Five Things to Know About Squamish Trad Climbing

A series of climbing 101’s about the history, people, routes and gear that shaped the sport

April 20th, 2020 by | Posted in News, Profiles, Routes, West Coast |

Canada is a big country with a lot of places to climb, but Squamish has become the go-to for serious trad climbers looking to push themselves. While sport climbing and bouldering draw many climbers every year, this week we’ll take a look at the trad climbs that have made headlines.

There’s everything from single-pitch introduction cracks to overhanging R-rated big walls. Climbers started establishing routes in Squamish in the 1950s, shortly after a bumpy dirt road was completed connecting Vancouver and the small forestry town.

Over the years, many historical moments have played out on the granite walls above the expanding west coast town. Below are only a few of the hundreds of amazing sends in Squamish.

Sentry Box

Murrin Park has countless classics, but none may be more popular and often tried (for a 5.12 climber) than Sentry Box.

It was aided in 1960 by Jim Baldwin and Ed Cooper and repeated a number of times before crusher Eric Weinstein stepped up in 1976 to make the first free ascent. Then in 1982, Peter Croft and Tami Knight added a new start.

Croft would go on to make the first free-solo of the thin crack, a feat repeated many decades later by Will Stanhope. If you’re looking for an amazing crack climb with a lot of history, this is it.

Will Stanhope free-soloing Sentry Box Photo Chris Christie

Penny Lane

There may be no other Smoke Bluffs 5.9 crack climbed as often as Penny Lane. The first ascent was by Keith Rajala and C. McCafferty by aid in 1975. The first free ascent went to Anders Ourom and John Arts in 1978, not knowing about the first aid ascent they called it Dry Throat. Ourom continues to live and climb in Squamish.

One of the crux moves on the route are off the ground, a short bouldering problem leads to a shallow corner. After some jams and stems, the crack eases higher up.

Over the year, a bolted anchor has been installed and chopped many times. It’s possible to build a gear anchor and to rappel off a neighbouring route and the locals hope the bolts will not be added anymore.

Brad Gobright free-soloing Penny Lane Photo Dan Krauss

The Shadow

There may be no other pitch of hard trad climbing that is as famous as The Shadow. Peter Croft made the onsight first-free-ascent of The Shadow in 1988 and the grade has been suggested at 5.12d, 5.12d+ and 5.13-.

After freeing The Shadow, Croft said, “I craved an odyssey that required my all—and quite possibly more…. I wanted to dive in and draw blood, and it was OK if that blood was my own.”

Since Croft, there have been many repeat sends of the calf-burning corner, but only two other onisghts: in 2018 by Em Pellerin and in 2019 by Nina Caprez.

Trainted Love

Many international climbers have left their mark on Squamish over the years, but Hazel Findlay is likely the most accomplished. The British crusher has freed big walls in Yosemite, became the first woman to climb E9 in the U.K. and recently sent Magic Line, a 5.14c trad line.

In Squamish, she’s climbed many hard trad lines, including her first ascent of Adder Crack 5.13 in 2012. In 2017, she completed the first free ascent of Tainted Love, a single-pitch stemming corner high on The Chief at 5.13+.

After he send, she said, “Crazy hard but uniquely technical movements of which most normal climbing cannot prepare you for. There are just a handful of holds on the whole pitch; a hand jam and a few finger locks. Upward progress is achieved by pushing alone. Extreme pushing with the legs and extreme palming with the hands.”

Cobra Crack

Cobra Crack was first climbed by aid in 1981 by Peter Croft and Tami Knight. In the early 2000s, it became a free climbing project for a number of people, one being Ontario climber Sonnie Trotter.

It took Trotter a number of visits to the Cirque of Uncrackables crag on the back of The Chief with many partners. At the time, it was likely the hardest single-pitch trad route in the world at 5.14b/c. Over the years, other climbers found beta through the crux which everyone has used since.

Cobra Crack is a pristine 30-metre finger-crack that neatly splits the smooth overhanging face. Trotter’s determination resulted in at least 40 attempts prior to his successful ascent, which came at the end of June 2006. It’s been repeated a number of times by some of the best climbers in the world.

Sonnie Trotter on Cobra Crack Photo Paul Bride