This past weekend Ben and I headed to Squamish, BC to do some climbing in the least hot place in the Pacific NW (and by least hot, I mean the only place that wasn’t triple digits!) Saturday we stuck to shady singly pitch routes, but on Sunday we climbed a route I’ve had my eye on for the past year, Skywalker! And it was brilliant.
At 5am on Sunday our alarms went off and we begrudgingly got out of bed. We had 2 motives to get up at this un-Godly hour. The first was we knew this is a super popular and busy route (last year we did Klahani crack, which is on the hike up to Skywalker, and saw several parties headed up there) so we wanted to be first on the route and be able to take our time. The second was that it was supposed to be in the mid-90s so we wanted to make sure we were on the route while it was still relatively cool and shaded. Well, we were the early birds who got the worms, and our early start ensured we were the first people on the route and were in the shade the whole time.
We got to Shannon Falls a little past 5:30 am and found the gate closed (it doesn’t open until 7am) so we had to park in the overflow lot across the street. We racked up in the lot and were on the approach trail a few minutes after 6. The approach took us about 15 min (would have been much faster, but I had to stop several times to throw up… because that’s what happens when I wake up early.) After some shuffling of gear, flaking of rope, and eating of snacks we were ready to start the first pitch shortly after 6:30.
Pitch 1 (5.7):
I lead this pitch and it was hard! Or maybe just hard for me, since the beginning of the climb is a crack, and cracks are not my strong point. It starts out with a slabby moves to a bolt (fun!) then you have to do a nice little step over to a crack. There wasn’t really a lot of places for gear between the bolt and the step-over so that was a but scary, but not too bad since once I stepped over I got some gear in ASAP. Then it was straight up an obvious hand crack. My style of climbing cracks is place 1-2 pieces of gear and then take, so it took me some time to get up it. The crack peters out and then you traverse right to a slab with 2 bolts. I could reach out and clip the first bolt before transitioning onto the slab, which was very reassuring. The second bolt was only about 2 moves past the first then there was 10-15 ft of unprotectable slab before another obvious diagonal crack. I went slightly up on the slab traverse, moving slowly and balancing. I noted that the next party went slightly down on the traverse to a ramp… so seems like you could do this multiple ways there. Following the traverse there was an easy crack (maybe 5.4) that lead straight up to the bolted belay station.
Pitch 2 (5.8): The Flume
This is the hardest pitch on the route, and somehow I convinced Ben to lead it (in all honesty I probably could not have lead it even if I tried). While we were exchanging gear we heard another party starting the 1st pitch and knew we no longer had the whole route to ourselves. The second pitch is a very hard finger crack, and its only saving grace is that it eats gear. The right side of the crack is about a 1.5 ft arête and the left is a more or less featureless steep slab. The arête really made this crack hard, as I could not center my weight over the crack and was forced to smear on the left slab for balance. Watching Ben do this on lead was scary, especially the one time his foot blew on the slab (which he was able to recover from without falling!) Ben, who usually climbs pretty cleanly, had to resort to the “Andrea” method of crack climbing, ie place a piece or 2 and then taking to recover. From the belay station it looked like the crack gave way to some more gentle angled terrain, but unfortunately that was not the case, it was a sustained 5.8. This was by far our most time consuming pitch, and took Ben about 45 min to lead up it. By the time Ben reached the top the next party was exchanging gear at the belay station I was at.
This pitch was still an ass-kicker on top-rope, and I had to take several times to be able to get gear out. By the time I reached the top I was super impressed by Ben’s lead. It took me about 20 minutes to follow.
Pitch 3 (5.7): The Fork
After watching Ben make his way up the hard second pitch, the third pitch was on me. I’m not sure if it was because the climb was more suited to my strengths or because I had just come off the 5.8, but the this pitch seemed slightly easier than the first 5.7 pitch. The first few moves were rather scrambly and then I was able to clip a bolt. From there I was on what is called a “technical ramp”, which wasn’t that bad since I could treat it a bit like slab. There was a short easy section between the ramp and the next crack that went straight up to the anchors. The last few moves were the hardest of the pitch, and it was hard to find good gear placements in the crack. With some luck and Gumby like stretching I was able to place a piece high up in the crack and mostly protect the crux move. Even with my piece in it took me several tries to build up enough courage to do the last move! I couldn’t see the anchors until over the move, and sighed with relief when I got over and saw them 2 feet away.
Ben followed up, and when he got there he exclaimed that the pitch was much harder than it had looked below… I agreed.
Pitch 4 (5.4-5.6, depending on which book/website you look at): Skywalker
First things first, the belay station for Skywalker is awesome, mostly because of a plaque that reads “May The Force Be With You.” This route is a traverse with an amazing view, looking out from the belay station it looks like the climber is going to “walk” out into the sky. Ben had the honor of leading this pitch, and while he noted it was not technically hard it might be rated as a 5.6 in the book because it is fairly heady. He seemed to stay a bit higher on the slab and had to bend down to place his gear in the cracks and under-cling. Following him I went a little lower on the slab, so the crack was more at eye level when removing gear. Staying a bit lower was probably the way to go, I barely had to use my hands for the a majority of the traverse.
While belaying Ben across Skywalker the party behind us arrived, and they mentioned that some people actually do this pitch on their knees to get a better view for placing gear. I think that it might also be slabby enough to sit down and scoot across the whole traverse (not that I tried that).
Pitch 5 (5.4):
So, there are sections of the climbers trail that are probably harder than this pitch, I would say it is a really easy 5.4. The hardest move is getting from the belay station up to the slab, on what is basically a tree stump ladder. I got one move up and placed a piece, though I didn’t really need it, but that was one less piece to carry up. One 5- move over onto the slab and I exclaimed “Beautiful Slab!” An easy slab climb protected with 4 bolts and I was at the anchors. Ben was up to the top in less than 5 minutes (I could barely take up rope fast enough, that’s how easy this pitch was) and we stood back for a minute, high-fived and took in the amazing view. We looked down at the slab we just climbed and seeing it was just starting to get sun exclaimed how happy we were to have started early and have done the whole climb in the shade. Looking at our watch the time was 10:30, it had taken us just short of 4 hours to finish the route at a very leisurely pace.
There was an obvious trail off the route that meet back up with the main hiking trail. At the intersection of the main trail you go right (downhill) to leave or you can go left (uphill) for 5 minutes to reach some small pools and a stunning view of Shannon falls. We chose the later and it was worth the extra 5 minutes, we got some pictures and a the breeze coming off the falls was heavenly. We opted not to go in the pools as we just weren’t that hot and were ready to get down and eat some brunch, but they looked very inviting.
Following the steep trail down (I’m convinced Canadians don’t believe in switchbacks) we made it back to the car about an hour after finishing the route. By the time we reached the car the overflow lot, that had been empty in the morning, was full. There was a girl with a lemonade stand at the end of the lot and we each treated ourselves to a glass, which was probably the most perfect way to end a good climb.
We took a double rack up (even thought he book only calls for a standard rack with doubles of 1-0.75) replacing 1 set of 1’s and 0.75 with our link cams of those sizes and we also brought our C3s. If I was to do this again we could probably leave the C3s at home, as well as the number 3’s. The route could easily be done as the book suggests, though if it were me I would bring the doubles at link cams, as I defiantly used doubles of some of the smaller cams, If I didn’t have link cams I would bring doubles of #1-0.4.
If you plan on climbing this route then just print this description, that’s all you need to take with you.