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Caroline George Rediscovers Classic Canadian Rock in Squamish on Written in Stone
Posted on August 7, 2014

Caroline George climbing in Squamish-7

When Eddie Bauer guide and Chamonix resident Caroline George headed for our summer guide meeting on America’s west coast she saw an opportunity. Rather than fly direct to Seattle only to land jetlagged in three days of product meetings, George extended her solo stay to include a pre-diversion to the towering granite faces of Squamish, BC. In typical CG form, she squeezed in a 3,000-vertical-foot hike/run up Sea to Sky trail, a morning BC-style yoga class, a crushing session at the Pet Wall and then—with friend and fellow guide Jasmin Caton—one of the first repeats of Written In Stone, a new 5.11d route on the Prow Wall—all before she dropped into our product meetings. This is her trip report. —LYA Editor

Caroline George climbing in Squamish-1

Words and Images by Caroline George

What defines home for me is the outdoor activities, the sense of community and the access to healthy food. Squamish meets all these criteria. So it was no surprise that upon landing in Vancouver, I felt like I was going home. I hadn’t been to Squamish in a few years, but it just felt natural to drive in that direction.

I had first been to Squamish with my parents when I was 16 years old. At that time, climbing was hardly on my radar, though the seed my parents had planted in me as a kid was slowly starting to bloom. We had flown to Seattle to travel around the Pacific Northwest. I have such fond memories of that trip: feeding Skippy peanut butter to chipmunks in the campgrounds, horses coming to dance with us around our tents, getting a feel for alpine climbing on the Beckey Route at Washington Pass, visiting Leavenworth and climbing the ultra-classic Outer Space followed by my first Mexican salad, getting schooled in Index, as one should, sinking our hands in splitter cracks in Vantage, enduring the heat in Smith Rock, and driving across the U.S.-Canadian border to climb more quality rock, the view over the bay, the quick access to the climbs–an important criterion when sport is your sworn enemy, the walk-offs in the lush green forests—all gave climbing such an exotic feel. I remember leaning against the car and bonding with my dad by looking at routes on the newly-bought guidebook, dressed up in a gray cotton cut-off pair of shorts, a white t-shirt and a bandana that I used as sun protection on my head. I was starting to grasp what had until now felt like overwhelmingly strong family mountain values.

We had always spent our holidays traveling to climbing destinations, and I had always felt like the ugly duckling in the family: everyone was so fit; my brother was 5 years older than me, which meant that he was able to keep up with my parents when I couldn’t; and I often felt like I slowed them down, which in turn, made me all the more reluctant to climb. But that summer, something clicked: I was 16, I was trying to find my way in life, I was trying to forge my identity: Who did I want to be in the eyes of my friends and family, and well, in my own eyes? So resistance to climbing was slowly replaced by the need to belong. I read guidebooks with a curiosity that surprised even me. A few months later, I tried to climb the Matterhorn in the late fall with my brother. There was too much snow and we failed, but I came home reading all the guidebooks in the house (and there were many). A friend of ours commented that I was in deep trouble, seeing me consuming the pages of these books. More than trouble—passion was indeed brewing.

I returned to Squamish in 2008 and 2009 between guiding trips up Mount Rainier. It was all I had remembered it to be. I climbed a lot of the classic routes during that time, including the Grand Wall twice; Freeway, a beautiful and sustained 5.11 route; and many other classics. Each time I was impressed by the rock quality, the demanding slab style, the perfect cracks and, somehow, it always felt like a very complete adventure. The climbs all have ledges with names that seem to make so much sense to locals, but sound like such a destination in itself for newcomers. I still loved climbing with the view of the bay. I still loved that climbing adventures were only a few minutes away from the car, with beautiful descents along steep and polished rocks and trees. And I loved the sense of climbing community that exuded from this place. I was lucky enough to stay with friends who are also local guides and could provide me with great beta and immersion within this community that I soon wanted to be a part of.

Squamish is so far away from where I live these days. But with a product development meeting in sight at Eddie Bauer’s headquarters in Bellevue, WA, it seemed like a great opportunity to actually make it back there. The previous two meetings I had attended were when my daughter Olivia was very little, and I was pumping milk and couldn’t be away from her for more than 3-4 days. So the round-trips from Geneva to Seattle and back were basically sitting on a plane and, while jet-lagged, sitting in meetings before flying home to feel even more jet-lagged. I emailed my Squamish friends, Evan Stevens and Jasmin Caton—two mountain guides—to see if they would be able to climb with me during the time before my meetings, and luckily they were. I booked the tickets and was soon standing below the Chief! I was back in Squamish! With only a few days to myself, I made sure to fill my schedule to the brink.  Two hours after having landed in Vancouver, I was running up the steep Sea to Sky Trail to the top of the brand-new gondola of the same name, a 3000-ft hike/run with sections of fixed ropes, stairs, and high rock steps through a beautifully lush forest. The view didn’t disappoint either: from the top of the gondola, where people were enjoying drinks since the lift is open to 9PM on the weekends in the summer, the view stretches over the bay below and westward to the summit of the Chief and further on to the Tantalus Range. I rode the lift down and enjoyed a full night of sleep despite jet lag.

The following morning, I took one of the best yoga classes I have ever experienced in one of the many yoga studios in town, before meeting up with my friends Evan and Jasmin to go rock climbing. The climbing in Squamish is so diverse: from world-class bouldering, to hard and runout vertical and technical sport climbing at the Murrin Park, to single-pitch trad routes, to long, adventurous, multi-pitch granite climbs that (in my book) are on par with Yosemite walls. After a big session at the Pet Wall, we had delicious locally grown food—a good recipe to beat jet lag! The following day, we had a Squamish alpine start, in other words, left the house by 9:30 a.m. to go venture on a new route, Written in Stone, that had been put up only a few days before and had seen less than a handful of ascents since the first ascensionists, Colin Moorhead and Andre Ike, had established it. The route is way high up, on the Prow Wall, and requires climbing a moderate route up the Apron to get to the bottom of the climb proper. So after 7-8 pitches of climbing, followed by some wandering through the lush forest, we made it to the base of this very steep wall, home to numerous burly routes.

This route is rated 5.11d maximum but was expected to be a little sandbagged. I was happy to belay Jasmin up this increasingly difficult route, ranging from 5.10c to 5.11d. It was inspiring to watch her push herself above sometimes marginal thin gear, and at times flaky rock that would crumble under your feet, because the route hadn’t seen enough traffic yet for the surface brittleness to be cleaned off. I was so grateful to be up there with her…how often do you get to fly in, and do one of the first repeats of a route that is sure to become one of the classic lines in Squamish? By the time we got home, Evan was cooking us a delicious pad thai. I only had half a day left in Squamish, so the following morning I got up early to attend a yoga class and ran one more time to the top of the gondola, despite feeling quite worked from the climb and from jet lag. But I wanted to spend my time in Squamish as much as I could, as you never know when you might be back.

I didn’t have time to indulge in all the outdoor activities that you can do in Squamish: biking is huge and so is bouldering, kite-surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, fishing, and the new gondola just opened up a whole new domain for hiking and alpine climbing. And not too far off up the coast is the world-class ski resort of Whistler. This place has it all! I kept thinking how much Olivia would have loved it here, with all the little lakes around and the beautiful playgrounds for children. After one last green smoothie from the Zephyr Café in downtown Squamish, I got back in the car and started driving south to Seattle. I looked back in the review mirror, waving to the Chief one last time, but vowing to be back for more, but next time, with my little one in tow.

 Follow the climbing missions and world migrations of the Eddie Bauer guide and athlete team—including Caroline George—daily on our Instagram and Twitter feeds.

Author: - Thursday, August 7th, 2014

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