Squamish is probably the best known rock climbing area in Canada. Climbers first began climbing here in the late 50’s and early 60’s, drawn by the huge granite faces of the Stawamus Chief. Today, the outstanding climbs at Squamish continue to draw climbers from around the world, both for the long climbs on the Chief and the many other fine crags in the area.
Squamish has something to everyone, with well over 1500 routes from casual beginner climbs to 5.14 test pieces, and plenty of potential for new development. The rock is exclusively granitic - most of excellent quality - though it ranges widely in texture. Generally, the climbs near the town of Squamish are cracks and slabs on monolithic chunks of granite, while further north face climbing predominates on more metamorphosed rock. The 500 metre walls of the Chief offer some fine big wall climbing, ranging in difficulty from 5.7 to 5.13 as well as a number of aid routes. The Cheakamus canyon, a half hour north of the town of Squamish has a number of sport crags, with routes from 5.8 to 5.14, while Whistler has at least one decent crag, and there is even more further north.
For a brief list of my suggestions and opinions, check out the Squamish recommendations page.
The weather is possibly Squamish’s only weak spot. From May to September it is usually sunny, with the temperature in the low to mid 20’s (C). March and April have common dry spells, though some climbs may still be wet. The rest of the year is often wet, or else too cold. For the die hard, it rarely snows from Squamish south, so if you don’t mind climbing in the cold and rain, at least there are no crowds to contend with! For up to date weather reports, try the Environment Canada Weather Office or the Weather Network.
Almost all of the climbs at Squamish may be climbed with a standard rack of nuts and cams to about 2.5”. Any climbs requiring larger gear will be mentioned in the guidebooks. Although it is quite possible to have a good Squamish climbing trip clipping only bolts at one of the various sport crags, the true Squamish experience involves placing gear. Some of the older routes still have a few rusty fixed pitons for protection. For the aid routes, bring lots of iron including a number of hooks, as well as heads and perhaps a few rivet hangers. If you need to buy gear, there are a couple small shops in downtown Squamish, as well as a number in Vancouver.
As the number of climbers in Squamish increases, it is increasingly important to keep in mind the local ethics which have evolved over the past 40 years:
The definitive Squamish guides are published by Kevin McLane of Elaho Publishing: The Climbers Guide to Squamish (2005) and Whistler Rockclimbs (2000). The former covers all the climbs from North Vancouver to Squamish, including trad, sport and aid climbs. The latter covers all the climbing north of Squamish through the Whistler-Pemberton areas, mostly sport climbing with a reasonable fix of trad as well.
The ever-evolving bouldering in the Squamish area is covered by the Squamish Boulder Problems guide.
For those not wanting to shell out the dough for three guides, Squamish Select, by Marc Bourdon and Scott Tasaka is also available. It covers most of the best areas in the Squamish-Whistler corridor, including all the classic lines on the Chief, and the latest boulder problems at the base of the Grand Wall. The guide gives lots of detail on most routes using a system of descriptive icons.
Camping and Lodging
There are plenty of areas to camp around Squamish. At least a couple pay campgrounds right in Squamish, including one right at the base of the Chief, as well as a couple provincial campgrounds towards Whistler. Lots of hotels or motels in Squamish, and even more in Whistler. In addition, there is ample opportunity to camp along the many back roads in the area. Just be discrete and, clean up after yourself, and no one will mind.
Food and Drink
Squamish serves as a stopping point for hordes of tourists on their way for an expensive ski trip in Whistler. As such, it has more than its share of fast food joints just off the highway. For those willing to make the two minute drive into town, the options increase substantially. Groceries may be purchased at IGA or Save On Foods. Both are on the main street in town. For a good beer after a day of climbing or when it is raining, head to the brew pub at the Howe Sound Inn at the far end of the main street in Squamish. The micro-brew beer, the atmosphere and the food are all excellent. For lazy mornings or if the weather turns bad and it seems too early for a beer, try the Sunflower Bakery on the main street.
The Climbing Areas
The climbing at Squamish is spread out over at least 12 or 15 major crags and cliffs throughout the 100 km of the Squamish corridor. I have included information on the most popular areas, starting near Vancouver and working north: