Maybe Squamish is doing good things for me. Iâ€™ve been leading more trad and sport, seem to be getting stronger (and hopefully a little smarter), am cooking better… The good times are getting to my head, so much so that Ryan and Ken were able to convince me to go do a multi-pitch/big-wall with them (please recall that I do have a fear of heights and with multi-pitch climbing, where you have to set up multiple belay stations, some of which may not be on a ledge but actually a hanging belay, this quite a step for me).
Our route, Angelâ€™s Crest, a 5.10c trad line up the northwest face of the Chief, fourteen pitches of fun and adventure. We wake up in the morning at 8:30am but donâ€™t actually make it to the parking lot until 12:30pm. Then tack on prep-time, a 30 minute hike to the base of the climb and then confirming that we are on the right route (weâ€™ve learned our lesson) we are guessing that we didnâ€™t actually get started on Angelâ€™s Crest until closer to 1:30/2:00. This didnâ€™t phase us a bit and maybe because we didnâ€™t quite do the math of 3 people doing 14 pitches in 7 1/2 hours of light. That translates to everyone completing the same pitch roughly every 30 minutes. Insert your own sense of humorous-ominous music here, I would probably chose the background noise of Young Frankenstein.
The climbing goes pretty well, the route is super fun and views are beautiful. Overall the team is still really happy. We are even not being too disturbed by route finding, a usual foe for Team GPS. By pitch 7 we have a decision to make, the sun is still fairly high in the sky but not that high so, do we bail off the climb and repel into the gully leaving us 7 pitches short of our goal or do we forage on and just pick up the pace? We all decide to continue on! (Noting to ourselves that we really want to complete at least 4 more pitches before it gets too dark due to potential route finding difficulties lying ahead. We only have 2 headlamps between the 3 of us and although not optimal for climbing in the dark, it is okay.)
The next few pitches are long and the sun drops quickly and although Team GPS stays on route, we are for the rest of the evening only 80% of the time really sure of where we are. It gets dark before we reach our earlier determined goal of â€œneed to reach before darkâ€ and we start to have to break pitches into 2s and 3s in order to be safe. The situation could have been worse. One of the headlamps could have gone out, it could have been really cold (it was quite nice the whole evening and a little warmer than usual for the nights here), it could have been rainy or windy, we could have been dressed poorly. But overall we are in high spirits, have decided to celebrate the finish of the climb at the pub with someone else cooking dinner, and are taking bets as to when weâ€™ll reach the car. Ryan guesses midnight, Ken guesses 11-11:30 and Iâ€™m guessing 1am. We are all aware that we are doing okay, our feet may hurt from being confined in our shoes but we are going to go slowly and do things safely. Then comes the end of pitch 11, we have another option of bailing off the climb and repelling into the gully but as we only had 2 headlamps, the gully hike out would not be on an established trail and we were doing pretty well thus far, the safer option would be to continue forward. For one brief moment we consider at the end of pitch 12 to sleep for the night and wait until morning but we are so close with only 2 more pitches that to stop would be almost like quiting. Besides, we can practically taste the beer. Ryan and Ken have finished pitch 12 and while Iâ€™m waiting for my turn I take a look around, off in the distance over the mountain range comes light from the ground. It is bright white and rather like a spot light against the black night sky so you know it is Whistler off in the distance.
The last two pitches go quickly. We finish the route start thinking again about the beer waiting for us and try to find the tourist trail down. The Cheif is a large hunk of granite and with the only direction from our topo being â€œwalk south to find the trailâ€, we head towards the other end of top of the Cheif and eureka! we find some reflectors in trees â€œobviouslyâ€ marking the trail down! But alas, Team On-Top-of-the-Details, takes one more detour to the trailâ€™s end and see the very top of the Chief. Doh! Fortunately, we are able to reverse the trail, follow the other markers in a downward direction and after 2ish hours later we are at the base of the Chief although on the opposite side from where our car is parked. The trail to the car takes us through the campground and finally to the main road which will lead us to our car. We are now out of the trees and looking towards that same horizon I was looking at at the base of pitch 12. The horizon is still exuding a radiating light but this time not against an inky black night sky. Dread forms in the pit of our stomachs. â€œWhat time is it exactly?â€ and â€œNo, it canâ€™t be that late!â€ run through our heads only to be confirmed at that precise moment by a jogger, heading back towards town. Now, you KNOW you are in trouble if the joggers are out.
All told we make it back to the car after fourteen pitches and one hike around the Chief at 5:34am to be exact, roughly 15.5 hours later. Rather than head out for beer we decide weâ€™ll head out to breakfast, I mean by the time we are in town and ready they will be opening for business. Laughing at ourselves we eat a hearty breakfast, note that CNN has the day wrong (it canâ€™t be Sunday afterall) and get a 3 hour nap before taking a shower and doing laundry. We talk about how we are going to pick up Paul on the following day, call Paul and Kenâ€™s wife Ruth to try and organize so that Paul wonâ€™t have to leave his car at the airport. The day is going pretty well until Ruth calls us back and says, â€œKen? What day do you think it is?â€ Thatâ€™s right, it ainâ€™t Saturday and just like the light on the horizon wasnâ€™t Whistler anymore, weâ€™ve lost an entire day. Iâ€™ll end up being 1 1/2 hours late picking Paul up who was patiently waiting at the Starbucks on the corner where we arranged to meet â€œjust in case Iâ€™m a little lateâ€. Sometimes you might say that we know ourselves and at other times we donâ€™t.
Overall, it was a great adventure but there was a lesson learned: put together an accountant, an economist and a union-worker and none of the them are going to be able to do the math. I mean, who really thinks that 3 people can do 14 pitches of climbing in 7 hours of daylight with only 2 headlamps, 2 liters of water and a lot of gumption? Donâ€™t let Miami University see this, they might decide to revoke my degree.