I thought I would write a post about this specific climb because it has been a big focus for the past few weeks. For those who do not know, JJ and I received a grant to climb in Canada. Originally we planned to do this cool alpine route in the Bugaboos in the Waddington Range in B.C, but due to various injuries it just wasn’t going to work out. Instead we were approved to do a just as rad, but much easier to get to, climb in Squamish called Angel’s Crest. We were really excited to do it but it was also becoming a “let’s get this over with” kind of thing because of how much our plans kept having to be changed. We were psyched to climb, don’t get me wrong, but it was kind of hanging over us knowing we needed to do the climb to keep the grant we received from The American Alpine Club. But, now that all is said and done, it was truly a wonderful climb that I would do again in a heartbeat, regardless of whether it was funded or not.
Angel’s Crest is about a 13 pitch climb on the Chief in Squamish. For those who don’t know, a pitch is a segment of a climb that is about a rope’s length. When two people are climbing together a climb is usually pitched out because one person climbs up and then they belay the next person, so you can only go as far as your rope is long. Then, once the second person gets up to the first, it starts over. The common rope is 60 or 70 meters but many modern pitches are much shorter so sometimes you can even combine pitches into one if you want to move faster and don’t mind some rope drag (which I usually do because hauling up a rope that feels like it is trying to pull you off the wall is not fun, but JJ doesn’t really mind). You can, and sometimes we do, simul climb which is where both people climb at once with no slack in the rope and it is much faster because you don’t have to stop to do a traditional belay, but we only save it for very easy terrain because you don’t want to fall when simul climbing. We didn’t simul on Angel’s Crest because most of the pitches were reasonably difficult and a fall was possible. But we still made great time!
We started out for the trailhead at around 5am on Tuesday 8/28. I scouted out the trail the day before (side rant here: It took me two stinking tries to find the trail. I told JJ I would go on a scouting mission and, stupidly, said I didn’t need the guide book thinking I would find it right away since it is so popular. I realized quickly that I was mistaken and, after hiking for twenty minutes or so through what was like a dense jungle, I turned back, went to the car, got the book, and tried again. I was successful the second time around, but was none too pleased with having to once again hike up a steep trail to find the base of the climb. I knew it was the right trail but I wanted to be 100% sure where the climb was so that my scouting wasn’t for nothing. Another valuable lesson learned on the trip: Bring the guide book! Or at least pictures.) so we would be speedy getting to the base of the climb in the morning. Thanks to my efforts (though I’m sure we would have found it fine without my scouting mission, tbh) we were at the base and climbing by 6am. As I was belaying JJ up the first pitch I heard voices and turned to see a second party coming up the trail. Now, let me be clear, JJ and I do NOT like to wait for climbs…especially JJ. We have, in the past, left at 3am to get to climbs before other parties. And while I grumble about it when I’m snug in bed, it is always nicer to be the first party on a wall. I felt some smug satisfaction in knowing we had beaten these people to the wall, but even so there was a new sense of urgency to ensure we didn’t have to be stuck with them at all the belays. We zoomed up the first pitch, second pitch, linked three and four and five and six, and soon we couldn’t even hear them we were so far ahead. Not to be mean, but they were a bit slow, and JJ and I are pretty fast together. We have done a lot of climbing together so we know each other and our systems pretty well. Upon checking my phone we had already cruised about half the climb in three hours. Not too shabby! By now we were at the Acrophobes pitch, my turn to lead! This is a cool climb out onto these slabby ridges, where you traverse across the spine and up to the tallest tower and then rappel (lower down our rope) off the back to continue up. Super fun! After this was a few more pitches of fantastic climbing and then the final two pitches, both of which were surprisingly difficult. I had to grunt my way up the steep hand crack on the second to last pitch. I was taken aback by how much effort it took, but it was good to try hard and succeed. Next came the last pitch. Oh boy. Turns out trying to wriggle through a squeeze chimney with a pack is hard. Scratch that, HORRIBLE!! Well, in retrospect it wasn’t so bad but in the moment is sucked. The first part is crawling under this slanting roof to the base of the squeeze. I had to carry my pack like a baby kangaroo, on my stomach, because when it was on my back it ran into the stone roof and kept trying to throw me out into the abyss below. After that came the real fun part, the squeeze. For my family that has been to New Hampshire it is like the Lemon Squeeze in the Lost River, only vertical. For those who have never been or can’t imagine from that name, a squeeze chimney is a space between two rock faces that is just large enough for you to squeeze your body into and shimmy up. There is no room for a pack in there and so the only options are to A.) Not bring it or B.) Tag it. Since I already had the ack with me option be it was. Tagging just means I tied it to a rope and hung it off my harness so it was dangling beneath my feet and I could continue climb. Well, sort of. It is hard to climb with a pack dragging at your feet, trying to knock you off balance. It makes climbing a bit more difficult and there were some unfriendly words said to my pack while I struggled to worm my way up the chimney, but the pack and I got there in the end, thank goodness!
We celebrated our speedy ascent by wolfing down some peanut butter bagels on the summit before heading down the descent. Now let me just give you some background on our history with descents. JJ and I have a hard time with them. Often they are longer and more difficult than the climb itself! I don’t know why, it is not normal but there you have it. For example, we did a climb in Red Rock Canyon outside of Vegas and it took us 24 hours to get back to the car. 24!!!! That is just silly. Half of that was just the descent off the mountain. What should have been a two hour descent turned into a whole night of bushwhacking, trail finding, rappelling into pools of water, running into wild animals, wandering the desert, drinking questionable water due to dehydration, finding the car at 4am, and falling asleep with cheeseburgers in hand at the local McDonalds (This last one was all JJ. It was awesome. He literally fell asleep with the cheeseburger halfway to his mouth. Classic). Anyways, as you can see we do not have a good track record with fast descents so we were a little nervous about finding the trail down. It took a hot second, too. The top of the Chief, the giant rock formation that Angel’s Crest is on, is mostly stone and so it is hard to see a trail. We wandered around for a bit and just headed in the general direction we knew it should be in. Eventually we saw a person! Another living human being! What a relief. But she wasn’t very helpful because she didn’t speak english and when I asked her if we were going the right way she just laughed and said “Oh good!”, clearly not understanding what I was saying. That’s okay, I can forgive her. At least her presence meant we weren’t alone up there. We did ultimately find the trail. Turns out it is a very popular hike and there were many people. Even so, the descent was still the most gruelling part of the whole climb. It was an hour of downhill and by the time we got back to the bottom my calves were shaking. I mean full on trembling here! But, it was still worth it for such a great climb.