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For the Tick-List: Exasperator 5.10c in Squamish

It's a dream route for those who like finger cracks and slabs

Exasperator is one of the most classic trad routes in Canada, and like many must-do lines it has a long history. If you haven’t climbed it, add it to the tick-list.

The 1960s were the decade when technical Canadian rock climbing would progress from mountaineer-style ascents up obvious features to big wall-style climbs on blank faces. Across the country, hard routes were starting to be climbed ground-up as new advances in gear and techniques evolved with a younger, stronger generation.

In California, climbers were establishing new big routes on the walls in Yosemite. Canadians who climbed in Yosemite would bring their new-found big wall ways north of the border and apply them to walls in Canada, including in the Rockies and Squamish. The Chief became an obvious objective for young climbers who understood big wall aid climbing.

Brandon Pullan on second on Exasperator  Photo Cory Rogans

The first routes of the decade to go up on The Chief were Sunshine Chimney and Exasperator, both in 1960. The first was Sunshine Chimney at the Campground Wall in the Bulletheads. The two-pitch route takes you into a chimney and up funky stem climbing. Originally graded 5.1 (yes five one) it’s now considered 5.8. The chimney route is given three stars in Marc Bourdon’s 2012 Squamish Select guidebook.

The route is an adventurous climb that feels long than it is. Depite the “low” grade, you want to be very competent and know how to manage chimneys. The original description read: “From the dirt road, about 150 feet past the start of the South South Gully trail, walk 100 yards to the base of a 100-foot-high-cliff. Of the several chimneys, the best starts at a flush six-inch jam crack with a distinctive broken-off small tree just off the ground at its base. Climb 20 feet to an older tree; continue to a cave belay. Climb left through a skylight onto the wall, traverse left, then cut back to the right. Climb a wobbly flake and traverse right to the top. Alternatively, climb directly up the wide chimney from inside the cave belay. Time: one hour. One or two pitons may be useful.”

It was the first route on the Campground Wall, of course back then the forest where today’s Squamish Chief Campground is was much different. Few climbers, if any, would have been camping there and the granite rising above the forest floor had never been climbed. The dozens of cracks and slabs had never been climbed, but were obvious challenges for the growing group of strong climbers.

Cory Rogans starting up Exasperator Photo Brandon Pullan

The next route to be climbed on The Chief was Exasperator by Jim Baldwin and Jim Sinclair, on aid, in 1960, but it wasn’t until 15 years later that it went free at the hands of Eric Weinstein and Dave Nicol.

The first half follows a straight-up crack before reaching a small stance and an optional anchor. From here, the line takes a sharp turn right, traversing through 20 feet of delicate fingerlocks and techy footwork on protruding grains. A final section zags back left, widening to thin hands.

Nearly 40 years after the first ascent, top Canadian climber Sonnie Trotter began to spend time in Squamish. He would make regular solo trips up and down Exasperator and said it’s one of his favourite rock climbs in Canada.

For gear, take a lot of small nuts and cams up to narrow hands. You can’t really bring too many nuts, so triple up if you’re linking the first and second pitch. The 5.10c cruxes come off the second belay, mid-pitch and transitioning to the left crack. Trust your feet and reach for the locks.

For the Tick-List:

Crime of the Century 5.11c in Squamish
Gooseberry 5.8 in Banff
Pennylane 5.9 in Squamish