American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Coast Mountains, Eldred Valley, West Main Wall, Call of the Granite

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Eldred Valley, West Main Wall, Call of the Granite. Due west from Squamish, the Eldred Valley is the backyard of the small coastal mill town of Powell River. Large mountains, deep valleys, and inlets prevent direct road access to the peninsula, but government ferries shuttle cars for easy access. The Eldred Valley is home to five granite walls, the biggest of which is the West Main, whose east face rises 3,000' above the valley floor.

In 1993 two Powell River locals, Colin Dionne and Rob Richards, claimed the first ascent of the West Main Wall. They worked on their route for a couple of summers before committing and climbing the 18-pitch Mainline (VI 5.11 A4) capsule-style in seven days, using only 18 bolts. Mainline was likely the biggest and proudest route to go up in Canada that year, but it saw little press; Colin and Rob wanted to keep the Eldred Valley a secret.

It wasn’t until 1999, when Matt Maddaloni and the late John Millar made the short two- ferry journey, that other climbers began to take notice. Matt and John spent three weeks in the Eldred and established a hard aid line on Carag Dur, the valley’s second biggest wall. Upon his return to Squamish, Matt beguiled me with wild tales of untapped big walls easily accessed by a two-wheel-drive vehicle.

In October 1999 I was fortunate enough to climb with Colin during the first ascent of Amon Rudh. Although not as big as the valley’s other walls, Amon Rudh was the last unclimbed wall in the Eldred. It was on this trip that Colin opened my eyes to the process of large-scale new routing. I watched Colin, shod in blown-out Boreal Ballets, take off on lead, climbing at least 20' before swinging a power drill from his hip to place a bolt, then climbing another 20' or 30' and repeating the process. In three days Colin and I, along with Chris Wild and Victor Ting, established ten new pitches.

In 2002, with the success of Amon Rudh still in the back of my mind, I teamed up with Ben Culhane and Ope (Dave Gemmel) to try and climb the Eldred’s biggest and most imposing face: the West Main. But after 16 days of hard work, our time was up, and we had established just a handful of pitches.

Ope and I returned to the valley the next two summers and fumbled for efficient ways to equip and clean the route. During our third trip we made it to within three pitches of the top, before running out of drill-bat- tery power, food, and motivation.

By the fourth season Ope was done with the Eldred Valley, and life had pulled him in other directions. Looking for a partner, I left messages on answering machines scattered across the continent. Sean Easton was the first to call me back, and he was psyched to come in for what would hopefully be the glory round. Back when I was starting to climb, I read articles that Sean had written about his first ascents in far-off places like Patagonia. I was excited to climb with him.

Sean and I decided that the easiest way to equip and free the upper pitches would be to rap in. For a week we worked long days on the route from the top down, before we felt it was ready for the ground-up ascent. The route follows a line of shallow corners and face holds up the middle of the bottom slab. Upon meeting the headwall, the route stays right of the amphitheater-like feature known as the “Scoop” in the middle of the wall, and continues on a direct path through the largest part of the headwall.

Rain kept us off the route for the following week. Then, in late August, a questionable forecast changed for the better overnight, and six hours after I phoned Sean he arrived back in Powell River from visiting his girlfriend in Squamish. The next day started at 4 a.m., and by 8 a.m. we were at the base. The route was mostly dry, and on the first day we climbed 15 pitches of mostly 5.11-ish rock to a pre-placed bivy.

Day two launched us onto the headwall’s steeper terrain. On pitch 18,1 wound up for a long move and sprang for a hold past the limit of my static reach. As I caught the hold, my entire weight sagged onto a finger with a “pop!” that vibrated down my arm, the sharp

pain forcing me to let go and fly off. Only five pitches from the top, good finger or bad finger, going up would be the fastest way off the wall. Except for a 20' bolt ladder and one other move, I had freed every move on the route at some point. Our goal was always to free climb as much as possible, but I had to change into survival mode to get off the wall. I taped my tendon to the bone and continued wrapping the finger until it was splinted half-bent. Sean was now on rope-gun duty.

The last pitches went as smoothly as could be expected, and at around noon Sean pulled me over the West Main’s summit lip to complete the first ascent of Call of the Granite (23 pitches, V 5.12 C1).

Aaron Black, Canada

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