Trip ReportAn Impromptu Link-Up: Freeway and the Grand Wall
Trip reports get me psyched, I hope this TR spreads some psyche! This is a story about linking up Freeway and the Grand Wall in Squamish with my buddy Drew earlier this summer. We forgot to bring a camera, so it will be a bit heavy on words. Fortunately, my girlfriend was able to snap some shots from the parking lot.
It was never supposed to be a link-up. Drew texted me Monday afternoon asking if I wanted to climb Freeway sometime in the next couple of days. Tuesday morning, we were racking up in the Chief parking lot, no mention of the Grand Wall. But first, a bit of background is in order.
I met Drew while climbing in Smith Rock in June. My first impression was a bit off: he was the dude who showed up at the Dihedrals with a full trad rack intent upon climbing all the crack lines. For those who do not know, Smith Rock is a world class destination known for its beautiful face climbs, and definitely not for its often times chossy crack climbs. Being so in love with the Smith face climbing, I couldn’t understand Drew’s propensity for the cracks, so I immediately thought there must be something wrong with him. However, as I got to know Drew better, I came to realize he just loves trad climbing. His enthusiasm for climbing and the nomadic life-style he lives are infectious. I was sold, Drew is awesome!
By the time we arrived in Squamish, I was far from psyched on trad climbing. So while Drew crushed some sweet walls and link-ups (most notably the three-peaks-on-the-Chief-in-a-day via Parallel Passages, Angel’s Crest, and Diedre-Squamish Buttress), I spent my time pebble wrestling in the forest at the base of these beautiful cliffs. I fancy myself a trad climber but end up spending most of my time bouldering. I like the freedom bouldering affords you and the focus on movement. I also like that it gets you strong; not only was I bouldering for enjoyment but to get strong for my larger objectives.
I spent two weeks almost exclusively bouldering and was in the process of easing back into routes by the time Tuesday rolled around. At the beginning of my bouldering stint, I felt really weak, falling off of boulders I would normally expect to flash. I didn’t mind, the bouldering was awesome and psyche was high. Soon enough, I was feeling strong and ready for some routes. The physical strength I managed to build bouldering translated seamlessly into route strength; however, mentally, I was a bit shaky on lead. Maintaining a good lead head is always a struggle for me, but I knew with more mileage I’d be feeling good.
So that brings us to Tuesday morning: I was still feeling a bit hesitant on lead, but I had a good partner and a lot of psyche. Our objective, Freeway with the Express Lane variation, is a Squamish classic. It consists of nine awesome pitches up to 5.11c. With six pitches of 5.11 and three of 5.10, it would serve as a stout reintroduction to harder long routes for me, but I was psyched, the route is classic!
Drew and I decided to each take one of the 11c pitches, then divide the remaining 5.11 evenly. This put me on lead for the 11a first pitch. The difficulties came early with a delicate under-cling section about fifteen feet off the belay. I was able to successfully navigate this cruxy section and cast off into the sustained, balancy face-ish climbing above. About fourty feet up the pitch, the difficulties started to ease, and I thought I was in the clear, then pop! a foot blows and I’m taking a ride. I pulled back on and finished the pitch with no further incidents. On follow, Drew had a similar foot blowing issue low on the pitch, then continued on to the belay. We both blew our on-sights in the first fifty feet of the climb, but we could care less; the first pitch was sick and the next looked splitter! We were psyched!
An awesome wide hands to thin hands splitter pitch and a novel down traverse pitch deposited us at the base of the fist crux: a long corner pitch characterized by cruxy thin sections. This was Drew’s big lead. He decisively dispatched the low crux and charged up to the high crux. The high crux consisted of very tenuous moves between creative stances. Drew reached deep into his bag of granite trickery and came away with the on-sight. Inspired, I followed the pitch clean. An 11a pitch of cruxy lie-backing and awesome face climbing put us in the truck stop, a sweet cave perched 500 feet up the wall. Above us loomed a giant roof whose easiest passage escaped at 11c. I was pretty intimidated but feeling good. I up-climbed and down-climbed a few times, placed some protection, and sussed out the moves. Finally, I committed and fired through the roof. Some wild stems and a hard pull got me to the chains. Drew cruised it on follow; we got through both crux pitches with no falls!
The final pitches were outrageously exposed and really fun. A pumpy traverse after the roof brought us to the Express Lane. Express Lane is a two pitch variation that ascends some very enjoyable face and aręte climbing in a great position. It was a really nice way to finish off the route. We topped out around 2 pm with the only falls coming on the first pitch. We were psyched! So psyched, in fact, Drew jokingly suggested we go do the Grand Wall. I jokingly agreed, then he seriously agreed and our plans were set. The link-up was on!
We ran down the descent, jumped in the van, and blasted to our apartment. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch with my girlfriend Lauren and finally headed back to the chief around 4:30, psyched to charge up the Grand Wall. The Grand Wall is possibly the most classic climb in Squamish. It tackles a direct line up the middle of the Chief’s most impressive wall at the surprisingly moderate grade of 5.11a with a few points of aid. We elected to do the Apron Strings start to the route, adding two great pitches of 5.10. Drew has climbed the Grand a few times, so he generously let me lead most of the more notable pitches, namely: both Apron Strings pitches, the Split Pillar, the Sword, and Perry’s Layback.
We got to the base of the route a bit before 5 pm. I was pretty nervous to see how I would feel having done so much climbing that morning. As I started up the first pitch, I was relieved to find that I still had some juice left in the tank. We cruised up some awesome splitters and some low angle face climbing and quickly found ourselves at the base of the Split Pillar. The Split Pillar is a beautiful, 40 meter dihedral featuring sustained laybacking and hand-jamming. Up to this point, I was feeling pretty good, so I confidently started jamming up the pitch. However, I quickly found my reserves were running low. In addition, the hot afternoon sun was doing little to foster confidence in my wide hand jams. Finally, with jugs in sight only a few meters above, I ditched my last number three and started laybacking. I was quickly rewarded with good holds and easier terrain to the top if the pillar. The views from the belay were awesome, I was psyched!
The next pitch, The Sword, though harder at 11a, was much less sustained. Some punchy laybacking, a bit of super exposed face climbing, and a short bolt ladder brought us up to our last major obstacle: Perry’s Layback. This pitch tackles a sport bolted 4 inch layback crack that hangs in such a way that it climbs like an undercling. It’s burly at 11a, and I knew it was going to be a real challenge coming at the end of the day. I did my best to climb it quickly and efficiently, but I gassed out a bolt short of a good rest. I fell and hung for a bit, then finished off the pitch with a whoop! I knew we had it in the bag. Drew quickly followed me up having gotten all the pitches clean; he took over the lead for the last two pitches to the top. Before I knew it, we were traversing off of Bellygood Ledge and headed back to the car with plenty of daylight to spare.
I came home to a delicious home-cooked meal prepared by Lauren: the icing on the cake. Our little impromptu link-up was done. Both of these climbs are incredible and to experience both of them for the first time on the same day was really cool. Link-ups can sometimes be a lot of work and entail a bit of suffering, but this one was all fun all the time. Each pitch was amazing and psyche was constantly high.
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