There is something seductive and smooth about the way you climb crack. Slowly inserting your hand into a long dark crease in a face of granite, twisting and feeling until your hand locks into places and then slowly moving the other hand above it, in line, pulling down softly, feeling the crystals stick to your finger tips. Then you move your toes, scuffing them into the crack, spinning your knee upwards and locking your foot in with such power and confidence you can step on it. All of this happens following one small imperfection in the rock and you worship that line. Following it to the top and shouting with joy when you get there.
We went to Squamish for the first time. Squamish is enough to send any average person down a poetry spiral of love and lust. Stacks of cracked black and white granite pile out of the ocean, trails wind amongst these giant blocks and everywhere people are dropping their rope bags and taping up their fingers, staring up at the playground of cracks above them.
We spent the weekend at Smoke Bluffs, one small part of the guide book and we climbed barely anything. You could spend years and years exploring Squamish. We bounced between crags called things like Burger and Fries and Octopus’ Garden. Sometimes when we topped out we could see Mount Garibaldi, sometimes we found ourselves in some lucky bastard’s backyard.
The purpose of the weekend for Kyle and I was to practice using our new (old) trad rack and to pick Carl’s brain. If you remember when we climbed Liberty Bell Carl just handed me some pro and said, “go for it”. Now we wanted to understand how to climb trad – what made for good gear placement, how to build anchors, where to put our feet and hands. Also we were there to climb with friends and have some fun. I have never really been cragging (I don’t think Exit 38 after work counts) and I was looking forward to a very different kind of physical challenge and a fun time with friends: Carl and Sarah were with us, as well as, Molly and Josh.
It was a beautiful weekend. My mind was surprisingly calm – I led easy 5.6 and 5.7s with relative ease, managing not to get hung up on the fears that often flag me. I top roped some harder routes and could feel my complete lack of training but managed to muscle through them. Crack climbing began to click and as it did I noticed the beautiful, purposeful way the people around me climbed. I noticed that crack climbing is sexy.
Saturday was hot and crowded so we moved around quite a bit looking for new cracks and new challenges. We ended the day on a playful set of three finger cracks with an ugly sister of a hand crack off to the left. I took one look at the hand crack and knew that I was completely comfortable to lead it – it was a very easy route. I ended the day feeling strong and happy as the sun wallpapered the rocks in front of us with golden light and leaf shadows.
The next morning we woke to clouds but headed back to Burger and Fries any way. It was less crowded, the promise of rain keeping people away. We found a grouping of cracks rated at different levels and put up three ropes, rotating through each route. I led Kyle and mine’s route to get the rope up, still feeling confident even though I knew I wasn’t pushing myself that hard – the rock climbing was certainly within my skill level. But it felt good to live within my comfort zone a little bit and practice my technique and placement.
The day before Carl had followed us, cleaning our pro and talking through our placements with us. Even though the climbing was easy I tried to take my time placing the pro. Was I doing the very best job I could? Was it at the right angle? Would it back itself further into the crack? How far did I need to extend the sling? I thought through each piece carefully and felt solid about each one. When Kyle followed me to clean it he complimented me on each piece and Carl continued to offer golden nuggets of wisdom. I soaked them in, trying to file it all away.
After we had all climbed each crack we moved to a new area at Burgers and Fries and Carl led a very hard 5.10b. I hadn’t been planning on climbing another route, I was feeling so pleased with the first couple of cracks that I didn’t feel the need to try something else. But there is something about watching someone else climb. You see them do the moves and your body aches to try them out for itself. So after Sarah climbed it and Kyle climbed it and they asked if anyone else wanted to climb it of course I had to try.
It is a route like that one that really solidifies for me why I continue to come back to climbing, ever since I first started showing up at the climbing gym in high school. Being able to use every single part of ones body, from your finger tips to your toes to your balance to your mind – it’s a full body cooperation. To feel your body working in such harmony makes you happy to be alive and that keeps me moving up the wall. It was a great way to end the day and I am glad I tried it.
Right as we got back to the cars we felt the first rain drops and by the time we hit the road big fat rivulets were making their way down the windshield. Everything was grey and the sky hung heavy and low. The part of me that is from here, that revels in a wet, soggy day rejoiced. Fall is here.