Best of the Best
The Grand Wall, 5.11a A0
April 13, 2000
Ever since I first climbed in Squamish about 4 years ago, my biggest goal
in climbing has been to climb the Grand
Wall, an 11-16 pitch (depending on the variation) route up the center
of the Chief's sheer west face which bears the same name. Well,
I finally got my ass up it, though not in the best of style. Here goes:
After 3 days with my head buried in books or writing exams with perfect
weather outside, I needed to get out and do something. I called
Andrew Wednesday night to see if he was up for anything the next day.
Aside from a couple sessions falling off his warm-up problems on the wall
in his garage, we hadn't climbed together since we were both living in
Calgary 2 years ago, as he had been off cranking in Australia.
Andrew said sure he was up for something, but I'd have to be ropegun as
he was beat up from some hard climbing and bouldering earlier that day.
I said fine, but knew that Andrew was a very solid climber, and could
lead harder than me in his sleep. After about 10 days of near perfect
weather the forecast was for an 80% chance of showers, but we decided
that we'd at least head out and take our chances. We eventually
settled on the Grand Wall. At 11a it was near my limit, especially
for a long route and leading trad, but I was pretty comfortable getting
on it with Andrew.
Thursday dawned with patchy clouds, some harmless looking, others ominously
dark, and I headed over to the north shore where Andrew picked me up and
we drove up to Squamish. Still wasn't raining, though it did look
a bit threatening. We racked up and headed off to the base of the
wall, getting there about 10:30. As I had recently climbed Apron
Strings and Mercy Me, which comprise the first 3 pitches of the route,
and had lead the odd pitches, I suggested Andrew take the first lead so
I could take the ones I hadn't lead before. Andrew said sure, and
headed off up the 10b thin fingers first pitch. I've never heard
Andrew complain on a climb before, but he was obviously feeling the effects
of some hard climbing the day before, and ended up resting at the crux,
which didn't bode particularly well for other 11 pitches of the route.
Soon he got back on and was up to the belay. I followed and then
set out on the next pitch, a 5.9 corner followed by an easy wide crack
without much incident. By this time the ominous clouds had started
to drizzle a bit, but not enough to get the rock really wet.
The next pitch is a delightful easy (5.7) though runout dyke. Andrew
started out on this, looking about as shaky as I've ever seen him climb,
quite surprising on a pitch 5 number grades below his limit. After
dumping all his extra gear on the first bolt, he got up to the belay without
any trouble, and I came up and started on the next pitch. The pitch
was relatively straightforward, up the dyke then right across the slab
to a flake, with the crux being a wide stem across a section of flowing
bright green slime to reach the belay. The drizzle had stopped by
now, and a few patches of sun showed up for a while. Andrew took
the next pitch, a somewhat awkward and balancy 10b that traverses down
around the bottom of the split pillar, finishing with a couple aid bolts
to reach the belay. With a pack on, it seemed a bit tricky to follow,
but soon I was secure and staring up at one of the most intimidating pitches
I've ever seen.
The split pillar is a completely detached 140 foot high pillar which sits
at the base of the dead vertical mid section of the Grand Wall.
The right side starts out as thin hands and gradually widens to hands,
off-hands, fists, off-fists, then full on layback over the first 100 feet
before a jug and the first rest. It then continues up some easier
laybacking, before the final 15 foot squeeze chimney to the top.
It has a fearsome reputation as a forearm burner, getting harder and harder
all the way as the crack widens and strength fades. It took me a
few minutes to psyche myself up for it, as one of the pitches I'd been
wanted to have a bout with for quite some time. At strenuous 10b,
I knew I had a chance, but wasn't too sure how good that chance was.
I started up the pitch with some hand and foot jamming, occasionally stemming
and laybacking a bit, knowing that my best chance was to go as fast as
I could before burning out. A couple small pieces went in, and I
was feeling ok. Andrew was calling out some encouragement with occasional
bits of beta thrown in for good measure.
"You got it man" " jam it, jam!" "go
Everything was going ok, though the pump was starting to kick in, I placed
my #1 camalots, then moved up as the crack opened to hands and wide hands.
A #2 went in, a bit more jamming, a couple layback moves, I was halfway
to the rest. The burn was getting stronger and stronger.
"keep moving" " you got it"
The crack was now fist and arm size. In went the first #3 camalot.
Getting harder and harder to jam. The burn was in full effect now.
Perhaps 25 feet to the rest. A bit higher the other #3 went in,
my last piece before the rest, and the crack widened to full on layback
and started to kick back a bit.
"Go for it!" "Just go!"
"Raargh!! You bastard!!" I moved up a few more feet,
feeling my arms fade.
"Come on!! You're almost at the jug"
"Yaaarrgh" a couple feet closer. The jug was maybe
10 feet away, then 8, then 6.
"You got it." "it's bomber man!" "Go for
It was so close I could taste it, feel the myself reaching up to my elbows
in it, but it was still 5 strenuous feet above me. Feet pasted on
the wall, arms burning, I gave it my last shot.
"Rraagh!! You... Motherfucaaaaaggghhhh!!!!" and I was
off. And then I was looking back up to my first #1 cam. Andrew
was 5 feet off the belay, held back by the chains. I've fallen on
gear before, but I've never taken a real whipper. Close to 50 feet,
I think this one counts as a whipper. Fully psyched up, I let out
a good whoop, then looked up again and realized I had to climb all the
way back up there. Another whoop, then I pulled up to let Andrew
back down to the ledge. After shaking out a bit, I started yarding
back up to the last piece. Took me about 15 minutes to get back
up, then I hung out on my last piece waiting for some juice to return.
10 minutes later, I moved my last piece a bit higher and was back on.
This time I was a bit fresher, and the layback went a bit faster, but
I was still thoroughly pumped as I reached into the jug, then hauled myself
up to the rest. Another whoop. I managed to stick my head
in the crack for a no-hands rest, and shook out. The climbing above
was easier, but still a bit pumpy, and some smaller gear went in the behind
the flakes wedged in the crack. Finally I was at the squeeze chimney.
I eased myself into the chimney, only to have the gear on my back loop
wedge itself between me and the rock.
"You fucker" I tried to get it free, eventually sliding
my way into a slight widening of the chimney. Much thrashing, grunting,
and swearing ensued, and eventually I reached an arm over the top of the
chimney and managed to haul myself out, onto the perfect belay ledge atop
the pillar. I let out another whoop. What an incredible pitch.
I certainly have a score to go back and settle though.
Andrew came up, feeling a bit better now, and we took a break for lunch.
Andrew suggested I have a go on the next pitch, the Sword. The pitch
starts up a corner which quickly narrows from wide fist size to finger
tips, then kicks back though a bulge. After pulling over this (the
technical crux at 11a), a good rest is reached before stepping left out
of the corner into a featured face crack on the main wall. Stepping
out onto the wall and looking down is incredible, as this is the first
time there is no ledge below, a sheer drop down to the slabs and then
the forest, 750 feet below. I tried the move into the face crack, but
couldn't seem to get established, and fell a few times. Eventually
I decided to lower for a rest and let Andrew give it a go. He led
it without much trouble, up the face crack slinging horns for 25 feet
before moving back into the corner which was now off finger size.
A few strenuous moves up the corner, then a long reach out left to the
chains for the hanging belay. I followed the pitch, finding the
move into the face crack not too hard once I tried it from higher up the
corner, but finally burning out in the pumpy crack just before the anchor.
Above this, we aided the 50 foot bolt ladder through the bank section,
wildly exposed. Andrew then set out on the final 5.11 pitch, Perry's
Layback, the crux being a 50 foot diagonal undercling/layback. This
pitch could be protected with half a dozen #4 Camelot's, but most parties
just clip the bolts on the adjacent bolt ladder. With one rest near
the end, Andrew completed the pitch, and I followed, dogging liberally
on the bolts for the last half. I took the pitch above, which wanders
up and right across a steep slab - mostly bolt protected - for about 120
feet, before some reachy moves to a dirt & pine needle covered diagonal
hold and then the belay. At 10a, it seemed really hard, but considering
I was pretty wasted and the crux was covered in dirt, perhaps it was right.
Andrew was soon at the belay and heading up the tree to get onto the final
pitch, a 10c undercling flake then easier but still strenuous climbing
to Bellygood ledge. It went off without a hitch, and soon I was
following it and then sprawled out one ledge at the top. Although
it is possible to continue up another 4 pitches to the true top of the
wall, like most parties, we headed off south along the ledge, at times
only a foot wide, which traverses the full width of the wall over 1000
feet above the ground. With a brief stop at the creek for a drink
on the descent, we were back at the car just after 8pm. Roughly
10 hours car to car, all in all, not to bad.
After sorting our gear, we set off to the brew pub for a celebratory pint,
then headed back to town for some dinner, a few drinks, and a fatty.
The perfect end to and absolutely fantastic day of climbing!
All in all, the climb was absolutely incredible, possibly the best I have
ever done, even though our style was a little less than perfect.
I'll certainly be back however, as I have some unfinished business to
take care of.