Tips For Squamish Multi-Pitch Rock Climbing
The Chief is home to some of Canada's most sought-after rock climbs. Here are some pointers from a pro
Squamish is home to some of North America’s best rock climbing, from world-class bouldering to epic big walls. And it was on the steep cliffs of The Stawamus Chief where two climbers pushed themselves up three hard classics in a push.
Over a decade ago, U.K. trad wizard Tim Emmett, who climbed a steep new WI6+ ice route in Squamish last winter, and American ace Jesse Huey teamed up in Squamish and linked three of the classic hard multi-pitch routes on The Chief, known as the Triple Crown: University Wall 5.12, The Northern Lights 5.12a and Freeway 5.11c. The combination of routes comes to over 30 pitches.
The mega link-up wasn’t new, as several climbers had successfully climbed the Triple Crown in a push. The first recording of a record on the Triple Crown was in 1996 with Sig Isaac leading every pitch and his partner jumaring. Isaac set a longstanding record of 14.5 hours.
For a big day of climbing on The Chief, Emmett said, “Bring a kit that’s light and packable so that you can move fast and efficiently.” He also said to bring crack gloves and a small role of tape in case you get any flappers. Most importantly he says to wear comfortable shoes, something with a good edge that will give you a lot of support. A good option is a Velcro or slipper so that you can pull the heel off at the belay.
After approaching The Chief with Huey to start their three-route link-up, Emmett took the first lead up University Wall, which he said is “amazing” and just like “sky cragging” because it starts quite high on The Chief. Huey then climbed several pitches. They then swapped pitches to the top, taking a little longer than they expected.
“Always check the weather when planning on spending a day on The Chief,” said Emmett. “If it’s not going to rain, then just bring something light like the Mountain Hardwear Kor AirShell Hoody. If it’s going to rain pack a light shell like the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic Jacket.” Luckily for him and Huey, the weather was stable and warm.
After climbing University Wall, Huey and Emmett made their way to the base of The Northern Lights in the North Walls, which starts on the five-pitch Alaska Highway. It follows burly sections up to 5.11c on the vertical lower section of Zodiac Wall. From the top of Alaska Highway, it heads into The Calling, a seven-pitch 5.12a.
The North Walls are a cold place, and as Emmett points out, “The Chief is in the shade in the morning, and it can be chilly. Everyday in the summer, a wind springs up and you’ll get cold until the sun comes around, so you really want to make sure that you have an ultralight Ghost Whisper jacket.”
Emmett and Huey started up Alaska Highway. They entered the Endurance Corner and the crux pitch in the dark on The Northern Lights. “I remember leading the main pitch,” said Emmett. “It was different than what I was used to climbing in the U.K.” They reached the top under a dark sky and headed down to the valley. For improving speed and efficiency when on the wall all day, Emmett said to use the Petzl Adjust, which makes it easy to clip in and transition at belays.
Emmett also said that you don’t want a big pack, rather something compact. “The Mountain Hardwear Multi-Pitch 20 is a perfect pack for a day on The Chief,” he said. “It fits a guidebook well and it’s durable, so you can haul it if you need to.”
And when going big above Squamish, Emmett said to wear a shirt that breathes well and dries quick, like the Mountain Hardwear Shade Lite that uses UBF 50 fabric.
“We ended up coming down at like 2 or 3 in the morning and headed straight into Huey’s van where we crushed a pack of eggs,” said Emmett. “We cooked them up in a pan and smashed that. We were feeling lethargic, and I remember when we looked at each other and said, ‘are we going to do this or not.’”
Emmett said he doesn’t remember if it was him or Huey but one of them said yeah, let’s get some tunes on. “We put on some techno, and it just totally set us straight,” said Emmett. “We were like, right, let’s go. We were right on the verge of falling to sleep.”
They clipped speakers to their harnesses and “just quested off into the night.” They started Freeway at around 3 a.m. “It was pretty fun,” said Emmett. They were starting the harder pitches going up to the big roof as Emmett was leading. He said that he and Huey noticed that he was running it out a bit. “I wasn’t that solid,” said Emmett, “and was being a bit sketchy, but I didn’t fall off and we kept on going.”
Emmett said that on multi-pitch adventures you want to wear pants that have some stretch, but that also dry quickly in case it rains – staying dry will prevent you from getting too cold. A good option is the Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic Pant.
Emmett and Huey opted to wait on a ledge high up on Freeway until the sun started to rise. “It was a beautiful day,” said Emmett. “I got to the top first and he came up after.” Emmett said Huey took his shoes off to reveal his swollen feet, but the pain from the link-up wouldn’t set in right away thanks to taking ibuprofen during their climbs.
And that’s why hydration is important. Emmett said that he skips bringing a camelback, and instead clips two small soft drink bottles with tape and cord to his harness, and to “include some electrolytes as they help prevent cramps.”
Emmett said he and Huey went over to fellow climber Jeremy Blumel’s house for some rest. “When I woke up it felt like someone had hit my hands with a sledgehammer,” said Emmett. “They were swollen and sore. I went outside and Jesse was standing there with his big banana fingers wedged into a bowl of ice and he said, ‘Yeah man, put your fingers in here.’ It was like the best relief ever.”
While Emmett and Huey linked three big routes in a push, it’s best to start with one long climb, such as Angel’s Crest, Squamish Buttress or Ultimate Everything. These routes have safe belays, take great protection, and will get you to the top of The Chief after a fun adventure.
If you want to spend a full day climbing pitch after pitch above Squamish, then pack light, have your systems dialled, be prepared for weather, and wear comfortable clothes that will dry fast and keep you warm.