LinkUP – Angel’s Crest, Rock On to Squamish Buttress (5.10c)
MY FIRST LINKUP!!!!
The day I led 27 guidebook pitches in 12 hours, and with no better partner than Christian to enthuse our way up the routes. Here we are celebrating our day with fresh coconuts courtesy of Christian. Oh, by the way? It’s really Christian’s first year of multi pitch climbing too, and to do a link up on your first year like that? Not bad wouldn’t you say?
It’s Thursday morning, the 30th of August, 2012, the phone suddenly rings. I hear my mate and climbing partner on the other end. With slight hesitation and uncertainty, Caleb announces ‘Lets do it!’. I pause for a brief second and reply ‘Wow!…. okay, lets do it’. Tomorrow on this full moon, we hoped to be standing atop of the Stawamus Chief, towering some 702 meters above the beautiful Squamish Valley below. Our new project would require us completing – Rock On into The Squamish Buttress, followed by another challenging multi-pitch on Angels Crest. We would stand atop of the second largest, granite monolith, not once, but twice in one day. This massive rock would await our eagerness – ultimately testing our climbing endurance and mental stamina.
Later that night, while lying in the warmth of my sleeping bag, I push aside all thoughts that may try to creep into my minds eye. I gaze at the bright moon, slightly hidden through trees but exposed to the cool night sky and allow myself to drift further into darkness with every breath. Hours pass, when suddenly a friendly voice awakens my still body. I signal him with a thumbs up, confirming my commitment to the big day which lay ahead. I slept soundly under the nights sky, only to be woken by my swollen bladder on two occasions. Was it nerves?, I’m not really sure. I only hope my climbing partner drifted into the same abyss as I had earlier, however past stories remind me, that Caleb would have only had thoughts for what lay ahead tomorrow.
On this fine Friday morning, we enjoy breakfast under the stillness of mixed cloud and shining moonlight. With the final preparations been made to our provisions, we set off under perfect conditions. Now in the forest and under headlamp, we find our own rhythm which eventually leads us to the base of the south gulley. Looming above us, awaits a beautiful six pitch route, known to climbers as Rock On, which makes for an excellent start to the very popular Squamish Buttress. With hearts now pumping, bodies steaming and our eyes wide awake, we prepare for our first pitch of thirteen. Caleb reminding me, that we take this on, one pitch at a time. I wish my mate and climbing partner ’Fun times’, and reassure him that I have him safe, ‘Locked and Loaded’, is my reply. Caleb begins moving on the rock with total precision and perfect style. With every piece of protection he secures and with each minute passing, more daylight slowly creeps onto the rock face, exposing the beautiful Squamish Valley below. Before long, sunlight is upon us both. Have we missed our window of opportunity? Or will we succeed to mark our next big adventure together.
Continuing up, we thoroughly enjoy the movements Rock On has to offer. We eventually reach the Squamish Buttress, knowing full well, of what was expected of us. A difficult 10c pitch separates us from the top of peak one – almost our halfway point. Looking ahead of Caleb, I notice that an important piece of protection may be missing. Had I misread its location? Then my leader affirms my uncertainty. Caleb yells, ‘The piton has been removed, what the’? But who would remove such a crucial piece of protection? A piton that had possibly been there since the first pioneers laid down this route back in 59’. Already committed to the climb, Caleb lets out a few words of frustration and doubt, as I quickly reassure him, you can do it mate! After minutes of fighting his way to the top, Caleb moves over the last few feet of rock and tops out on the Buttress. “Well done mate!” I shout. As squawks of joy ring out and echo through the valley. Some moments later, I am atop, completely exhausted and totally pumped. We celebrate with a smile and I congratulate him on a great lead. I lick my wounds after a tough struggle with this pitch. ‘No time to hang around though’, Caleb kindly reminds me. ‘We need to keep moving.’
At moments during our struggle, different emotions creep in, and try play havoc with our minds. These obstacles are in place to help test our will and push our limits, but they only encourage us to keep going. When the rock demands our very best, and tiredness wants to encapsulate our being, we gain strength through one another. Working closely as a team, we individually move in silence. While alone in our own thoughts, we battle with our own demon, the likelihood of falling. Even though we climb with a safety line, both of us refuse the temptation of giving up on the fight. To be assisted by the rope, just once, would set us up for future falls. Most climbers believe that free climbing a route is the only pure form of climbing. To conquer it, it must go free. To maintain our mental clarity, each hand and foot placement is made with perfect precision and purpose. Being in the moment is all we know now.
Upon reaching the summit we look for the trail that will return us to the base, where we started some five hours earlier. With speed and caution we descend the almighty Chief, as an injury here would certainly throw us off course. At base camp we restock our provisions, down the liquid of one coconut each and drive to the trailhead marked Angel’s Crest. The next 14 pitches will provide us with one of the longest and most adventurous multi-pitches the Chief has to offer.
With time so precious, Caleb quickly announces our plan of attack for the next leg of our journey. Before I realize though, the car comes to a complete halt and the door to the trunk opens like the cage at the starting blocks to a dog race. I quickly jump out and we once again find our rhythm, in an all too familiar place, back in the forest. This time though our bodies are not so fresh. Our legs scream out for mercy, as our hearts race, and our lungs struggle to keep up with the steep terrain of switchbacks. We stop at times only to satisfy a need for more oxygen. My mind suggests that this is what SAS selection may feel like, if we were to ever apply. Struggling as we were, it doesn’t even come close to measuring up to the feats of alpinism. A style of climbing that demands various types of skill and experience. On our rock, we were totally safe from frostbite, had plenty of food, and would not spend weeks suffering in the mountains. These are only a few of the many visible dangers that I have only ready about, all tied in to the world of mountaineering. I push on, motivated by the thought that others have suffered far worse.
Upon reaching the foot of Angel’s Crest, I feel my beating chest and reassure my heart that the uphill struggle of the hike is now finally over, and climbing can now recommence. Slowly this brings life flooding back into my weary body. As he prepares and slips on his dancing shoes again, I strip off my layers of clothing, first the helmet, then my thermal top. I desperately feel the need to cool my body down. Before I have time to fully regain my composure, Caleb is off again, making the uphill climb safe with each piece of protection he places. I rest, while Caleb makes small work of our first pitch. Often repeating my mantra ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, meaning I have him locked in and safe, so enjoy the climb buddy. This time though, as we set off for the top, peak two will be our celebration point.
Minutes into the first pitch of Angel’s Crest, while belaying Caleb, I feel the ground beneath me move with each breath I take. I steady myself as I begin to realize what is slowly happening in my body. My head feels light, my vision slightly blurred. ‘Have I cooled my body too quickly’, I asked myself. I wiggle my toes to desperately send blood back to my head, and focus heavily on each breath, filling my lungs completely with each inhalation. I take a sip of water, put on a dry shirt and strap on my helmet again. Moments later, as quick as it came, my feeling of light-headedness moves on. Caleb is nowhere to be seen on the rock, hidden somewhere above, completely oblivious to what is happen to his climbing partner below. I breathe an extra sigh of relief, knowing I don’t have to yell up to Caleb and inform him of my situation. As passing out while on belay, would put us both at risk. Once he reached the first anchor system and put me on belay, I feel ready to climb again. I move over the rock, with slight uncertainty and caution. Checking in with myself every step of the way. I knew my body was still struggling when I had left behind a crucial piece of gear on the first pitch, with having to go back down to retrieve it. I push all thoughts aside, trying not to think that we still had 13 pitches to complete before we reached our goal.
With the song ‘All you need is love’, by the Beatles, stuck firmly in my mind, we continue on up, making good progress through linking pitches, saving valuable time on the clock. I fall back into my rhythm again, singing loudly, I enjoy the varied movements the rock has to offer. Somewhere around the half way point of Angel’s Crest, I join Caleb again, this time asking him casually ‘Who’s bloody idea was this’. With a smile, he replies, ‘ Today we are putting all our training to the ultimate test’. I relish in this thought, and it reminds me of words I have used to others in past times. I appreciate that I have found a younger version of myself here in Vancouver, so far from home. A man who shares in similar passions, has a real taste for adventure, values safety, but is not afraid of pushing his limits.
I lean against the rock and imagine what sleep would feel like now. I briefly close my eyes. ‘No time for rest Christian, we need to keep moving’, echo’s through my mind. The Beatles fade out, as quickly as they had begun playing. Two pitches separate us from the top, and we can both taste victory. We can’t get complacent though, safety is back down on flat ground, where we left the car. I never thought I would ever wish a climb to be over. But this experience would bare witness to that very thought.
Caleb crawls out onto a narrow ledge and worms his way up the chimney. He makes easy work of this last fun pitch and yells down from above, ‘Off belay’. I get ready to join him for the final few meters that would place us only a short walk from the top of peak two. Moments later I top out and join him at our last anchor point. Both exhausted and ready to eat, we congratulate each other and follow the trail to the peak. With sun shining on our smiling faces, we collapse down by the cliffs edge and relish in the moment. Looking out over the entire Squamish Valley, we both knew we had completed our goal. We had been victorious in our achievement, having free climbed all twenty-seven pitches in one day. We pushed our limit and came up triumphant. What’s next on our hit list, who knows? What do you think Caleb? For me, I’m just waiting for that next big phone call. My reply of course, Lets do it mate!!!!