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December 19, 2019

World : Squamish, British Columbia


I'd created a lot of hype for our summer trip to Squamish, melded from a mix of anecdotes, photographs, and my own acquired love of long summer days of climbing.  When the forecast flashed a row of raindrops for the week, I held onto this hype, convinced that our experience would match my vision.  And maybe it was a tiny bit of this mindset that made it true, but really it's that Squamish is so special. 

The Place


Squamish is a small town an hour north of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada.  Sitting at the northern end of the Howe Sound, it's overlooked by the Stawamus Chief.  The Chief is a 2300 foot granite monolith, and is the reason that people describe Squamish as the Yosemite of Canada.  The sound shines blue-green, and the rain creates a lush forest green that reflects off the gray days as strongly as sunny ones. The rain punctuated our days: a strong storm placing a definitive period to end our climbing; scattered ellipses that let us climb during the gaps; a day where a comma separated our rainy afternoon in Vancouver and our ecstatic climbing in the dry evening (the reverse of Nabokov's "picnic, lightning"); and semi-colon stretches of dryness that let us climb all light long.  The times the rain forced us away from direct contact with rock were some of my very favorites of the trip, especially the runs.  Once, we ran in the rain. As four of us ran side by side, someone commented that we could be a commercial for tourism in Squamish. You know those ads that show a huge truck revving up in mud, spraying splatters of brown against greenery and amidst rocks?  That's how it felt, like we were the truck with slickly gritty wheels paying no mind to the water coming down, or at least I pretended we had this power as I huffed slowly up hills.  The Chief loomed over our trail in the distance, and I felt its haven in a way that maybe I can't when we are climbing on it.  Once, we ran after it had rained the night before.  This eight mile trail run in Alice Lake Park was one of my favorite runs of my life.  The ground was damp but not muddy, the perfect soft texture that made me aware of the surface and able to skim over it at the same time.  The air was quiet and fresh from rain, and the lakes were glassy, and I was grateful to G for his capacity for parallel play.  And once, we hiked to the top of the Chief, ascending steep stairs and slippery slab, to shroud ourselves in an opaque mist obscuring views of the sound. It's interesting to experience one mountain in so many different ways.

The Climbing


Even though water permeated our experience, we were able to climb every day except for one and by the end of nine days my body was fairly (totally) wrecked. The weather forced us to slowly acclimate to the rock, which was good for balancing my various physical tweaks with my desire to go hard right away.  My absolute favorite thing was that the accessibility and variety of climmbing meant that on one day, we could climb six pitches of trad until early afternoon, then project hard sport until early evening (that day also ended with particularly delicious pizza and beer, so I was pretty much bursting at the seams with fulfillment).  The first day that we attempted a multi-pitch climb, I became irrationally spooked by wet granite, having some PTSD from my previous injury. If I've learned anything from getting older, it's that memories linger so much longer and in so many more crevices than I can anticipate. I told myself it was okay to just follow instead of lead that day, which was a tough decision for me to make in the moment. But it meant that we climbed a route harder than we initially had chosen, and the safety of following helped me focus on technique (instead of how to avoid falling at all cost). It's really humbling and in some ways freeing to suck so much at crack climbing, such that every little bit of progress feels like infinitely more than before.  This experience also prepared me to later swap leads on two more multi-pitch climbs, including a couple pitches that felt at my limit but comfortable now that I was in a better mindspace.  It was the first time I led 5.8 since falling on 5.8 in Yosemite, so it was a big mental milestone for me. Besides that, I felt so lucky to scale a small piece of this massive rock, and to see the sound from above, stretching away and toward us.  

The sport climbing also presented some mental challenges, from mantling on wet rock to awkward starts to stamina intensive routes. While much of Squamish's beauty feels naturally given, the climbing didn't feel that way.  It was hard, loving work and it felt luxurious to have the time to return to projects, and to work on routes together as a group.  While these difficulties are a huge part of what I love most about the sport, one of my favorite experiences was an easy climb we did over the Cheakamus River.  We climbed it less for the actual climbing and more for the environment it took us to, because this is what it looked like:

The Food
We alternated cooking at home with eating out, and the diversity of the food and the company made nighttime an especially memorable time for me. Because people were coming and going throughout the week, the dinners ranged from big group barbecues to quiet cozy gatherings.  We consumed so much good: grilled veggies and corn bathed in buttery green onions, cheap Indian food, real fruit (berries) ice cream, IPAs so good even G liked them, a mediocre taco truck that we enjoyed by extolling its mediocrity, and our staple black bean soup.  I don't love cooking when at home, partly because I don't enjoy the experience enough to appreciate it outside of functionality; I generally enjoy it best when cooking with other people, so I value vacation for that opportunity.  I also treasured the warmth of delicious vegetarian dim sum on our rainy day in Vancouver, and felt so welcome by the ample choices for Asian food, vegetarian food, and vegetarian Asian food.  

The People


I loved Squamish most for the feeling of having the community of home despite being away on vacation.  Our friend Kai hosted us for a few days, and he was so generous in every possible way: purchasing new towels for us, cooking dinner for us (he's the genius behind the green onion corn), lending us guidebooks, showing us around all the climbing areas.  It was fitting to spend our first and last day climbing with him.  Because summer in Squamish draws a lot of people, friends came and went through the week.  I felt so lucky to have quality time with each of them individually and also quality time as a group where people from different parts of my life were able to connect (one of my very favorite things). It was special to have a morning of climbing with the person who I started climbing outdoors with, that bond of being there from the beginning always growing stronger.  It was the first time I'd climbed outside with two friends who I climb with regularly indoors, and this lent itself to a deeper relationship by way of extended time and expanded environment.  It was an unexpected treat to connect with a friend for whom climbing is a relatively new passion and to be a part of that discovery, and to make a new friend through him.  And some of my favorite times were solo time with G, climbing multi-pitch and running and having coffee. His easy acceptance of me in any form I take makes it easy to submit to the ups and downs of climbing, which is the challenge and overwhelming joy of it.


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