Thursday, July 24, 2014

Squamish Buttress

This past Monday, Elise rock climbed the entire Chief for her very first time. She'd scaled the Apron in the past, but those ascents always ended with a walk-off about halfway up the mountain. Since she'd been climbing well this summer, we decided it was time to give the entire Chief a try!

We chose The Squamish Buttress, a popular 5.10c route that many use as their first climb up the Chief. This historical line was first ascended in 1959 by the legendary Fred Beckey and follows the right-hand edge of the dramatic South Gully, a wide chasm that splices through the entire Chief. To reach the Buttress, we started on the Apron with a familiar 4-pitch slab route called Over the Rainbow. This took us to Broadway Ledge, and from there we climbed Boomstick Crack, a fantastic flake that leads into the forest above. A ten-minute hike through the trees took us to the base of The Squamish Buttress, the line that tackles the upper half of the mountain.

Click on the photo below to enlarge it for more detail.

We started quite early to allow plenty of time for the ascent and to avoid climbing in the midday sun. We also hoped to get a jump on the crowds that swarm these routes all season long. Elise was a bit nervous before we left, but we assured her she was up to the challenge!

When we arrived at the base of the Apron, sure enough there were about 10 people queued up to climb various routes, but none were waiting for Over the Rainbow. Game on!

The Apron went by quickly and we soon found ourselves at the base of the Squamish Buttress where we let a guide and his two clients pass. It was the clients first time up the Chief and they took photos of Elise, the "competition" they called her.

Here, Pam and Elise scale the second pitch on the Buttress with Highway 99 far below.

An ascent of the Apron and Squamish Buttress is mostly moderate, straightforward climbing and Elise managed to do all 12 pitches up to the crux without a fall except for a quick boost on Boomstick Crack to reach the high flake. At the large ledge below the thirteenth (crux) pitch, we took off our shoes, rested and had some snacks.

The crux is rated 5.10c and follows a couple of parallel cracks up a steep headwall below the First Peak of the Chief. It's a strenuous and sustained route, and having guided many clients up it over the years I knew it was no cakewalk. However, a good anchor is positioned directly above the hardest section so if Elise (or Pam) was struggling, I knew I could rig a raising system to help them reach the top. It turned out I didn't need to! Elise stormed up the pitch on her own, stopping to rest on the rope only four times in 25 m of steep climbing. I was impressed. I never lifted her through any moves; she did the entire pitch free.

Photos of the crux pitch below. You can see Pam sitting on a rock at the base, which provides some scale.

A happy girl on the ledge beside me after climbing the crux pitch. The summit is now in the bag with only one easy pitch left.

Elise being dramatic after reaching the summit. "I'm exhausted", she claimed. She actually seemed to have tons of energy left and skipped her way down the descent trail while Pam and I gingerly descended, protecting our tired 45-year-old joints.

Treats! We asked Elise what she wanted as a reward for doing a great climb, and she asked for a play date with her friend, Eric Wild! We complied...

On the summit. It was a cloudy day, perfect temperatures for a midsummer ascent. I wonder how many eight-year-olds have rock climbed the Chief?

Another summit shot with proud father and daughter. A day to remember...

Just over three weeks left until Pam's knee surgery. We'll keep you posted.


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