American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, British Columbia, Squamish Chief, Grand Wall, First Free Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

Squamish Chief, Grand Wall, First Free Ascent. On July 18 at 7 a.m., Annie Overlin and I embarked on what would become a historical day. Our plan was to make the first free ascent of the Grand Wall. I planned on red-pointing every pitch, and Annie would follow carrying a 70-ounce Camelback and four assorted energy bars. I carried an extra shirt, five cams and two stoppers.

We arrived at the base at 8 a.m., Annie feeling great and me suffering from nerves. With a 70-meter rope, my plan was to link pitches to obvious no-hands rests. I believe that to use hanging stations is cheating and poor style and doesn’t count as a free ascent.

Once boot hit rock, my confidence soared, and I fired the first two pitches of Apron Strings in one pitch. I quickly ran up the two-pitch Mercy Me in similar style. We did a short pitch to the belay below the bolt ladder to the right side of the Split Pillar. Taking the sporty start to the left-side 11c crack, I traversed right via a 12b move to gain the Pillar’s right side. Though very capable of the traverse, Annie agreed to just swing across to save time and shade. I then led a long pitch to the large ledge about one-third of the way up the sword pitch, the same place where the Hamish Fraser route Geni Loci ends.

From the ledge, the “Underfling” that had provided many anxious moments in my restless pre-climb sleep loomed out right. After nearly slipping off the rest stance, I powered past the old hanging station and with a mantle and a hard crimp pulled onto a large no-hands rest, completing what I felt to be the first true ascent of that pitch (all other ascents used an unnecessary sling belay). I also felt that the pitch is now solid 13a. Annie swung across and joined me. After three falls and a few frustrated outbursts, I pulled my rope, stopped taking it so seriously, and focused into the hard, easy-to-blow crux, barely redpointing the gently traversing final link. Annie joined me at the station, where we hugged and I apologized for my outburst, and this time screamed a victory shout over the sleeping town. We cruised up to Belly-Good Ledge, arriving tired, red-tipped, and nearly out of food and water.

Still determined to do things right, we dragged butt up the last four pitches of the Roman Chimneys, taking the easiest line. On top, we smoked the peace pipe and praised the gods for our good luck.

Previous to my redpoint, I worked the route eight times from the ground up. I never rappelled in to work the cruxes. We added a bolt to supplement the two old fixed pins in the Underfling and added the new station. Finally, I added a bolt to the last moves of the final traversing link. In keeping with local tradition, I named the final traverse The Chief after my half-Indian friend Peary Beckman, whose friendship, support, and vision led to my success. I’d also like to thank the wonderful community of Squamish for their friendship, support, and good vibes. You have my humble regard.

Scott Cosgrove

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.