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Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 4, 2008 - 01:28am PT
I’ll start with a bit of background. Squamish is a town at the north end of a fjord, Howe Sound. It is only about 50 km as the ladybug flies from the northern suburbs of Vancouver to Squamish, but the winding highway along the steep-sided fjord takes an hour or more to navigate. (It used to be the most dangerous part of a day climbing at Squamish – we’ll see if the $1 billion+ highway project improves that.) In the 1970s, perhaps 6,000 – 8,000 people lived in Squamish, and it was mostly a gritty industrial town – logging, pulp mill, mining, railway, and port. Probably twice that or more now live there, and in many respects it has become a bedroom suburb of Vancouver and Whistler, and a service base for Whistler. (

Howe Sound is one of the closer fjords to the equator, although some in Newfoundland, Chile, and New Zealand are about the same. The last glaciation blanketed this whole area, and there are big remnants in the mountains just north of Squamish. (See ladybug thread.) Because of the geography, Squamish is known for strong inflow (adiabatic) winds on warm summer afternoons, and even stronger outflow (katabatic) winds in the winter, when Arctic highs sometimes take over. (It sometimes gets as cold as -15 in Vancouver, -20 in Squamish. Waterfall climbing to come.)

Please see Google Earth for maps and stuff – 49 degrees 41 minutes north, 123 degrees 08 minutes west.

Vancouver is at the north end of the fertile river valleys on the west side of the mountains, stretching north from Portland. The view south from Vancouver is of rolling plains and hills, with mountains to the east. The view north is all mountains, although Squamish is at the mouth of a respectable river system. The mountains go on for about 2,500 km to the north, with few interruptions, then arc west into Alaska, aka Palin-land.

Here is a shot of Squamish, from about 5,000 m, earlier this year. A hazy day, but you get the idea. Some of the Stawamus Chief is visible to the right.

The highway opened in 1961. Climbing at Squamish had begun in 1957, when Fred Beckey and friends found their way there by ferry, but really didn’t get going until the highway opened. So it was later than climbing elsewhere in North America.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 4, 2008 - 01:29am PT
You’re probably wondering if I’m ever going to stop talking, and post some pictures. So here’s one of the northern part of the Stawamus Chief massif, taken about ten years ago. The Chief is only about 650 m high, and the highest part of the cliff is perhaps 500 m. There are three main summits, separated by big gullies.
The local tourist boosters used to claim that the Chief is the “second-largest granite monolith in the world”, which is even more laughable than Toronto saying it’s world class. Maybe the second-largest within 50 km of Squamish – there are lots more fjords up the coast, and almost all have big walls, mostly accessible only by boat or aircraft.

The town is called Squamish, the mountain the Stawamus Chief, and an alternate spelling for the Coast Salish name is “Sta-a-amish”. I won’t bore you with a discussion of related First Peoples’ legends. About 10% of the people in the area belong to the Squamish Nation (

An alternate and perhaps more typical view, from 2007:
The only thing surprising about this picture is that you can actually see the Chief. The rainy season usually goes from mid-October to April, and little rock climbing is possible then, although we do get cool dry spells. Mid-July to late September are the best bet, but some might disagree on that. I was once going to be interviewed on television, about a proposed tourist gondola. Naturally with the Chief as the backdrop and star. It rained, and the interview was therefore cancelled. No star.

Until recently, there was a big pulp mill at Woodfibre, on the west side of Howe Sound, just south of Squamish. When I started climbing, the mill spewed out huge quantities of poison into the water and the air every day. Eventually they were made to stop, but in the 1970s, the pall of sulphuric smoke over Squamish each summer afternoon, drawn in by the winds, could be strong. This is from the early 1980s, when much but not all of the emissions had been curtailed.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 4, 2008 - 01:40am PT
There was a sustained burst of climbing activity at Squamish from the first ascent of the Grand Wall by Jim Baldwin and Ed Cooper in 1961, through to the ascent of the Black Dyke by Mead Hargis and Al Givler in 1970. Techniques and equipment tended to be a bit behind places like Yosemite, but there was a lot of interaction. Climbers from Squamish regularly went to Yosemite and made a mark, including Baldwin, Steve Sutton, Hugh Burton, Gordie Smaill, Neil Bennett, Tim Auger and others. American climbers such as Fred Beckey, Alex Bertulis, and Leif Patterson, and later others, regularly appeared here.

That suddenly ended in about 1971, and there was something of a gap. It wasn't that these people stopped climbing, or stopped climbing at Squamish. But in context of the times, once you've done a new route on El Cap, the Chief must have seemed smaller potatoes. We didn't see much of them. Which meant that those of us who got interested in climbing in the early 1970s had few mentors to learn from. Most of us got started in local groups such as the B.C. Mountaineering Club, which had weekend trips and some instructional programs. They had members who did some technical climbing, but that wasn’t their focus. Still, a start. We all went mountaineering, and learned the basics. Here’s an example, my friend Len S:
I imagine the adults sometimes found us a bit trying.

Equipment was rather more basic then, and the only book was Freedom of the Hills. Basic Rockcraft appeared in early 1973, and Advanced Rockcraft late that year – Len got a copy which we took on a cold midwinter ski trip, and assiduously read by candlelight. Otherwise, we mostly went to REI in Seattle to get gear, combining our shopping with climbing trips, so we could plausibly claim that it was “used”, and so avoid paying duty. That gradually faded out as MEC got up to speed, in the mid 1970s.

This is from a little later, but an example of how we learned to belay. Physics in action, which come to think about it describes a lot of climbing.

A long way from where I started
Sep 4, 2008 - 01:46am PT

Anders, are you on crack? This is Super Topo. Anybody can post anything anytime. "Don't post here" is just an invitation to the entire Tacoverse to jump in. Maybe you'll be lucky, and nobody but me will take up the challenge. Or maybe just the few here who were actually climbing at Squamish in the 70s will jump in. But to say "Please don't post here" -- in capital letters no less -- is just an encouragement to the crazies who live here to either turn this into another US political thread, or else to post up about tree-pruning or getting a tattoo.

So hurry up. Get posted what you're going to post, or I'll start scanning all my old Squamish pictures and getting them up here.

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 4, 2008 - 01:52am PT
So anyway, about that New Year’s eve climb. My parents took up mountain hiking, and my father even some climbing, when we moved to Vancouver in 1962. My father in particular was very active in the BCMC, as well as offshoots such as the Mountain Rescue Group and the Mountain Access Committee. (He got badly injured, helping the former, in 1966.) We regularly went on hikes with other families. My first memory of the Squamish area is from summer 1962, or maybe 1963 - one afternoon we crammed two adults and four kids in a VW beetle, and had a family expedition there. A year or two later, we actually went for a hike up the back, but at some point I slipped and gouged a bloody slash in my palm, so we retreated. (I still have the scar.)

Here’s a picture of our New Year's climb, from a few summers later. You have to imagine it covered in knee deep snow, in pouring rain in midwinter. The climb is named Mushroom – a route in Yosemite later was named for it, so don’t be fooled by its appearance. It's on a cliff called the Papoose, which is about 120 m at the highest, and just south of the Chief. The route climbs the crack, then a bolt ladder, then a small corner/crack. A1 then. Unlike the Mushroom climb on El Cap, this one still hasn't been freed.

Like so many else here, I eventually was plunked into an active scout troop, which did stuff like canoeing, hiking, backpacking and snowshoeing, and let teenage males work off some energy in relatively harmless fashion. I was pretty inept and unathletic, but managed to survive. When I turned 14, my mother gave me a book called “The Mountaineers Companion”. As a bookworm, I sure knew what to do with it, and read it from cover to cover. Then I decided I wanted to be a mountaineer, and read every other publication about climbing in the library, and that my father had. In spring 1971 I started to go on BCMC trips, at first with my father and then on my own, but often with people my parents knew. Slowly accumulating experience, and equipment, but mostly in the mountains – the Chief was for the big boys.

One family friend was Leif Patterson, and in August 1972 I was lucky enough to go with him and two others (Henry F. and Ric M.) on a trip to the Adamant Range, north of Golden. I was well over my head, but had a marvelous time. Here we are on the Adamant Glacier, Mt. Austerity in the background:
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 4, 2008 - 02:09am PT
At about that time, I actually met a few other young people who were interested in climbing. One was Eric Weinstein, who’d got started climbing in Seattle. Others included Len S., Steve M., Dave V., and Dave N. So at least we had company in our ignorance, and could share what little experience and equipment we had. Eric also had access to his parent’s Valiant, although given his driving habits that was something of a mixed blessing. Eric, Dave N., and I went to Leavenworth on Remembrance Day weekend, 1972, our first real rockclimbing trip. We fumbled up some of the moderate classics at Castle Rock and Peshastin, got scared, and all slept in the car.

Here's a picture of Eric, who went on to much greater heights, although he sadly died of liver cancer in early 1984. (Dave N. photo.)

After that, Eric and I went to Squamish once or twice, and even vaguely started up some routes, but late autumn isn’t exactly climbing season. So, full of energy and blissful ignorance, we somehow decided that it would be good to climb on New Year’s Eve. The middle of the Christmas holidays – I was in grade 11, and I think Eric had just graduated. We talked my father, and his little dog Max, into giving us a ride. However, a cold spell had just ended. There wasn’t much snow left in Vancouver, but lots in Squamish. So we waded through knee deep wet snow and brush to the base of the route, and took a world-record six hours to climb two short pitches. I led the first pitch, Eric the second. It was all miserable and scary. We had swami belts, Robbins boots, hand-tied etriers, a mixture of pitons and pre-Chouinard nuts, and it took forever. My father sat patiently in the café. We barely got off and thrashed down before dark, and got home late enough that people were doing antics in the streets.

And that was the start. For the next few years, we slowly did more climbs, acquired more equipment and sometimes skill, and ventured. We often had to hitchhike to Squamish, being underage or not being able to borrow a car or both – sometimes we never succeeded in getting out of the city, even when we figured out that for $0.50 you could take the bus to Horseshoe Bay, halfway to Squamish, and that hanging a rope around one’s shoulders was intended to be a signal to drivers that you weren’t a psychopath. Ha! We did a lot of “mixed” climbing. No females were involved (Ha! Ha!), but we used some pins, some nuts, some aid, some free. It was often wet.

Apron Strings, 1973 (Len S.)

Spook, 1974 (A3 – A4, off the ground – boy were we dumb!)

Pinup, 1975 (John A.)
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 4, 2008 - 02:25am PT
There weren’t a lot of free climbs at Squamish then – most were on the Apron, plus some short ones here and there, but that was about it. And climbing on the Apron took some getting used to - slabs. Here’s a shot of the Apron, with a climber right in the middle:
It is somewhat broken up by tree ledges, but in the early 1970s there were only eight or ten routes on the whole thing. All we had for reference was Glenn Woodsworth’s guidebook from 1967, including pen and ink sketches of the cliffs. (See below.) Plus we had a few stories told us by the big boys, when we very occasionally ran into them and stopped worshipping. Steve M. and I were at Lighthouse Park once, doing some toproping, when two longhairs showed up and climbed everything in sight. As they introduced themselves to us as Steve and Hugh, and gave us some pointers and even a ride back into town, we guessed who it was.

So we climbed on the Apron, and did scraps of free climbing in the midst of all our nailing. The first climb I did on the Apron was with Eric, in May 1973, a route called South Arete. Perhaps 5.8, some crack, some slab:
Now at that time Eric worked for my father, who had a small factory that made boxes. I promised my father that we wouldn't climb on "The Chief", but only on the kiddie cliffs nearby. (A bit surprising, actually - my father surely knew that all had similar risks.) Being teenagers, we climbed South Arete anyway. Then Eric ratted me out to my father on Monday morning. So I was grounded (so to speak) for a few weeks. As I had a part-time job as a car hop, it let me work a bit more and save up a bit for the next pin or trip or whatever.

Some Apron shots:
Banana Peel, 1974

Snake, 1974 (Steve M.)

Snake, 1975 (Len S.)

Looking back, I’m struck by how much more lichen and moss was on the rock then, now worn off by traffic and ropes, not to mention ”cleaners”. Also, by about June 1974 we got EBs at the Swallow's Nest in Seattle, and that helped with our free-climbing aspirations.

This isn’t from the Apron, but shows another side of life here. Backcountry skiing, and related skills such as snow caving, take up 4 – 6 months every year.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 4, 2008 - 02:33am PT
One rite of passage was to climb the Grand Wall, which then was about twelve pitches, and graded 5.7, A2. Naturally the reality wasn’t quite as terrifying as the legend, but it was still an adventure. I did it with Steve M., in June 1974. It was the weekend of my high school grad, but we did the Grand instead.

After a corner pitch, the next three pitches were the famous bolt ladder. At that time, it consisted of 13 year old 3/16” bolts. About 1/3 had hangers, the rest were studs, sometimes with a nut. So the game was to tie dozens of little tie offs out of parachute cord, and loop them over the bolts. At least, that's what the big boys told us.

Here we are part way up the bolt ladder, with the Split Pillar looming. (The lovely cedar at its base is still thriving.)

And looking down, with all sorts of paraphernalia. We liked to think we knew what we were doing.

I got to lead the Split Pillar, and one of my 2” steel SMC bongs is still behind it. When the Pillar falls off, perhaps in the next earthquake, could the finder please return it to me?
At its top, I ate most of Steve's jujubes.

Eric and Daryl freed the Pillar in 1975. A great classic crack. Daryl vividly described afterward how they protected it with the edges of hexes tipped on crystals. They graded it 5.9 - now allegedly 5.10b. There may be one such move, at the bottom, but the rest is simply a steep, continuous, hand and fist crack.

We got to the Dance Platform, about 2/3 of the way up, long after dark, and in the morning scuttled off along Bellygood Ledge. Not before eating dinner from cans, using angles.

(Ghost and the usual suspects welcome to add photos and stories, but all must relate to Squamish, and the period ending December 31st, 1979.)

Trad climber
Reston, VA
Sep 4, 2008 - 06:24am PT

Incredible posts and pictures! You guys were hanging it out there without the advantages of technology and information that people have today. Very impressive. Geno
Michael Kennedy

Social climber
Carbondale, Colorado
Sep 4, 2008 - 09:51am PT

Too cool. I started a little earlier but your stories and photos bring back vivid memories of learning to climb in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Wool knickers, Joe Brown helmets, pins, Clog nuts, tied 1-inch webbing for slings, Whillans harness, having to figure it all out on your own. Bravo!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Sep 4, 2008 - 10:10am PT
great series of posts MH! loving it... can't wait for the next installments of your history.

It is hard to imagine how things were back then compared to how they are now, having to figure it all out when you're doing it! No gyms, no "How To..." reference literature, no internet, almost nobody doing it. But there you were.

And not only that, I learned that we're the same age... you old fart!

Carry on!

Trad climber
Boulder Colorado
Sep 4, 2008 - 10:45am PT
great stuff, Anders!

Russ Walling

Social climber
Nutsonthechin, Wisconsin
Sep 4, 2008 - 11:25am PT
Good stuff! How about more of this, instead of your morbid fascination with U.S. politics?

Trad climber
Sep 4, 2008 - 12:04pm PT
Gawd Anders, that picture of Eric almost made me cry. He was an exceptionally gifted climber and I watched him float many hardcore Valley testpieces in the 70's.

I've got a bunch of Squam pictures from the early 70's starting about 1971-Grand Wall, University Wall, Tantalus Wall, Wrist Twister, etc. I'll warm up my scanner.......
Delhi Dog

Trad climber
Good Question...
Sep 4, 2008 - 12:32pm PT
YA, bring it on...
Great read, thanks for sharing!!


A long way from where I started
Sep 4, 2008 - 02:26pm PT
Only scanned photo I have from that time is this one. Corina following what I think was the second ascent of a climb called Laid Back, on the Papoose. Note the EBs. She's wearing a Whillans harness, although you can't see it in the photo.
handsome B

Gym climber
Sep 4, 2008 - 02:30pm PT
keep on posting, these shots and stories are awesome!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Sep 4, 2008 - 04:05pm PT
great story Tami, that is the Anders I know (and I don't know him for that long!)....

in 1971 I was 17 but I had a beard, living in Claremont CA, a college town had some benefits vis-a-vis buying beer, that is, if you had a beard, and a local college ID you could buy. Of course a good buddy of mine from high school was attending Scripts College, no photo-ID in those days, so I was him.

This made me very popular on Friday and Saturday nights. I didn't quite have Anders' dilemma as I was underage buying for underaged... but I had no problem. The local Owl Drug store sold beer, can't quite remember where it was but I could probably drive there without too much trouble, down Towne Ave. to Foothill, right on Foothill to a little shopping center, probably in Pomona... anyway, I made that trip a lot during those last two high school years.

I was so well known there that I became very relaxed about this illegal activity. One day a couple of guys and I were there, we were getting beer, probably 24 oz. bottles of some low cost brew when the manager walked up to us, my companions turned noticebly pale, "Can I help you?" the manager asked. Without skipping a beat I replied "Yes, could you get us some boxes to put this stuff in?" and off he went to the back room to get boxes... if I'm in Squamish soon, Tami, make sure you daughter doesn't know that... but I'm sure I'll be with Anders, who will remind me of my elder responsibilities...
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 5, 2008 - 12:11am PT
Thanks, everyone. I'll try to get more stuff up later - I scanned some photos in advance, but have to remember/invent/write stories to go with them. I do have a Diedre story, though.

We weren't completely on our own at Squamish then, but there weren't many of us climbing. We did sometimes see the "old" guard, and even climbed with them a little, and there were a fair number of people who drifted by to try the water, or had done a bit of climbing in the past, and then dabbled. But there was no "scene" like there is now at Squamish, or as there was in Camp 4, and no transitional figure like Bridwell to bridge the gap. Jim S. was of course around - Squamish wouldn't be the same without him. A few ex-Brits showed up, including Robin B., who's still active. Mostly from rather different backgrounds, and with more experience - we knew they were around, but didn't see much of them. Plus Seattleites visited - Pat T., Don H., Ric L., Dave D., Carla F., Julie B., and so on.

We saw a fair bit of the Seattleites, also at Leavenworth, and learned quite a lot from them. And by the mid 1970s had started to go the Yosemite (aka the centre of the climbing universe), and learn. That helped a lot.

Putting it another way, at that time it was unlikely you'd see other climbers at Squamish on a nice summer weekend. If you did, you almost certainly knew them, or at least had heard of them.

Don's comment about Eric is right on - he was a bit older and started a bit earlier, in Seattle, and was a natural. Plus he put a lot of effort into free climbing, and got very good indeed. I'm keen to see Don's photos and stories about Eric. Daryl appeared a little later, and Tami quite a while later, so I'll keep revenge stories in reserve. She is correct, though - I usually wasn't much of drinker, and even less experimental in other ways. No surprise that I wouldn't buy beer for others - I didn't buy much for myself, and have never been very edgy in terms of behaviour. A mostly modest climber, with much to be modest about (Oscar Wilde).

Some of us had copies of Glenn Woodsworth's 1967 guide, plus things photocopied from the Canadian Alpine Journal. Which made route finding an adventure - luckily we mostly started in the mountains, plus didn't really know anything better. (Those of you who grumble about Roper's 1970 guide don't know how good you had it.) Gordie Smaill's guide didn't appear until late 1975. Mountain had a big impact - we all got and devoured it, and sometimes even believed Ken Wilson's noisy editorials. I sat at the back of grade 12 chemistry, reading it folded into a more innocent book - still got an A. Off Belay and Summit were around, and interesting, but weren't really the zeitgeist. Climbing appeared about then, but we didn't see it much until later.

DR's essay on clean climbing, and all the related propaganda of the time, made a big difference. We all eagerly made a trip to Seattle in 1973 to buy the first generation hexcentrics and stoppers, then the next year to buy the "eccentrics", then the half-size stoppers, then the drilled hexes, and even tube chocks. The death of a thousand nuts - not just marketing, though, as each generation did improve significantly.

For a long while, we did a lot of 'mixed' climbing, but almost always took pins and hammers as well as nuts, especially for aid. Given the few climbers around, and being Canadian, few got too ideological about using the odd pin.

Whillans harnesses appeared in early 1975. Before that we used swamis (1" or 2" webbing), sometimes with a diaper sling for rappelling. A few tied sit or body harnesses from webbing. One big deal was the appearance of coloured webbing, about 1974 - I got some in Seattle, and the next week we used it on the Grand Wall. A nice change from dreary milspec.

By about 1975, we'd gone over from helmets to headbands, and from jeans to painter pants.

The 'Grand' Wall is really a small wall - there aren't any "real" walls at Squamish. Not enough height. (No girdle traverse yet, though - Chris?) The Chief itself is mostly a rock called granodiorite, with basalt and occasionally aplite intrusions. Generally similar to rock in the Valley, but fewer xenoliths.

There are rumours that p'terodactyls were still nesting on the Chief in the 1970s. Possibly eating sport climbers and rap bolters - mortal sins. Certainly the Little Smoke Bluffs were still molten MAGMA, although a few people wondered what was over there, and poked about. The Bluffs were much more visible then, as there was less housing, and the trees and shrubs were much shorter. They are an ideal klettergarten for a damp place like Squamish - south facing and sunny, dry quickly in the afternoon wind, lots of short and moderate climbs. But for one thing, we hadn't figured out the whole cleaning on rappel routine. And we maybe weren't quite ready to take that step.

(As a reminder, all stories and photos copyright © Me, 2008, unless someone else took a photo, in which case copyright that person.)
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
Sep 5, 2008 - 12:44am PT
Hats off to Anders - a wonderful series of posts. Thanks.
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