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North America, Canada, Canadian Coast Ranges, Squamish Chief, Zodiac Wall

Squamish Chief, Zodiac Wall. On the shadowed northern sections of the Chief, one great wall dominates; for 1400 vertical feet Zodiac Wall is the sheerest and most difficult of the Chief’s many faces. The few possible route lines seem to blank out at regular intervals, bivouac ledges are few and overhangs are more frequent than cracks. The mere choice of route is taxing; I finally settled on a direct line that seemed to take advantage of the most cracks and one great bivouac ledge. The route’s finish simply soared forward from a crown of overhanging capstones. Extremely bad weather and the lack of continuous time for climbing kept efforts in the fall of 1966 to four pitches, where there were some of the most awkward I have ever encountered. I struggled with a flaring overhang on the second pitch; Dave Beckstead bong-bonged his way around a dangerous ceiling (both a leader and a second’s fall here from pitons pulling out of an expanding crack; some day the entire block will split off). Leif Patterson and I divideed the arduous work of marginal pitoning and bolting the rest of the third and the difficult fourth pitch. The fifth pitch proved a nuisance, when in the spring Patterson and I lost almost a half-day on route exploration; we finally just bolted up from a very exposed hanging belay. Later, Eric Bjornstad finished the pitch on aid, despite wet moss. We spent a day hauling bivouac loads and water up to the protective overhangs of the great ledge (Astro Ledge), which had ample firewood. This was the high-point for the saw, with which we had eliminated hanging brush and shrub evergreens. These fell to the wall’s base without touching—such was the steepness. Above the ledge came more hard pitoning beneath a great curving overhang; I managed some very difficult, exposed free climbing, trusting to questionable roots and sprouts. Above, we entered the great V crack, finding it a beautiful combination aid and free climbing problem. Our final push came from June 7 to 10, the successful party being Patterson, Bjornstad, Alex Bertulis and I. We worked in pairs, one team climbing and one hauling, and spending the now lovely nights by the fireside on Astro Ledge. The last pitch of the great V proved hard, free work, which Bertulis somehow managed. I did hard overhanging nailing on a thinning crack, which Bertulis later finished with a succession of A4 tied-off pins. From another hanging station I bolt-laddered left under overhangs; then Patterson completed a hard lead, zigzagging around and through overhangs on pendulums and tricky pitoning. Bertulis had the largely overhanging last lead. In a race against darkness, he and Bjornstad got through the tense pitch by “pitons only,” cheating a blank section by going across a 20-foot overhang by using a series of root tie-offs, which nearly tore the root out before we finished this antic. Once on the crown, the serious problems were over, there was a delicate catwalk, a long pine pole across a blank traverse. One more log-and-slab problem ended the true difficulties. (NCCS VI, F8, A4; 164 pitons and 44 bolts, and a number of root and shrub tie-offs.)

Fred Beckey