Squamish Bouldering - Canadaby Marc Bourdon Jun/2011
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Squamish is Canada's premier bouldering destination. The temperate, West Coast climate and perpetually shaded boulder fields make it one of the best locations on the North American continent for bouldering in the heat of the summer.
It has become so popular that many climbers now set up camp for the entire season, satisfied with going nowhere else. This area contains over 2,500 boulder problems. The bouldering zones stretch north from the seaside community of Furry Creek to the farming valley of Pemberton, but the vast majority of activity occurs in the thick forests that surround the area's landmark, the Squamish Chief.
The bouldering potential in this part of the world is vast, and new areas appear regularly. Although the boulders are granite, the rock takes on many different forms depending on where you climb. Squamish granite tends to be smooth and crystalline, and the boulders at the Chief are famous for amazing slopers, desperately small footholds and big, blank features, tailor-made for bouldering. All styles, angles and grades are represented making a truly complete area.
As you move farther north toward Whistler, the granite gets more fractured and less polished by the glaciers. The boulders near Brackendale, Cheakamus Canyon and Whistler tend to be more featured. Crimps become prevalent and the odd pocket rears its tweaky head. The granite at the Green River Bastion near Pemberton takes on a completely different feel once again. Here the grain becomes so fine you'll swear you're on sandstone. Crimping strength becomes mandatory and landings get close to flat.
Squamish is not a one dimensional destination and no travelling boulderer should leave disappointed. Whether you like moderates, test-pieces, roofs, slabs, highballs or lowballs, no climber should be lacking. Come here to test yourself on the granite, but step back every once in awhile to take in the lush, mountain environment. This area is an incredibly beautiful holiday destination.
When do I go?
Squamish is located on the West Coast of Canada and the climate is very mild due to town's location at sea level. Although bouldering is possible year round, certain months are statistically more stable than others and these make the best choices for visiting climbers. July, August and September offer the driest conditions of the year, and are best for planning a trip. Daytime temperatures may reach 30 degrees Celsius in July, but the bouldering occurs under the canopy of an old-growth forest, so conditions remain comfortable. August is a bit cooler, and September is better yet, but the likelihood of precipitation increases as you move toward autumn. In the winter, it can be dumping snow in Whistler for weeks, and Squamish - only 30 minutes to the south - will only receive rain. This is good news for climbers, because it's rare that the boulders are buried by snow. When the sun does shine in the winter, the conditions are the stickiest of the year, however planning a trip at this time is a sure recipe for disaster--off-season bouldering is strictly the domain of entrenched locals. However, if you find yourself in Vancouver or Whistler on other business, it's never a bad idea to pack rock shoes. You just might get lucky...
How do I get there?
Squamish is exactly halfway between West Vancouver and the world-famous ski resort of Whistler, both about 45-minutes distant. The highway that connects these communities is Highway 99 (the Sea to Sky Highway). Vancouver has an international airport (YVR) par excellence. It's a busy gateway and finding good flights is very easy. Upon arrival, reaching Squamish is quite straightforward. Either rent a car at the airport from one of the many agencies (ask for a good Vancouver street map), or use the bus system to complete your journey. Perimeter Coach Lines offers direct service from the airport into Vancouver and on to Squamish and Whistler.
Greyhound offers inexpensive bus services to Squamish from Vancouver, but you'll need to use the commuter trains to travel from the airport to the central station to catch your bus.
Once in Squamish, getting around is easy with a car. The town is small and amenities are easy to find. If arriving by bus, you'll land at the Adventure Centre adjacent to downtown. If you choose to camp, it's a solid twenty-minute hike to the Chief campsite from the Adventure Centre, which will feel even worse with a heavy backpack and crashpad under your arm. The best option is to hire a taxi or use the Squamish transit system (the bus), which is planning to offer summer stops at the Chief this year. Check their website for up-to-date information. If you stay at the Inn on the Water, it's a 2-minute walk from the Adventure Centre to your room and a hot shower.
Where do I stay?
Although it's possible to commute from Vancouver or Whistler each day, the best option is to stay in Squamish where the climbing is always close by and the conditions can be monitored closely. The area is popular with tourists, and a variety of motels, hotels and campsites cater to a wide range of tastes, however two accommodation options seem to work best for visiting climbers: the provincial park campsite at the base of the Chief and the Inn on the Water adjacent to downtown. The campsite is clean with a good social vibe, and is walking distance to the bouldering arena below the Grand Wall. It features a covered cooking pavilion, food storage boxes, drinking water and elevated tent pads, but prepare for pit toilets and no showers (these can purchased at the Brennan Park Recreation Centre). Other campsites in the area have showers, but are more expensive and more distant from the climbing. The Inn on the Water sits on Highway 99 at the entrance to downtown, and is about a 20-minute walk from the boulders at the Chief. The inn offer private rooms, shared rooms, a common kitchen for preparing meals and a lounge for relaxing.
For a full list of accommodation options, visit www.squamish.ca.
The definitive guide to the blocks is Squamish Bouldering, available from Quickdrawpublications.com. This book features detailed directions to over 2,500 boulder problems and contains a hefty assortment of local information and travelling beta.
What's eating out like?
Squamish has a decent assortment of restaurants, ranging from the standard array of North American fast food joints to moderately-priced dining establishments. Most climbers tend to work in the middle range, and look for good food that is not too expensive. A full list of dining options can be found on www.squamish.ca, but local climbers gravitate toward a few key spots. For morning coffee, midday snacks and light dinners, check out the Zephyr Cafe on Cleveland Avenue (the main street). This funky hang is a great place to gather and mingle with the locals before hitting the rocks. For dinner, a couple of ethnic food options stand out: the popular Sushi Sen (no reservations - get there early on weekends) and the Essence of India next door, which serves excellent locally-influenced Indian cuisine. Finally, the Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Company serves as the de facto evening social hub, where a variety of locally-brewed beers and brewpub meals can be consumed in a very West Coast atmosphere.
For high-end dining, Whistler is the place to go. Fabulous chefs will tease your taste buds (and empty your wallets) in a great variety of establishments. Vancouver, home to over one million people of great ethnic diversity, is another excellent option for a meal out or short day trip. Literally hundreds of excellent restaurants lurk in the city's labyrinth of streets and neighbourhoods.
Where can I buy gear and food?
If you need to pick up a guidebook or some gear once in town, three local stores have a good selection of outdoor supplies: Valhalla Pure Outfitters, Climb On and Escape Route. Vancouver is home to the Mountain Equipment Co-op, the best known outdoor gear retailer in Canada. The shopping experience is almost overwhelming, but you'll no doubt find what you need.
Two supermarkets in Squamish sell food: Nesters and Save-on Foods. Save-on has a great bulk food section, always popular with campers and Nesters has a great deli and bakery, perfect for lunches or an after-bouldering treat.
What else is there apart from climbing?
Squamish has been dubbed the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada and there's quite a bit to offer visiting climbers. Popular in summer are the local lakes. Swimming in clear, fresh water is a great way to loosen sore muscles and sooth hot skin. Alice Lake is best for families and Brohm Lake is fun if you like cliff jumping or rope swings. Hiking is a very popular local activity and leaving the area without walking up the Chief at least one would be a crime--the views from the summits are truly spectacular. Many other trails are worthy of mention, but are too numerous for this article. Google Squamish or Whistler hiking to discover more options. Renting a mountain bike is also a great way to spend a day off. The network of trails around Squamish is considered top notch and caters to all abilities. If none of these activities tickle your fancy, try skiing, kite surfing, golfing, kayaking, river rafting, scuba diving or eagle watching. The list goes on and on...
If you wake to the sound of rain pelting your tent fly, don't despair as there's still plenty to do. The local recreation centre has a great pool and hot tub, and is a pleasant way to pass a rainy day. Sip some coffee and then head to the local library, which has free Wi-Fi, individual computer terminals and plenty of DVD rentals. The Grand Wall Bouldering Co-op, Squamish's very own bouldering gym, is the best place for a quick workout, but you need to hook up with a member to visit (ask around). Finally, if you really want to climb, get yourself a rope, a harness and a copy of Squamish Select, and head to Cheakamus Canyon, about 20-minutes to the north. Sport climbs from 5+ to 8c+ lurk under the overhangs and stay dry in light to moderate rain.
The website, www.squamish.ca, is the go-to location for tourist information and the Adventure Centre, at the corner of Highway 99 and Loggers Lane, has an excellent tourist desk to help you once in town.
Quickdrawpublications.com posts bouldering updates and new route topos, and the forums on Squamishclimbing.com are a great place to watch local debates, read about new climbing activity and find partners.
If you want to take a course or check out a famous multi-pitch on the Chief, try Squamishrockguides.com, a popular local guiding outfit.
Squamish Bouldering Guidebook
The second edition of Squamish Bouldering features over 2,500 problems and is packed full of colour maps and photographs. This book documents bouldering in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton, and provides comprehensive information for planning a trip to the area. For bouldering in Squamish, this is the definitive guide.