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A Weekend in Squamish for the Arc’teryx Climbing Academy

And 10 things every Squamish beginner should know

Squamish is one of the most iconic climbing destinations in Canada. It has dozens of crags, The Stawamus Chief and is full of storied routes discovered and climbed by the world’s best. There are lakes, access to the Pacific Ocean via the Howe Sound, breweries, cafes and a growing population. It’s an ideal backdrop for the Arc’teryx Climbing Academy, which takes place every summer.

Arc’teryx is sewn into the fabric of Canadian climbing history. The academy is a weeklong festival featuring climbing clinics, films and presentations by industry leading athletes and creators. If you’re a climber looking to connect with others in the community, then it’s the place to be in August. I was lucky enough to attend this year and climb with a number of legendary athletes. Arc’teryx’s name and logo refer to the earliest known bird, which evolved wings to adapt to its hazardous environment.

And as the name suggests, the Arc’teryx Climbing Academy centres around dozens of clinic-based classes taught by leading climbers and guides. The clinics accommodate a range of abilities, from complete beginners hoping to learn the basics to experienced climbers looking to gain new skills and techniques only learned by professional mentors. As an intermediate climber, I was the perfect candidate to soak up as much knowledge as possible and hopefully add some skills to help push my abilities and stay safe.

After arriving in Vancouver and before taking the hour-long drive to Squamish, I was treated to a tour of the Arc’teryx design facility. Arc’teryx was founded in 1989 in North Vancouver by Dave Lane. He had started a company called Rock Solid, but was joined by business associate Jeremy Guard, who changed the name to Arc’teryx in 1992. Almost as soon as they were founded, they starting making high-end gear. The Vapor climbing harness became their top seller, as it was based on new laminating technology superior to anything else on the market. They then released the Bora backpack, using the same technology.

They relied on word-of-mouth and retailers for promotion. Their products won many awards in magazine and at trade shows during the first few years. They eventually licensed Gore-Tex fabric to create an outdoor apparel line. They invented a zipper that eliminated bulky and irritating flaps found on other jackets and snow pants. They then created the soft-shell category. Fast forward to 2019 and I was treated to seeing what they have in store for 2020.

While many people outside of the community likely only see a brand that focuses on high-end jackets and sleek packs, those in the climbing scene know that Arc’teryx’s roots are in hardcore technical climbing. Old magazine ads from the early days are framed in the hallway leading to a bouldering wall in their design centre. The area also has a testing facility for quality control where we were treated to a belay loop breaking test. We toured past thousands of fabric swatches and precise looking laser cutters, and finished the tour in the sewing department where we saw the all new C-Quence harness. I found it amusing that our tour started in a hallway featuring their first harness and ended with their most current. It’s good to see the brand hasn’t strayed far from their roots, even with their success outside the industry.

After the design centre, it was off to Squamish. If you haven’t been on the Sea-to-Sky Corridor, then add it to the list of places to visit. Steep drops to the ocean and big mountains rise from around every corner. We arrived in Squamish with The Chief looming above and checked into our hotel, before heading down to the festival grounds. The evening events are almost as much of a draw as the climbing during the academy. The first night featured talks and photos from Nina Caprez, who later in the weekend onsighted The Shadow 5.13a, as well as alpine stories from Ines Papert and Luca Lindic. The stage was set for a weekend of sending.

I was a little nervous heading into our first day of climbing. On tap was a multi-pitch endeavour up Angel’s Crest lead by non other than Will Gadd. A 5.10 route that would likely be at my limit considering that I had only ever climbed a single-pitch. So, when I awoke to pouring rain and we decided to go cragging, I was a little relieved, even though Angel’s Crest would have been a great tick off my list. Little did I know that I was going to have an epic day, multi-pitch or not. We made our way up a technical approach to the Monastery crag, a small area with several hard sport routes ranging from 5.11 to 5.13. Being a rainy day, we figured there wouldn’t be many people there. Upon arriving, we were greeted by top climber Jonatan Siegrest and event organiser Tom Wright. It was humbling to climb next 5.15 climber Siegrest, who was warming up on a route right beside me. I was at my limit, hanging off of gear while he was warming up on something four grades harder. But hey, this is what the academy is all about.

By the time I was lowered off my first route by Ian, one of our guides, a few other familiar faces had shown up, including Jon Walsh, Paul McSorley, Papert, Lindic. Caprez and Em Pellerin. What I thought was going to be a quiet day at the crag, turned out to be a session of legends from all over the world. As if I wasn’t starstruck enough, when heading to grab a snack from my bag, I ran into legendary American climber Lynn Hill. I spent most the remainder of the day yelling at event photographer, John Price, to “shoot here” and to “shoot there” so we don’t miss the historical crag session taking place. We caped the day with a beer and listened to Hill regal a filled field with stories about her adventures. After Hill, live bands got everyone bouncing around under a weighed-down-by-puddles tarp. Not bad for a rainy day.

Saturday marked the first day of clinics. I was signed-up for bouldering and looking forward to getting tips from Alannah Yip and J.J. Mah. Squamish is almost as famous for it’s boulders as it is for its multi-pitches. The clinic started with talks about pad placement and spotting, before setting-up at a few different boulders and practicing mantles. Mah and Yip are a wealth of information and were happy to answer questions and give advice. It turned out that I could climb a grade harder when some of Canada’s top climbers are spraying beta at me. The clinics aren’t structured to the point that you’re on a tight schedule, but the opportunity to learn and try new things is always there.

After shuffling around from boulder to boulder under The Chief, we made a quick stop off at Dreamcatcher 5.14d, one of the hardest sport routes in the country. The day finished with a screening of the Squamish Exposed, which features slideshows by professional photographers of photos they took the week leading up to the academy. As a photographer myself, this was a highlight of the trip. It was inspiring to see the creativity and passion of the climbing community.

By Sunday, I was feeling the effects from two days of climbing and three nights of beer-drinking nights. However, it was the final push and my last day of climbing in Squamish. I was signed up for the gym-to-crag clinic. We climbed at the Smoke Bluffs and learned how to rappel, which was a bonus. In retrospect, I wish that I signed up for something more advanced. However, it made for a great day of climbing harder routes and is another example of the range of what is offered at the academy. Don’t be afraid to sign up, even if you have zero outdoor experience.

Packing up and heading home was bittersweet. I was tired and sore from the week and ready for rest, but also stoked at the idea of staying longer and seeing what the area has to offer on my own. I have the Arc’teryx academy to thank for showing me the area, introducing me to legends of the sport and for teaching me some much-needed skills that will help my climbing in the future.

The 2020 Arc’teryx Climbing Academy will be virtual due to covid-19, watch the promo video below.

Beginner’s Guide to Squamish

Access: The Squamish Access Coalition keeps up-to-date information on their website about access issues. Everything from where you can and can’t park to route closures due to nesting birds can be found at squamishaccess.ca.

Brief History: Rock climbing in Squamish started in the late 1950s and rose in popularity after the highway from Vancouver was built. The climbing community was relatively small until the 1970s, when the Squamish Hardcore (a local group of top climbers who opened dozens of test-piece routes) were organized by Gordie Smaill. While hundreds of new routes have been added, the classics have stayed the must-climb lines.

Style: The granite is coarse with small crystals and is quick to be overgrown by foliage. While some cracks are easy to protect, others have awkward tapers that make them more difficult. Some of the sport crags are steep, but generally the climbing is on slab and good foot work is a must.

Run Outs: Many of the crack climbs will have short run-outs, but most of the older bolted routes will be very run-out. Study the guidebook before heading up your objective. If you’ve never climbed in Squamish, start on easier grades to get used to the protection placements.

Rack: Bring a double rack from micro-cams to four inches. Have a rack of sport draws, but also a rack of shoulder-length extendable quickdraws. Keep some slings around your chest with single biners, so you can clip them to cams that already have a biner. Bring slings and locking biners for anchors.

Anchors: While many anchors are bolted, you’ll have to know how to build gear anchors on most climbs. Always have a three-point equalized anchor. Seek proper instruction before attempting this on your own. If there are bolts, then use all of the bolts available for your anchor. Squamish gets busy, so be prepared to share belay ledges.

Walk-offs: Most of the routes on The Chief can be descended via a trail. There are only a few routes that you’ll need to rappel down. Nevertheless, always be prepared to rappel in case of an emergency or bad weather. For descent trails, refer to a local guidebook.

Line Ups: Squamish is one of North America’s busiest climbing locations in the summer. If you don’t want to line up, then bring a headlamp and get an early start. There are enough climbs to go around, so do some research and try a more remote or not-so-classic route on busy weekends to avoid the crowds.

Best Intro Routes: There are a number of great first-crack-climbs in Squamish, but these are the safest and most-lapped: Laughing Crack 5.7 at Smoke Bluffs, Corn Flakes 5.6 at Smoke Bluffs, Klahanie Crack 5.7 at Shannon Falls and Banana Peel 5.7 eight pitches on The Apron.

Best Hard Routes: Squamish is known for its hard and burly crack climbs. Some of the best hard routes are: University Wall 5.12 eight pitches, Left Side 5.12 on Grand Wall, The Calling 5.12 six pitches, Zombie Roof 5.13a at Smoke Bluffs and Made From Fire 5.12 at Top Shelf.