Turquoise water was white-capping on the left as a massive chunk of granite came into view on the opposite side of the road. The thousand foot walls of grey granite occasionally streaked black with lichen stood proud over the valley. This is bigger than I remember, I thought to myself. Or maybe I was just looking closer this time…
It started as it always does, with mutual acknowledgment of an open weekend and an ambition to get after it. We were looking to climb rock after a relatively low-key August. David was still riding high from his previous trip to Squamish, and I heard good things, so it was decided we would head north.
One of the most challenging aspects of climbing in Squamish is picking an objective. By some counts there are over 1,500 established rock climbs in the area. Each one has something unique to offer. Friends say do this, locals say do that, everyone says you can’t go wrong. Naturally, David and I coalesced around the most ambitious climb within our reach, the North Face of Squamish Buttress (a.k.a. Butt Light, The Butt Face). The 15-pitch climb would take us up a mountain known as The Chief by linking up multiple rock routes.
Approach – We left Seattle on Friday afternoon, made a “quick” stopover in Bellingham for beers/ tacos/margaritas, and cruised into the Stawamus Chief campground at midnight. Sleep would be advised but David handed me a Kokanee (or two?) and we passed out closer to 1 AM.
We woke up at 7 AM and drove a couple minutes to the parking lot of the base of the Chief. After a coffee and energy bar, the time to leave was upon us. A quick, 10-minute scramble had us at the base of our first route, Deidre.
Route 1 – Deidre
Pitches 1 & 2 – The warm up. Both pitches were straight-forward slab climbing. 5.6/5.7
Pitch 3 – The going gets good. I lead a 25-meter pitch up a dihedral layback, very aesthetic! 5.8
Pitch 4 – David puts in a lead continuing up the dihedral. He starts bringing me up. DANGER! FALLING PHONE! Crap. The zipper on my soft shell Mountain Hardwear pant busts and my iPhone pops out, careening down the granite wall. A couple parties valiantly try to reach out for it but are unsuccessful. RIP. 5.8
Pitches 5 & 6 – I lead the easy 5th pitch. David takes us to the end with an awkward move up to a tree belay. Both pitches were hard to protect. Not inspiring. 5.6, 5.8
We topped out on Deidre, but I was feeling low. Aside from pitches 3 and 4 it wasn’t very fun. The climbing was run out at times. It would only get harder from here, too. I suggested we go back to the car and find other, less committing stuff to climb. David was cool with it. We started our walk down when David pointed out the rest of the route up The Chief harmlessly saying “we’ll get it another time…” I took one look and changed my mind. Nah, let’s go for it!
Route 2 – Boomstick Crack
Pitch 7 – Boomstick crack was super fun. Still not sure I climbed it right with my hands in the crack and my feet smearing, but boy was it good. Belayed David up from the second tree. 5.6
Pitch 8 – Not needed. David went 10M up to another tree belay. I recommend linking these two pitches.
Between Boomstick and the next pitch on Squamish buttress is a well-worn path through the “Enchanted Forest”. This offered a nice reprieve from the wall for 10 minutes of walking.
Route 3 – We are on it now, Squamish Buttress
Pitch 9 – Start spicy with an unprotected roof move followed by a face climb. Protection leaves something to be desired here. Drink your first beer. 5.8+
Pitches 10 through 12 – Continue generally up the ridge. The climbing is straight-forward. Nothing much to say. Low 5th
Pitch 13 – Where the wall gets vertical you have to traverse left into a gully system on the north face of the buttress. This pitch is a classic; lots of exposure but great protection. Finish on some ledges and a bolted belay station. 5.9
Pitch 14 – Thank god for David. I was tired, arguably shook at this point. I asked him to lead the chimney pitch, which is the other crux of the climb, and he nailed it. He made an awkward roof move look like icing a cake. A little here. a little there. 5.8+
Pitch 15 – Zig zag to the top out on easy ledges.
In total it took us about 9 hours up. An easy walk down and a couple beers at the parking lot and life was good again. I’m proud of David and myself for knocking this one out, when we could have easily given up. On a related note, I’m moving to Squamish.