The Flower Fed Buffalo
The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prarie flowers lie low:
The tossing, blooming, perfumed grass
Is swept away by wheat,
Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
In the spring that still is sweet.
But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
Left us long ago,
They gore no more, they bellow no more:--
With the Blackfeet lying low,
With the Pawnee lying low.
- Vachel Lindsay

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

When it's time for leaving ...

It's time for one last post before we go. We're at gate 51 in the Vancouver International Airport, waiting for our flight to Sydney. I'm going to try to get this done before we get on the plane in another three and a half hours. So, let's resume where we left off. If you remember, we had just spent Sunday evening and all day Monday sitting out the rain before it dawned clear and sunny on Tuesday morning. Let's go back ...

Solid Gold in Squamish

If you'll indulge me a slight digression, when I was trying to come up with a title for the last post in this blog, the phrase "When it's time for leaving ..." popped into my head. Now, if you are of a certain age (yeah, about my age!) you might get the same synapsial connections fire as I did and have the Allman Brothers famous groove Ramblin' Man emerge from your subconscious. It was the hit track on their Brothers and Sisters album, which appeared the same month I started university in Victoria, British Columbia. A great time in my life and that song has some emotional connections for me to this day. Here's a YouTube recording of it in case you'd either like to enjoy a bit of nostalgia or simply haven't had the pleasure before:

Well, it was solid gold in that incredible decade of the seventies, rising to number 2 on the U.S. charts. And that's how I'd describe the end of our trip: 10 days of Solid Gold in Squamish. It's been nothing but sunshine since the rain cleared off during the night of Monday the 10th. In fact, if you'd been looking at the Environment Canada weather forecast, day after day you'd have seen the same graphics:

Our friends Tammy and HJ were due back around noon, so after a late start we sent them a text to let them know that we'd be at a little crag called Up Among the Firs because it was supposed to get morning sun. We'd been climbing there on a previous trip and remembered there being a few good routes to do. As it turned out, the wind was blowing, the crag was mostly in the shade and a number of the routes had been reclaimed by lichen and moss. There was a lot of humidity in the air due to the prolonged rain. Basically the player comfort level just wasn't great so we decided to pull the plug and search for sunny warm rock. We rolled by the campsite to see if HJ and Tammy were there yet; they'd just arrived and were looking for the optimal position to pitch their tent.

The Smoke Bluffs

Once Tammy and HJ were settled in we conferred and decided to head to the Penny Lane area in the Smoke Bluffs. Here's a nice little video that gives you a good feel for the ambience of this area:

We thought that Penny Lane would be our best bet for some warm afternoon sunshine, and that proved to be the case. Even though there were quite a few others applying the same logic there was plenty of rock to go around and we did a bunch of fun routes ranging from 5.8 to a (top-roped) 11b - in Australianese that translates from about grade 16 to 23. None of the routes had less than three stars, and two were in the 'Top 100" list.
Little did we know that it was to be the start of a magic spell of weather and climbing, and that we'd need to pace our efforts - at least Di and I would!

The next day we headed back to the Smoke Bluffs, initially to the Neat and Cool area. The following YouTube video is a bit disjointed but gives you a bit of an idea of what climbing the actual route Neat and Cool is all about:

 We did four routes there, two of which get rated in the Top 100. One of the things we got on was Kangaroo Tail, a wonderful 11a with a four star rating that Di had led the last time we were in Squamish. HJ led it this time around, but it was just beautiful to see Di climb it in great style.  Next it was back up to Penny Lane so we could get on that route, which was occupied the day before. It too is one of the Top 100 at Squamish, and perhaps the most enjoyable single pitch of climbing we did while we were at Squamish. This picture of Di leading it unfortunately doesn't do justice to the climb:

After we'd been up it I suggested to HJ that he take Tammy for a spin up it. Here they are at the belay:

By the middle of the afternoon we (some of us, anyway) had done six pitches (110 points, Alex!) and thought we'd done enough to earn a beer or two. We were cooking our evening meals with Tammy and HJ. I don't remember whose turn it was to fashion a meal. Regardless, we ate very well through this period of our trip, swinging leads at the kitchen bench.

On the Apron

Thursday. Another immaculate day, more climbing. Some the routes we'd done in the Smoke Bluffs were pretty fingery, so we thought that we'd have a low key day of slab climbing on The Apron, and maybe have a rest the following day so that we could get a prolonged recovery and - maybe - try something harder the day after.
Di and I had our sights set on a lovely six pitch route called Over the Rainbow (if you clicked on this link you would have seen that it took you to a page from GearLoopTopo. We actually used the topo and recommend checking them out if you are contemplating doing some classic climbs in North America. Very cheap and a neat, resilient little laminated topo that's easy to carry and refer to).
Tammy and HJ were going to do Diedre, another Top 100 Squamish climb, and also about six or seven pitches in length.

Here's a photo of The Chief with The Apron circled:

Despite having the topo and the company of HJ and Tammy to cross reference, we found ourselves in the wrong place on the wrong routes. HJ and Tammy ended up doing Snake, a classic Apron route in its own right. Against my better judgement, I climbed a 10b first pitch of a much harder route called Dirty Little White Boys (I'm glad I didn't persist with my mistake!). It soon became apparent that this wasn't where we wanted to be, so I bailed and Di and I headed further up the track and found the route we wanted. Once we were a few pitches up we remembered being there before, but enjoyed it immensely nonetheless. (One of the - few - good things about being an older climber is that you don't remember climbs as well as you once did, so every route becomes a new experience after a few years!) It only took a couple of hours to run up the climb. Despite a couple of 10a moves and a bit of 5.9, most of the route was well within our comfort zone, and we were starting to feel confident on our feet - at least on this moderate sort of terrain.

After waiting a while for HJ and Tammy, Di and I decided to head into town and have lunch at Zephyr, our new favourite cafe. Back to the campsite under The Chief and our friends still weren't back. As it turned out, they'd got caught behind a couple of slower parties. I had sort of lost track of days by this stage, but suddenly realised that the next day was still only Friday, and that it would be silly to rest then and climb again on Saturday when it was likely to be more crowded. A germ of an idea started to grow in my brain ...

The Grand Wall: a dream comes true!

HJ had asked a couple of days before, "When do you want to do The Grand Wall?" My answer had been along the lines of "In a few more days when I'm feeling rested." Well that time had arrived. And ... considering that way back when we were at the City of Rocks together, I'd told HJ how it had always been a dream of mine to climb The Grand Wall ... and he'd offered to lead the harder pitches for me ... and he'd come all this way ... well, I thought it was about time that I accepted the challenge. I knew that I could get up the route one way or another, but I wanted to do it in good style. For those of you who are non-climbers, this means not hanging on the rope and moving quickly and competently over the rock. I was pretty sure that I could climb all or most of the route, but that there were a couple of places that I might fall and have to try again. I was nervous but really, really wanted to try this climb that had been on my mind for so long.

Eventually, HJ and Tammy arrived back. After a bit of small talk, I asked HJ if he wanted to get on The Grand Wall the next day. "What time do you want to start?" was his reply.

To cut to the chase: after a restless night - for me, probably not for HJ - we found ourselves at the base of The Chief at 9:00 a.m. We'd decided to climb the route via the Apron Strings and Merci Me before heading right towards the  right side of the Split Pillar. Pitch ratings for the entire route to Bellygood Ledge, which is where the route officially ends (although you can continue to the top of The Chief via the Roman Chimneys, another 4 pitches of climbing at 11a or 11d - depending on which route choice you make) was as far as we were going are: 10b, 10a, 5.7, 5.9, 10b/AO, 10b, 11a, AO (bolt ladder), 11a, 10a, 10c. A very full day out for me, and a pretty good workout for HJ. Our combined ages are 110 years, and I'd bet there aren't many older teams who tackle this route each year.

If you are unfamiliar with the hype surrounding the Grand Wall, here is the overview from Marc Bourdon's 2012 guide book:

When we arrived at the base of The Chief another party had just started up the route. Johnny and Shona were mere youngsters at 31 and 41 years of age, respectively. Once it became apparent - quite soon, actually - that we were climbing more quickly than them they offered to let us pass. We conferred and decided to do that at the base of the Split Pillar, as the belays between the Apron Strings and that station aren't very spacious. As it turned out, we were the only two parties to climb the Grand Wall that day, which was a bit of a surprise given the brilliant weather conditions.

Anyway, back to the route itself. Here's a topo of Apron Strings (route #14) which gets a "Top 100" rating in its own right ...

We tied in and, once Shona had arrived at Johnny's belay at the top of the first pitch, HJ set off. Unfortunately, our day didn't get off to the best of starts. Neither HJ nor I are prone to dropping gear, but HJ dropped his carabiner full of wires just near the top of pitch one. Luckily it was a great pass, hitting me right on the chest (one rib is still a little sore!). 
On the next pitch, I dropped a cam. Sadly it didn't hit HJ on the chest, disappearing below somewhere. Thankfully, that was the end of our fumblings and the rest of the climb went smoothly.

Apart from waiting for Johnny and Shona, we made short work of the next three pitches which look like this:

If you looked closely, you will have noticed that there is not a lot of protection on the 5.7 pitch - only three bolts in the 35 metres before you arrive at the belay. HJ was cruising along so fast he almost missed the third bolt! Here's a photo that he took of me nearing the end of the pitch ...

... and another at the top of the fourth pitch (if you look at the full-sized image, you should be able to just see Shona at my left, the rope leading across pitch 5 to the belay at the bottom of the Split Pillar, and Johnny at the belay):

Once HJ had led across to the base of the Split Pillar, and we'd swapped positions with Shona and Johnny I rolled up my sleeves (literally: the top I was wearing has very long sleeves!) and got to work. I was really looking forward to getting back on this pitch again. It's an absolutely stunning 40 metres of climbing. As you can see, the guide says "Pumpy for the grade." Not unlike a lot of the great classic pitches at around the 18 - 20 range on Ben Lomond in Tasmania. Here's the beta:

HJ didn't get a photo of this pitch, but here's one from when Di and I did it in 2000:

The (crack) climbers amongst those who are reading this will understand why it's such a much-loved pitch!

Next it was on to new ground (for me), and time for HJ to shine. He'd climbed The Grand Wall twice before, via the Cruel Shoes start, and was licking his lips to get back on the Sword pitch. Here's the description and topo of it, with the Bolt Ladder that lies above:

HJ really came into his own at this stage. He led The Sword - the first of two 11a pitches - cleanly and coolly. Here's a sequence of photos he took of me following:

Near the start ...

... above the first crux ...

... and nearing the top, just before pulling back across into the second crux, which involves a strenuous layback sequence up to HJ's stance:

I got through the first crux and within two metres of the belay but had a little slip there at the second crux. Darn! A short rest and I pulled back on and made it to the anchors. Whew! The first test was behind us. 

A Digression ...

Meanwhile, unknown to us, Di and Tammy had returned from The Apron where they had gone to do Diedre, the route that HJ and Tammy had meant to do the day before. A brief digression to show a few photos from their journey: here's a picture of Tammy starting up pitch two ...

... and another getting closer to the belay ...

Below, and across the highway, the loggers were at work in the harbour ...

Okay, back to The Grand Wall

Di took this photo of us at the belay at the top of The Sword. I've marked in the two cruxes on the pitch:

We are about 210 metres above the ground at this stage ...

I wondered fleetingly about leading the Bolt Ladder to maintain our sequence of alternating leads, but having had no aid experience I quickly banished that thought! Once we'd rearranged the ropes, HJ set off. Most people go this way, but a very select group of strong climbers do a free variation to the right (visible in the topo of the Sword and Bolt Ladder). Here HJ is just reaching the top of the Bolt Ladder pitch:

He took this snap of me following:

(You can clearly see the dyke of Merci Me behind my left shoulder.)

On to Perry's Layback, and HJ came through with all aces. Here's the topo and description from the guide book ...

... and a picture of him about two-thirds of the way up the pitch ...

... and another employing the "innovative chimney rest"!:

It was a bit tenuous towards the end, but he managed to get through this very strenuous pitch without falling. You champion, HJ! I wish I could say the same! Just to make sure she got an accurate depiction of our ascent, Di took this photo of me hanging on the rope after one of my slip-ups (It probably won't wash, but my excuse is that I was carrying the pack with all of our gear) ...

... but she did take a photo of me actually climbing this strenuous pitch. Judging from the way I am standing I'm probably just about ready to slip off again:

I did manage eventually to do all the moves, and arrived at the belay all a-tremble. A rest was in order.

Now we had only had two pitches to go. It was my lead. Just a 5.9 traverse with a 10a "reach" move at the end. But was I tired. Here's what the pitch is about:

Like I said, I was tired. Nevertheless, I set out and staggered across "The Flats" to the end of the pitch and the 10a "reach".

Here's  a photo of me about halfway through the pitch:

And then I arrived at the last real move of the pitch, the "reachy crux". Yep,  "reachy" all right. A reach too far. Bugger!!! I just could not reach, and had to aid this move. Annoying, but c'est la vie, n'est-ce pas?

One pitch to go: a strenuous 10 undercling to a layback:

Even HJ was tired by this stage, but with some cunning footwork he managed to get to the top without falling. Here he is just completing the pitch:

 Taking HJ's lead - and watching his every move closely - I managed to follow this last, strenuous pitch without falling off. Hallelujah!!   It was a high five moment but we couldn't toast our success as we'd drunk all our water. Here we are at the top of our route:

Yes, I know. HJ looks cheerful and fresh as a daisy,  and I look dopey and whacked. 
Actually, HJ was pretty tired too, and I was over the moon! Not bad for a fat old fart, eh!

After a brief rest we toddled off across Bellygood Ledge, which is a real hoot. It's a narrow walkway about 100 metres long with tremendous exposure, being some 400 metres or so above the ground below. Some people squirm across it on their bellies, and for a moment I feared that I might have to do the same. Then I realised that there was a great undercling at about knee level that made the traverse straightforward. HJ, in his graceful and poised way just strolled across, not bothering with the undercling.

We made quick work of the walk back down the trail and were soon with back our darlings below, who - surprisingly - didn't have the beers open when we arrived!

Say what???????? 

It's almost time to board our flight across the Pacific: this post will have to be finished tomorrow in Sydney. Good night, folks ...
... and now, back on terra firma in the Sydney Airport,  we are now waiting for our onward flight to Hobart. Where were we? Oh yes, completed the Grand Wall!!!

The Day After

As you might imagine, both HJ and I were both keen for a rest the following day. We decided to have breakfast at Zephyr then - it being Saturday - check out the Squamish market. There was a lot going on, including about twenty blokes parading in red high heels in support of the Squamish Women's Shelter. Sadly, I didn't get a photo of that! There was a lot of interesting stuff going on though, apart from all the great fresh fruit and veg and some great looking bread. Here's a photo of some Canadian imitations of didgeridoos, made from treated animal skins:

The maker actually blew a couple of them to show how they sounded, and they did sound like the real thing. Interesting ...

There were some drums ...

... fantastic looking pickles, which seem to be a bigger thing generally in Canada than Australia ...

... a stall with a lot of maple products (imported from eastern Canada, no doubt) ...

I really liked this stall billing itself as "Old School Farming in Squamish" ...

... but my favourite was the stall that had a lot of carvings, including this pictograph showing how the west coast ecosystem is based on the salmon ...

Di took this photo of Tammy, HJ and me while we were walking around ...

 Only one of us looks very perky!

After wandering around the market we decided that it would be good to have a gentle stroll around the Four Lakes Trail at Alice Lake Provincial Park, just north of Squamish. As soon as we left Alice Lake for the section toward Edith Lake we came across a "Danger: Cougar on Trail" sign (if you looked at the Alice Lake Provincial Park link above you would have seen the text in red about cougars).  I was so not with it from the previous day's efforts that I didn't think to get a photo of that sign. But there are cougars active throughout this area! Here's a YouTube video of one, taken on the Stawamus Chief Trail just after it had attacked a dog:

I did get a photo of a sign warning of the presence of bears:

This gentle stroll was perfect for how HJ and I in particular were feeling, especially as we took numerous long stops to chew the fat. Here's an image showing the route we took:

Drawing to a close

The following day we all felt energetic enough to go climbing again, and Tammy was interested in having a go at her first trad lead (for non-climbers, this means placing all your own protection, rather than relying on pre-placed protection like bolts). We'd already discussed a venue and climb for this adventure: Klahanie Crack at Shannon Falls. It's in Squamish's Top 100 climbs and is a 30 metre perfect hand crack. Here's an image from the web:

She enjoyed the experience so much she did her second trad lead pretty much straight afterwards, a slightly longer route called Cardhu Crack which she also enjoyed very much. I warned her after Klahanie Crack: this leading is very addictive once you've started, and she could see my point.
We did a bunch more routes in the area, having a highly enjoyable day.

Di was starting to have some hip soreness so she opted out of climbing the next day. One thing HJ was really interested in doing was an iconic route called Magic Carpet Ride, a pretty run-out 11c slab climb, with pitches of 10c, 11a, 11c, 10c. It's a serious climb. Pitch one is described thusly: "Difficult smearing past interesting features leads up the left side of the slab to a belay. The runout to the first bolt is the first "test" on this route." I'd offered to act as HJ's belay slave, even though I knew I would be falling off all over the place on the third pitch, if we made it that far. Unfortunately, we didn't. The climb was very dirty; not what you want on any slab climb, let alone a runout one. HJ was going brilliantly on the second pitch when his foot slipped just as he was about to clip a bolt and he took an enormous whipper: about 10 metres - or 33 feet in the old language. Here is a tiny image showing the approximate spot where HJ took his plummet:

 Even though the first pitch had been pretty dirty, he thought that the steepness of the rest of the route might mean that the little edges wouldn't collect the dirt so much. At that point he decided that discretion was the better part of valour, especially as he'd taken a bit of a knock to his right hip and his left heel. 

We retreated from the route and called it a day, and that was it for climbing at Squamish for both HJ and Tammy, and Di and me. They decided to leave the next day, and Di wasn't in the best shape for the route we most wanted to do: Centrefold, a three pitch Top 100. (It will have to wait until our next trip, I guess.) In the end that worked out well, as we had plenty of time to wash gear, let it dry and pack everything up.

On the way out of Squamish we could see that autumn was about to set in:

It was bittersweet saying farewell to the town and its mascot just as you pass The Chief:

In Vancouver International Airport
We had plenty of time to pass so I managed to get a few photos of the wonderful native artwork on display. When you arrive at the International Departures Terminal you are greeted by two giant-sized traditional Haida welcoming figures:

You can get a sense of the size by the people in the background.

Here are a few images from the Haida canoe:

A couple of great carvings also caught our eyes:

But what impressed me most was the seven foot wide Inuit bone carving. Here's the background info:

Some detail from the carving:

And an image of the whole thing (sorry about the reflections):

Looking back over the one hundred and fourteen days of our trip, we realise what a great time we had. These include:
  • visiting two provinces, two states and experiencing a diversity of wonderful natural environments, from the craggy outcrops of Skaha to the alpine of Leavenworth to the high desert of the City of Rocks to the ruggedness of the Sawtooth Mountains to the glorious Canadian Rockies to the lush temperate rainforest of coastal British Columbia, not to mention all the fantastic bits in between
  • enjoying Big Blue's company for almost eleven thousand kilometres of beautiful road tripping through some of the finest scenery North America has to offer
  • forty-one days of climbing, including 139 routes and 233 pitches
  • seven or eight wonderful days of hiking
  • seeing a great range of birds and mammals including Mountain Bluebirds, Bluejays, Bald-Headed Eagles, Red-Winged Hawks, Great Blue Herons, Bullocks Oriole, Calliope Hummingbird, Cassin's Finch, Dickcissel, Mountain Goat, Grizzly and Black Bear, Moose, Elk, Caribou, White-Tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Dahl Sheep, Otter, Coyote, Marmots - and the list goes on.
Most of what made our trip such a rewarding experience, however, was the wealth of interaction with people. Reconnecting with family and old friends and meeting and doing things with new friends all added immensely to the wonderful mosaic that appears when we picture our journey in our mind's eye. Thank you so much all of you who shared your time and hospitality with us. We will always remember the great times we had with you.

And that's it, folks. It's raining outside in Sydney as I type this. We're looking forward to getting home to our snug little house. It's raining in Hobart too ... maybe we won't be home long ....