American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Coast Range, Squamish Chief, Direct West Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1966

Squamish Chief, Direct West Face. The curiosity of Vancouver climbers about knee-deep tracks in the January snow to the base of the sheer west face of the Squamish Chief turned to amazement when they saw ropes hanging on the lower part of the 1600-foot wall. Alex Bertulis, Eric Bjornstad and I had made cold, snowy sorties onto the beginnings of the logical crack line and most direct route. We had always felt that the 1961 Cooper-Baldwin route followed a devious line that necessitated too many bolts and that it ended too soon, exiting off the wall to the right some 200 feet below the summit. The tracery of the winter snowfall confirmed our belief that the classic direct line, several hundred feet north of the other route, should be possible largely with pitons. It ran straight up a concave wall with good crack systems, then through an immense overhanging band to the smooth upper walls. The route seemed to offer piton cracks except on one vertical slab section on the upper walls. Our winter progress was surprisingly good, for despite cold winds and occasional snow flurries, the rock and even moss in cracks was normally dry. The second pitch proved interesting, with a direct-aid traverse; this ended at twilight with a rappel off the face in a blizzard. The next two pitches went mostly free with two bolts in one slab. Here we cut brush and small evergreens with a saw. We climbed mostly on weekends and left ropes behind. Bertulis and Leif Patterson spent two separate weekends ascending the mean sixth pitch, with its mossy cracks and loose flakes, and the two above it, bivouacking each time on small ledges. The seventh lead went free, surprisingly, except for a few feet of aid; from below it appeared to overhang. The next pitch, the real crux, called for difficult "upside-down” nailing on the badly overhanging band. The top of the lead overhung the tiny base ledge by some 30 feet. Our team of four, Bertulis, Patterson, Hank Mather and I, pushed through to the top on May 9, 10 and 11, with two bivouacs and marvellous weather. We had actually begun to prusik up our ropes with Jümar ascenders at noon on the 8th but found ourselves bombarded by rocks thrown off the summit rim by youngsters. We retreated to form a posse to chase them away. On the evening of the 9th I placed six bolts on a flawless headwall and retired for the night, returning to place six more in the morning. Patterson went up the pitch, placed several more before we finally were able to get back to piton work again. We then nailed under an overhanging flake system and up a difficult, exposed dihedral. That night we bivouacked on a big ledge with enough wood for a fire. We gorged on water and food and watched the twinkling lights of the town of Squamish and car headlights, almost a vertical half-mile below. The waters of Howe Sound, snows of the beautiful Tantalus Range and Mount Garibaldi in the near distance completed the beautiful setting. On the final day we traversed up northward along a slide-off ramp, hauling our duffel bags behind us. Mather went up a final pitch of very thin cracks, using a variety of tied-off pitons and two ropes to minimize friction. About noon he got off the stirrups and onto the slabs leading to the rim. Soon we were all hiking down the trail, accompanied by local climbers and the press, who had come up to greet us. It was a Grade VI climb.

Fred Beckey

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