The phone rang on Sunday afternoon. It was Anne Tarver, calling to ask how my week was looking.
“I have to work. Trying to squeeze in a client before this other job starts,” I said.
“Have you seen the forecast? It’s supposed to hit the 70s this week. We could go to Squamish and climb Skywalker,” responded Anne, a self-described leisure consultant, ignoring my talk of work.
She was referring to the 5.8 multi-pitch line, near Shannon Falls, put up by Jeremy Frimer in 2011. We tried to climb Skywalker that year, but news and topos spread quickly on the Internet and several parties beat our lazy asses to the start. Put off by the wait, we aborted. For Anne, a crack connoisseur, visions of climbing Skywalker never ceased.
The invitation was attractive, but I paused. One must have a mind devoid of winter to dwell on up instead of down. The resident devil on my shoulder whispered tantalizing things about granite cracks, sunny belay perches and handsome coastal views. I turned to the angel and the angel said unto me: “Fuck work. Go climb.” Devil on both shoulders, clearly.
We left Wednesday morning sometime before 10am. The little Honda Civic was stuffed. Anne, the maximalist, appeared to be moving to Canada. Just when I thought we had reached capacity, she squeezed Rummikub behind the driver’s seat.
It was 2pm when we pulled into the Shannon Falls parking lot. The plan was to climb Klahanie Crack and perhaps something else before setting up camp at Paradise Valley further north. Skywalker was on Thursday’s agenda. Not surprisingly, there was a party on Klahanie, so Anne suggested we take a peek at Skywalker. We had spied climbers on the scenic traverse before we entered the forest trail. By a stroke of luck, not a single party was waiting. It was close to 3pm. The opportunity took us by surprise and now we had to decide whether warming up on a multi-pitch was a good idea. Both of us were coming off the couch. There was a rap station in case of retreat, Anne noted. I stuffed a headlamp into my Bermudas, clipped a jacket to my harness, slung the El Cap rack over my shoulders and tied in.
I puzzled a bit over how to start. The finger-sized fissure, notoriously rheumy and lachrymose, offered only wet jamming. I took the dry option of face, eventually moving into the crack. The line continued right, a traverse protected by two bolts, to a debris-filled crack leading to the belay. Anne led pitch two, the so-called Flume, a left-facing corner crack. Again, the challenge of getting into the corner without getting wet presented itself. Anne drew on gymnastic opposition to avoid wet rock and moved steadily upward. The lead swung back to me for pitch three over a few stumps to a ramp, then to a crack with a cruxy move before the belay. Embarking on the penultimate pitch, Anne smiled as she romped across the low-angle slab traverse in a very considerate, second-friendly manner, lacing the underling. The finish was short work, easy slab protected by several bolts.
We topped out a little before 7pm, an ascent time of just under four hours, leaving us an ample ration of light for a headlamp-free descent. We took the recommended side trip to Shannon Pools and ogled the raging flows until the spray chilled us to the bone. Later in the season, these pools might make a welcome après-climb swimming hole.
The warm, sunny weather held on Thursday. After an unhurried morning at camp–breakfast and coffee and a one-looney shower–we made our way over to the Chief. We schlepped our heavy climbing packs up to South Peak and and rapped down to Raven’s Castle, perched on the nose of the Chief. The climbing there is more about the setting than the climbing–we witnessed multiple paragliders hurling themselves off the summit towards Howe Sound just as we finished the dogleg line, Talking Crack.
Our last day, Friday, brought rain, but not until we climbed at the car park crags at Smoke Bluffs. The thirty-second approach bore stark contrast to the quad-busting staircase up to South Peak. What’s more, the view of the Smoke Bluffs’ parking lot was a gob-smacker. (Though High Mountain Woody is on my tick list, I figured given the dodgy weather, it was not the day to climb at the more atmospheric Malamute.) Happy to belay, Anne bundled up in layers. I gave her my Nano Puff which she improvised as leggings. Happy to take the sharp end, I led the 5.9 finger crack, Cold Comfort. We rapped down, coiled the rope and felt the first drops of liquid sunshine as the weather window snapped shut.
The spontaneous crack holiday merely reinforced my love of the curtailed work week and weakened my immunity to sun flu. Thanks a lot, Anne.