University Wall, second free ascent


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Topic Author's Original Post - May 3, 2010 - 11:07am PT
This is the only thing I ever wrote about my thirty years of climbing. I've done enough ranting about nonclimbing subjects on the forum and, with Ghost's blessing and encouragement, thought I'd share this climbing story printed in the 87 CAJ. I've resisted editing some of the bad grammar that goes with an eighth grade diploma and a head full of hootch. (Remember, this was before PCs were common and handwritten under great duress from my good friend John Howe). I found my original hand drawn topo and with some help, will scan it and some pictures to include a bit later. When it was originally printed, I hated the title Ghost gave it, but over the years have become OK with it.

"The Wall of The Way Honed"

The crux looms above me like an impending thunderstorm and I realize I'm not going to shake this pump. I reset my feet in the wide stem and chalk up again, calves burning from the strain. Forty feet of full on, great guns liebacking has brought me to this miserable excuse for a rest and I'm flaming out already. More of a pause in transition than a real rest. "Watch me good Phillip, here goes" I croak, and launch left out of the corner, underclinging and scuttling like a demented crab. I reach blindly up under the flake and grope for the chockstone, "Got it", hang in there, clip the pin, more chalk and now the crucial move. Pull the feet up high and reach out left for a funky fist jam, "Stick baby, stick" I moan and crank up, cross over with the right hand and grab the flake edge just as I'm about to barndoor off into space. I match hands on the flake, lieback into a standing position, pivot wildly 180 degrees into the flared chimney and press myself back into it's secure depths. I close my eyes and let my breath come in deep, lung rasping gasps. When my breathing finally slows, I open my eyes to see the morning sun on the peaks above Squamish through a snowy veil of chalk dust. Looking down I see the haul line hanging crazily out in space and arcing back into the corner where Phillip is huddled at his hanging belay. Truly a spectacular predicament. My mind drifts and I think back to all it's taken to get here once again.

The 600 meter Grand Wall of the Squamish Chief hangs over Hwy. 99, an immense tapestry of discontinuous flake systems and weird dykes in somber hues of grey and white. Most of it's vast expanse is characterized by a lack of obvious weakness and would appear to be the sole domain of the aid climber. But near it's left edge a phenomenal dihedral rises out of the rainforest and soars to within 50 meters of Dance Platform, a large tree ledge some 400 meters above the ground. Above Dance another left facing corner system wanders another 125 meters to broad tree ledges below the South Summit, the Roman Chimneys of the original Baldwin Cooper route. These two corner systems combine to form the most simple and direct line on the Grand.

In 1966, five years after Baldwin and Cooper's epic first ascent of the Grand; Tim Auger, Hamish Mutch, Dan Tate and Glen Woodsworth nailed that amazing corner to produce one of Squamish's most classic aid routes. Not only did they climb the most obvious line on the Grand, but they placed a mere 11 bolts, a far cry from Baldwin and Coopers 136 bolt drillfest. Being students at the University of BC, they elected to call their route University Wall. For most aspiring Squamish aid climbers "U Wall" was the next step after the Baldwin Cooper in the progression to harder wall routes. Steep but technically easy aid and an obligatory hammock bivy combined to give that "big wall" experience essential for the Chief's harder nail ups and the big El Cap routes.

In the summer of 82 Peter Croft, Hamish Fraser and Greg Foweraker set to work attempting to free U Wall. Their enthusiasm was greeted with skepticism for the most part. The first pitch was guarded by a perennially gruesome slime streak and the second pitch featured Leeper stacks in a doubly overhanging dihedral. Undaunted by our pessimism, the team hiked up and across Bellygood and cleaned and freed the last two pitches to Dance. The last pitch was a particularly gnarly finger traverse on a thin flake. Satisfied with their progress they then laid siege to the initial pitches.

The first pitch sported arts and crafts through the slime streak, a burly barndoor lieback and a flying armbar into a shallow bomb bay chimney. The blank dihedral on the second pitch was cleverly bypassed via an undercling to an overhanging flared chimney to the left. Hamish and Greg tried that thing to no avail so Peter, who had by now transformed himself into a apelike creature from years of training, subdued the beastly undercling and gained a stance in the flared chimney. A short, desperate pitch up the remainder of the chimney found the first real ledge and access back to the original aid line.

Confident that the way to Dance was now possible, they fixed ropes and called it a day. The following morning they jumarred their lines and continued to Dance taking some fine whippers along the way. Deteriorating weather and flaming forearms made the Bellygood escape more palatable than continuing up the already freed Roman Chimneys so the team headed down, exuberant at their success. It was an outstanding achievement that left everyone amazed but Peter knew there was a final step to be taken, a continuous free ascent of the entire U Wall-Roman Chimneys combination. He returned later with Hamish and they swung leads to the summit for the first free ascent of the Grand Wall of the Squamish Chief. It was a landmark in Squamish climbing history and U Wall now ranked as one of the most difficult long free routes in North America.

For three years U Wall remained unrepeated and there was much speculation as to who would or could repeat it. We all swore we were going to train ourselves into killer shape and crank the thing off but alas, no amount of drinking or reefing could produce the necessary courage or strength. Still, there it was, tantalizing and so seemingly unattainable. Finally for lack of anything better, I went up there and flung myself at the first pitch and it flung me back. But I persisted and with the help of a variety of partners, was eventually able to lead the first three pitches without leaping off. So, confident of the possibility of success, I enlisted the illustrious Melvin Fish for the "Big Assault". We agreed that I would lead the first three pitches and he would jumar to save strength for the rest of the route. The plan worked and I led the second and third as one, trashing myself in the process and gladly leaving Fish to lead the roof pitch. We persevered through the day and late afternoon found us supine at the base of the gnarly finger traverse. And gnarly it was as several tries later, I dragged my scrawny frame across on melting fingers and collapsed on Dance utterly spent. Any thought of finishing up the Roman Chimneys vanished with my strength on that traverse, so Fish and I fled across Bellygood and down to Squamish for beers and pizza. I was incredibly happy with our success, after all, it was the first "human ascent" of the "Wall of the Way Honed". But it became more apparent that it was only a partial success that indicated a greater possibility. Like Peter and Hamish I knew I'd have to return and climb the entire route to the summit.

The summer passed and the drudgery of logging became my daily reality once again. As the new year approached a resolve grew within me to return to that school of higher learning and attempt to graduate with my degree in crankeneering. So I drove myself to train through the late winter and spring.

I had been climbing hard, or at least finding the climbing hard since February so by the time the heat of the Squamish summer arrived I felt ready to attempt U Wall once more. Then came an unseen hurdle; finding a partner. The few capable people were either off in the mountains or too put off by last years shenanigans to go up there again. Dave Lane was keen, but that funky fist jam just wouldn't stick for him. We went up a couple times, Dave's left hand sporting exotic tape jobs, but all for nought. We had previously agreed that failure on either of the first two pitches would preclude continuing so, despondent, we slithered back down through space and hiked down to Psyche Ledge where we glowered at the route and drank warm beer with a vengeance. Dave went home and I hung out at the Ledge with Big Jim and Phillip van Wassenaer. As we smoked and slandered the afternoon away a grandiose plan emerged from the murky depths of my cerebrum. I turned to Phillip with a big stony grin and queried "Done much jumarring?". My drift wasn't lost on him and to my astonishment, he immediately agreed to come along for the ride. He explained he was off with a sore shoulder and hard free climbing was out of the question anyway. I was ecstatic and told him we would rendezvous at 04:30 the next morning. The early start would allow for generous rests between pitches and ample daylight for the Roman Chimneys finish.

Well, 4:30 had come and gone three hours ago and there we were, perched on a ledge atop the second pitch, howling a the exposure. The chimney after the crux had left me soaked in sweat and nauseous from the exertion, but I was keen. Once again I had fired those two big, burly pitches and now it was merely a question of finding the right pace to survive the rest of the route. Above us the wall kicked back to vertical and appeared inviting compared to the overhanging terrain below. Quaffing one last drink of water I started up the corner, smearing chalk in perfect fingerlocks, clipping fixed pins and enjoying great position. All too soon the cruising was over and I was hunched under the roof trying to remember the sequence. I finally committed myself and thrashed out around the lip and clambered over mossy flakes to the lone cedar belay. As I arranged the anchors with twitching arms, the doubts began to assail me. The supposedly easier roof pitch had seemed desperate and the cumulative effect of all that hard climbing was beginning to make itself apparent. My arms felt stretched and leaden and I was woozy and light headed from all the effort. Soon Phillip was at the belay in a tangle of aiders and jumars and as we lap coiled our ropes and organized the rack, I spoke of my uncertainty. "Don't sweat it man, it's in the bag" he explained. "We'll just rest here a while and you'll be alright, besides, the next pitch is only 10c, it'll be casual." So we rested and ate and rested some more and I tried to regain my psyche. Knowing we couldn't hang out forever, I tightened my shoes and started up out of the tree; chimney into offwidth, offwidth into lieback. I just couldn't repress that funk and found myself grabbing the wrong gear off the rack and thrutching badly. Suddenly I was off the rock and on the rope. Anger and self reproach welled up inside me and I leapt back into the lieback in a rage and muscled up into the lower angled corner. "Get it together dude you can do this thing" I told myself. "Just quit wanking and start cranking!" As I jammed and bridged up the laid back corner, my confidence returned and I felt as though I had crossed a psychological threshold, ironically on one of the easiest pitches on the route. Somehow I knew we'd be alright and nothing would stop us now.

"Off belay, rope's fixed Phil", I yelled down, and commenced to dragging our pack up. Until now it had behaved rather well and floated along behind us, but it became reluctant and slithered into a chimney and refused to move. I sympathized with it and, rather than tearing it's haul loop off, waited till Phil could clear it. At last we were all happily reunited at the belay where we ate and drank and gazed at the trees on Dance Platform only a 100 meters above. The first vestiges of excitement could be felt now and I racked up for my favorite kind of climbing, pure bridging off RPs. I smeared as many palm prints on the rock as I could and festooned the corner with tiny wires, grinning down at Phillip all the while. A manly finger traverse led left to a mantle off a wobbly guillotine of a flake and a footsy traverse back right ensured maximum rope drag for the final moves to the belay. As I lounged on the ledge, the sun broke over the rim and the Royal Hudson clattered out from behind the Malemute, shrieking and trailing a plume of steam and smoke. Simply Grand!

A fun hand traverse angled up and right past a wealth of fixed gear to an even bigger ledge at the base of the gnarly finger traverse. I wasn't even going to give myself a chance to get psyched out, so no sooner did Phillip arrive at the belay than I was off in a flurry of chalk dust and quickdraws. The training must have paid off because I flew across that thing like a man possessed and scrambled onto the broad expanse of the Dance Platform. Whooping and hollering like an inebriated Indian I lashed the rope to a sturdy hemlock, dragged up our pack and commenced to preparing lunch. Phillip wasted little time in cleaning the pitch and we took off our shoes and enjoyed the mutilated remains of our lunch in the heat of the afternoon sun. "Only four more pitches and this hound is in the bag Phillip" I exclaimed and we we grinned, belched and waxed expansive.

Eventually we pried ourselves from the comfort of Dance and ambled up some mellow fourth. Then a full 50 meters of all that is great about Squamish climbing established us on the chockstone in the Roman Chimneys and the excitement kept building. As the summit grew nearer, I slowed to savour the last of the climbing; wide bridging, a run out mantle and a belly crawl to the base of the final corner. As I climbed those last forty feet, I felt a mixture of emotions. Mostly there was the deep satisfaction of finally achieving a long sought after dream, but there was also a sense of sadness at the passing of a great adventure. As Phillip and I hiked down the summit slabs admiring the view down Howe Sound, I realized that for me, this had been in many ways, the ultimate climb.

Thank you Phillip!


Peter returned with Geoff Weigand and led the main corner free, first try (not onsight as previously reported) and took a big zoomer freeing the upper arch at 12c. He named the free version of the original aid line, "The Shadow". I'm not sure if anyone's repeated the whole original aid line free in Peter's style.

I think Coz got the first no falls on sight of the easier line when we did what I regarded as the Triple Crown back then. (U Wall, Northern Lights, Daily Planet, not on the same day!). Coz on sighted all three, no falls. What a stonemaster!

Peter returned a couple times and linked all three of the first pitches with a 55m rope I think. Both the easier variation and the Shadow line.

U Wall has been linked free in a day with various combinations of The Northern Lights, The Grand, Freeway and the Daily Planet by Sig Isaac, Matt Maddaloni and Sonni Trotter among others.

IMHO, U Wall is the finest route in Squamish no matter how you climb it.

May 3, 2010 - 11:36am PT
bump--let's get the spammer off page 1

Social climber
May 3, 2010 - 11:53am PT
hey there say, cheif.... this was very nice and very well done... thanks for the write up....

have a great day, too...
and more write ups...


Trad climber
Berkeley, CA
May 3, 2010 - 12:48pm PT
Good stuff! I started copying little phrases that were my favorite, but I gave up after a while because there were too many. Here are the first ones I cherished:

return to that school of higher learning and attempt to graduate with my degree in crankeneering
I had been climbing hard, or at least finding the climbing hard...
we glowered at the route and drank warm beer with a vengeance

Trad climber
East Van
May 3, 2010 - 01:15pm PT
This is why I keep coming back to ST!

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
May 3, 2010 - 01:37pm PT
Wow, Bruce Hawkins and I did a fairly early ascent (and 2nd wall for both of us) and if you had told me then it would be freed I'd have spit on you. Very impressive and well written.
Slabby D

Trad climber
B'ham WA
May 3, 2010 - 01:39pm PT
Good story.

I climbed it (standing in aiders) about a month ago. It's hard to believe those first couple overhanging pitches are "only" 12a. Beautiful line.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
May 3, 2010 - 01:58pm PT
Thanks, Perry! Some fine memories. I remember happily nailing University Wall in 1976, never imagining that some let alone all of it would be freed. Maybe the fixed pins and pin scars we left helped a bit. Then staying at the house on No Name Road when Peter, Greg and Hamish were working on the climb in 1982, and hearing their stories.

I believe that Glenn (Tricouni), Hamish (Hamie), Tim and Dan used only seven bolts when they did U Wall in 1966. Those who scoff at Baldwin and Cooper's 136 bolt ascent of the Grand Wall in 1961 forget that in context of the times, and their equipment and skills, probably no one could have done better at climbing the main wall. There simply aren't that many features. U Wall is well to the left edge of the Grand Wall, and is a much more natural line, but off to the side. (Which is to say, it's easy for tourists to spot climbers on the Grand, but not quite so easy on U Wall.)

Sometimes in summer now there is a fixed "seat" at the start of the second pitch, the big corner. A piece of plywood that climbers stand or sit on - it's an airy spot. They siege away at the pitch (now 5.12d), perhaps forgetting how Peter first freed it in 1988. Whether the entire route, via the original line, has been cleanly repeated - maybe not on sight, but no falls, rests, rehearsal, or other trickery - is unclear. I believe that the early repeats of the second pitch, in the mid 1990s, were clean.

The complicated toponymy has always been a bit confusing to me. In English, Peter, Greg and Hamish freed University Wall in 1982, via variations on the second and sixth (fifth) pitches, maybe 50 m of variations in a total of 500 m. Which is what Perry and Philip stoutly repeated. Then in 1988 Peter and Geoff freed the original aid line, the bits on the second and sixth pitches, which for some reason they called the Shadow.

And about that Mel Fish character...

Topic Author's Reply - May 3, 2010 - 02:13pm PT
Those who scoff at Baldwin and Cooper's 136 bolt ascent of the Grand Wall in 1961 forget that in context of the times, and their equipment and skills, probably no one could have done better at climbing the main wall. There simply aren't that many features.

Anders, I respectfully disagree with this statement.

The 100 meter plus bolt ladder from the Flake to the base of the pillar has been completely bypassed at 11a from Merci Me and 10d from Cruel Shoes respectively a long time ago by yours truly. You can get to the last six bolts of the BC ladders via Merci Me at 5.8 A0 with a total of about eight protection bolts and a few points of aid. We know Les MacDonald and others made forays out this way in the early days and much of the criticism Ed Cooper received was because this standard was already well established on El Cap by Robbins and Pratt. It's my understanding that a number of people saw Merci Me as the obvious weakness and a lot of the inspiration for the route "Ten Years After" and it's moniker was rooted in this paradigm. Having said all that, hats off to Ed and the late great Jim Baldwin for an amazing effort.


Topic Author's Reply - May 3, 2010 - 03:04pm PT

Nice to hear from you. Howzit?

One of the most impressive things I ever saw was you NOT getting the fist jam and then committing to the most horrendous feat of underclinging I've EVER seen. It was a 12d effort, you should have just blew right off and it would have been a HUGE whipper! And that's if the pin held.

I think I also referred to the ramp as "a featureless wasteland."

looking sketchy there...

Social climber
Latitute 33
May 3, 2010 - 03:22pm PT
Great story Perry.

R Vogel

Topic Author's Reply - May 3, 2010 - 03:29pm PT
Hi Randy, good to hear from you and glad to connect you to your forum handle.
All the best!

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
May 3, 2010 - 03:32pm PT
Beautiful - thanks for sharing.

A long way from where I started
May 3, 2010 - 04:00pm PT
Hi Perry

This brings back so many memories. When the ACC asked if I'd take over editing the Canadian Alpine Journal I was only partially psyched because by that time (mid-1980s) the CAJ had more or less become the Coast Rambling Journal. So I said I'd take it over only if the club was willing to have me turn it back into a real climbing journal.

They said okay, and then I was stuck with the problem of "Uh... where am I going to get some good climbing stories." Which was about the time you gave me the U Wall piece and I felt that I now had an anchor for the whole thing.

Of course I put that stupid title on it, and when it was published you said "That's a stupid title" but the story was plenty good enough to survive the title. And it still sings today.

You never wrote anything more, but that story, and a couple of other things I got into that issue convinced climbers that the CAJ was worth writing for, and it really took off after that.

David Harris

Mountain climber
May 3, 2010 - 04:29pm PT
Hi Perry,

Great story, and thanks for posting it. Brings back some good memories for me. I still don't understand how the 2nd pitch goes free, but obviously it does. You have my greatest respect.


Trad climber
May 3, 2010 - 04:39pm PT
Aww man, thanks!! Great reading!
Great thread!
Great forum!!
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
May 3, 2010 - 04:55pm PT
Photos would certainly help - it's a wild place.

I wonder if anyone has ever repeated the bottom pitches of U Wall, those leading up the corner from the Flake ledges to the start of the steep part? Someone did an ice climb somewhere there, as a big streak forms to its left. Those lower pitches might make a fairly decent free route, in and of themselves. And if no one has repeated them, then the pedantic might argue that no one has yet truly freed all of U Wall. But not me - perish the thought! :-)

Not to indulge in dread thrift, but it's difficult even with 20:20 hindsight to put yourselves in the shoes of those who were on the spot and made the decisions. Given that Baldwin and Cooper had decided they wanted to do a route on what became the Grand Wall, the challenge then became somehow linking up the top of the Flake (or the Peasant's Route - although it's lower and to the side) with the bottom of the Pillar. Interestingly, the big bolt ladder started about 15 m below the top of the Flake, for unknown reasons I hope to learn about. Perhaps they saw more features en route that might be used, or it just seemed less diagonal, even though (probably) more bolts were needed. Presumably they visited the top of the Flake. Did they see the possibility of climbing what later became Mercy Me, which would have been within their abilities? Perhaps they did, but decided it led in the wrong direction, with no apparent way to get back to the Pillar. I look forward to talking with Ed about their decision making process.

Trad climber
Beautiful, BC
May 3, 2010 - 05:41pm PT
Perry thanks for the great read. Perhaps during your shoulder rehab you will be inspired to write up many more accounts of your memorable ascents. I would like to hear the tale about your first ascent of the East Face of Mt. Slesse.

Here is a shot of that 2nd pitch on University Wall of yourself and Hamish climbing.


Topic Author's Reply - May 3, 2010 - 06:41pm PT
Thanks for the photo Bruce.
You've given me the perfect opportunity to mention that day.
I had the privilege of hooking up with Hamish for a trip up the U Wall and we pretty much hiked to the "mantle off the wobbly guillotine of a flake" at the top of the fifth. Got there, no pin, no gear, no cajones, no go, so we bailed. Hamish and Greg gave their blessing to replacing the missing shite lost arrow with a stainless bolt and Peter didn't kick up a ruckus. I think Hamish pulled off a full one arm a move higher in that photo. Somewhere there's a photo of Hamish, barely fifteen, backwards EBs (cause the regular side was worn out), SENDING the first big pitch! Child prodigy!

ps. Honors on the Slesse East Face proper go to Sean Easton and Dave Edgar. I think you're referring to the East Pillar which I did with Java Man. He wrote about it in his treatise, "The Diadactics of Bivouacism."

May 4, 2010 - 04:11am PT
U Wall is THE LINE on the Chief, standing out as Perry says from the discontinuous features that compose most other routes*.

That story has the gut-level feel that good writing should have. Another vote of thanks for putting it here.

Another way to appreciate the route is to see the picture of Greg F on it that was a cover page of an MEC catalog. His eyes have a certain look.

* then there's the Black Dyke
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