to lead an 11d pitch. Here is my partner leading the first one, which was WAY hard, and would definitely get 12a in other sectors. I lead the final 11d pitch and was very psyched to have onsighted it. I felt my partner’s 11d pitch was certainly harder and I tip my hat off to him for leading it! (Also this climb involves the most sketchy flakes I have ever laid eyes or hands on. Seriously , the things flex with the wind.)

Some flowers around Alice and Cat Lake, Squamish British Columbia.

The Chekamus river in Squamish. Due to the abundant rainfall that coastal British Columbia gets, the flora is reminiscent of a rainforest (I think the ecotype is literally “rainforest”) and very similar to that in Washington and along the Columbia Gorge in Oregon.

After three and a half weeks of climbing in Squamish, I was generally pleased with how I progressed. I went from never having fallen on gear to having at least taken a few falls and beginning to tear apart at the idea that I must not fall when trad-climbing. I was able to onsight 11b (though a lot of 10s shut me down, again it goes to show you that grading with trad climbing is extremeley subjective) and fine tune my multi-pitch transitions. Still, I have a long way to go. I am still extremeley humbled every time I even put a rack on my harness. The sheer weight of the pieces is something I am still getting used to. I also realize now that on-sighting a trad line is MUCH harder than on-sighting a sport line because you do not only lack beta on how to execute the moves, but also on the gear. I spent a lot of time locking off for insane amounts of time as I fiddled with gear. I got way more pumped than I would have otherwise, forcing me to tone down the grade. Improvement with gear placement is an arena in which I can make huge gains and which would translate to a faster, more energy-efficient and pleasurable climbing experience.  I am also still terrified half the time I trad climb that my piece will blow. I need to learn to break this mental cycle when it is irrational (aka when I know my pieces are good). This will only come with more practice on the wall and with more falling, which I plan to do this summer.

Finally, I have a long way to go with my technique as well. While I certainly made strides (before I pretty much avoided hand-jams, now I seek them out), I am still really crappy when it comes to “off-sizes”- rattly hands/fists/fingers and offwidth. Again, I can identify the solution to this as just putting myself out there and climbing with more experience folk who can give me a tip or two when it comes to attacking those awkward sizes.

Photos of the Chief near Squamish, British Columbia Canada taken in May 2016.

My improvement, thus, has been slight yet noticeable. My flaws and areas I need to work on have been highlighted even futher. I have a long way to go before I’m running up Astroman, but I am eager for the challenge. The fact that climbing takes on so many different forms is one of the reasons I love it so much- when I am bored of one type , I can move onto the other. I can send a 5.13a at Smith Rock and feel like a total boss and then come to Squamish and get schooled by 5.10b. I am always learning.

Photos of the Chief near Squamish, British Columbia Canada taken in May 2016.

The North Gully of the Chief illuminated by a setting sun ,as seen from the Mamquam forest road, a road that accesses a lot of different areas and where many people (myself included) crash for the evening.

Before moving on from my trip to Squamish, I must give a shout-out to the local community of climbers there who welcomed me with open arms, gave me tips , cooked with me in parking lots and showed me all of the best areas. I made some friends, there, and hope to climb with them again soon.

Some flowers around Alice and Cat Lake, Squamish British Columbia.

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra formosa).

Before leaving the area, I managed to make it out to Leavenworth with my friend Judith, who I met in Squamish. We were psyched on trying some of the multipitch trad lines out in the Cascades and Enchantments and I was put in the peculiar position of being the more experience trad/multi-pitch climber out of us. Could I take someone up a multi-pitch trad route? Was I experienced and strong enough? I was certain that I was but was still understandably nervous. Our objective was “Outer Space” the most classic multi-pitch climb in all of Washington that ascends Snow Creek Wall outside of Leavenworth. It is 6 pitches and the crux is 5.9, which was a grade that challenged me a year prior but that now I felt should go down easily. This would be a good test to see how much I had improved, especially since I knew Leavenworth was notoriously more sandbagged (aka graded more stoutly) than Squamish. So, we set out.

 

 

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The night before we made camp and had a delicious dinner a la “Dutch Oven” I was feeling quite sick with a sore throat and poor Judith had been basically interrogated by some American border  patrolmen (who also searched my car), so we felt we were owed a bomb dinner before our big day.

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“Snow Creek Wall” . Our route “Outer Space” tackles 290meters of this wall up until the summit. We totally got lost on the approach but still managed to be the first ones to make it to the base of this classic climb. The pitches were very long (often around 50 meters) which made communication difficult between us. This was only exacerbated by my very sore throat. Still, though- we managed 🙂

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Here Judith follows up P4 of “Outer Space”. While the first two pitches are kind of “meh” (even with the alternative “Remorse ” start) the final four are absolutely epic . This pitch involves a perfect handcrack surrounded by huge Tuolumne-esque knobs.

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Judith tackling the upper portion of the very fun 5.8 handcrack on Outer Space.

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Content at the top of “Outer Space” (5.9), my partner Judith stops to take in the view. After leading all of the pitches , I was overall pleased with my performance. The crux came on P3 and involved a hand crack traverse and some moves off of a sketchy flake. I definitely took my time here and protected it well, but found the moves to not be too difficult.

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At the top we were confronted by a mountain goat. At first we were very excited to see the creature, but then it began to get aggressive and charge us. We had been warned that they can get in your face and the way to distract them is to literally go off and pee somewhere because they are attracted to the salt in the urine. So, Judith went and did her thing and the goat made a total b-line to the pee and left us alone. It was simultaneously disgusting and hilarious. As we descended down the steep gully and back to the trail, we encountered a lot more goats that were less aggressive and it was a joy to watch them scale some pretty technical slabs with ease.

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There was quite a good bloom going on while we were there, too. Here are a field of Delphinum sp. (Photo by Judith Meskers)

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Calochortus subalpinus (Sub -alpine Mariposa lily) with some Castilleja sp.

Psyched on our successful outing, we were determined to get out again the next day. I was still battling a tough cold, though, and Judith’s knee was bothering her so we decided to go cragging at Index. My car, however, was in major protest to that idea. It began to make some very strange noises that I went and got checked out the next day. Long story short, we ended up spending our second day in Leavenworth trying to find a car part that had broken on my 96 Corolla. Due to the age of my car this was not easy but I got lucky and found a spare part in Seattle. Driving a half-broken car 120 miles on some steep and windy roads was kind of scary, but a very amiable and helpful mechanic in Leavenworth assured me it was okay. We got the part and the next morning I got it installed and then had to start my trip back to California. Shit happens.

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On my way home I managed to stop at Castle Crags state park with the objective of free- soloing “Cosmic Wall” (5.6). I got a very early start to avoid the afternoon heat and to give me some time to get back home. Here is the first view of Castle Crags along the approach trail.

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Despite some cloud cover and thunderstorms overnight, it was quite warm.

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Part of Castle crags. The route I climbed “Cosmic Wall (5.6)” ascends the leftmost feature known as Mt. Hubris , or “The Ogre”(if you look closely you can see the face of an ogre in the rock)

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Gorgeous views of Mt. Shasta were along every turn in the approach

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Starting up the route I encountered what I think is some sort of Gilia sp. 

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The quality of the climbing surprised me. It was almost as good as Cathedral in Tuolumne, a route of similar length and similar grade, but without ANY of the crowds.

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You have to make two rappels to get off of the route, which unfortunately means I had to solo with  a rope on my back. The rappels were clean and the anchors were bombproof.

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Penstemon sp.

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Four days ago I arrived back in the Bay Area and am writing this from the comfort of my parent’s house. I’ve gotten my car washed, re-stocked and am excited to head out tomorrow for Yosemite Valley. On Monday I will start a job in Tuolumne meadows as part of the vegetation management crew. I hope to continue to focus on trad and continue to practice my passion in the place I hold most dear to my heart- the eastern Sierra Nevada. I have some mightily ambitious goals and know that the time I spent practicing trad techniques in the relatively comfortable and safe environment of Squamish will be crucial for me to climb longer routes well in the more rugged and insecure setting of the backcountry.

After four months of traveling by myself and living out of my car, the thirst has not been quenched. I’m more excited about climbing than ever, but my energy has shifted. I’m still a sport climber at heart as it allows for unencumbered and pure movement- which is what draws me to the sport in the first place. Searching for gear on your rack just isn’t in my definition of pure movement. However, I have finally been able to understand what it means to flow well on a crack and to make a hand-jam the best jug in the world. There is some satisfaction to that, as well. I think, though, my excitement for trad climbing comes from the fact that it is an entirely “do it yourself” sort of activity that requires confidence. By engaging with trad climbing I have learned to trust myself. However, I still associated trad climbing with multi-pitch climbing (especially in the states), and this is where my true motivation lies. I want to become proficient at trad so I can ascend beautiful , aesthetic lines high up in the mountains.

Hopefully that is what I will be doing in my off-time in Tuolumne.

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Until next time…

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