The east face of Snowpatch Spire has become one of north Americas premiere free climbing big walls.
With a concentration of routes similar to Longs Peak, the Gand Capucin or the north wall is Squamish. The sustained steepness of the wall and the technical difficulty, give the east face a hallowed place at the alter of trade climbing and has become a pilgrimage for the few devote disciples.
The rise to distinction of this dark monolith is primarily do to the tireless efforts of the “locals”; the climbers and route developers that make the commitment to either live in the park or commute back and forth from their life outside. This crew of inspired and motivated individuals has made it their ambition to develop the modern free climbing potential on the east face.
Often starting their efforts in alpine style, bottom to top, cleaning and bolting as they go; similar to the original ascents. Sometimes freeing the routes in their entirety on the first go but often returning over a period of years , always aiming for the cleanest style, a continuous free ascent.
This is where the infamous, sometimes scandalous and mostly blue-collar tactics used by the Sqaumish locals has been adopted; a technique of route development mastered by climbers who have ADHD, OCD or a PhD. The routes are cleaned meticulously from either the bottom-up or top-down.
Bolted anchors are common place, but protection bolts are scrutinized; always debating about how to create the perfect balance between free climbing and sketch factor, not too much spice or fear otherwise it won’t get repeated but not too boring so that the adventure and thrill is quickly forgotten.
During the summer of 2013, I returned to the Bugaboos to join the locals in this gold rush, having climbed a half dozen routes on the face already, I knew why they were repeatedly putting there toil and labour into the wall. That season I wasn’t expecting to get to the top or finish the job, as I knew it would be a multi year endeavour, but I was excited to see what lines we could connect and potentially uncover my own masterpiece! Chris Geisler was also keen, after a 10 year hiatus from the Bugaboos, he was open to anything; as well, he didn’t have any illusions that by participating in such a thankless labour there would be any distinction or summits.
The first year we established six pitches, enduring marginal weather, mud from our eyeballs to ass-holes and knuckles swollen and beaten from the relentless digging and hand drilling. During this first couple hours climbing with Chris; after he had stepped off the glacier, over the 10 metre moat and directly onto a expanding flake which led into a blank face, I discovered several of his affable qualities. First his school boy enthusiasm for exploring the improbable and unlikely and second his deep reserves of patience and resourcefulness when faced with crisis. He had dead-ended only 20 metres above the glacier while hooking on a edge with his nut tool, he wanted to drill a bolt to continue to free climb but needed another nut tool to stabilize his stance. I graciously sent him mine and craned my neck and tightened my ass as he spent 30 minutes tapping away.
That first year on the wall we free climbed infrequently and often revelled in the absurdness of the endeavour but eventually like a mother oblivious to the repugnant disfiguration of their child, we started to coo the vision of perfection that was ‘our route’ and the free climbing potential for future attempts. This is how I convinced Simon to pick up the sickle and toil for the greater good the following year. Simon Meis, a Bow Valley local and master route developer in his own right but primarily interested in the pursuit of climbing on overhanging limestone; is a loyal and unwavering friend and therefor easily convincible. Even if his intuition tells him to steer clear of my adventures, his loyalty holds firm.
The five days spent scrubbing and scrapping our way up the wall was akin to a manual labour camp, except that this was our vacation! Every morning we would shoulder our packs, like Sysphus his rock, unpack our dirt ridden gear at the glaciers edge, decorate our harnesses with garden and climbing tools and attempt to push the line higher. As the days went on, the task of completing the route seemed more distant then ever before. Mostly because the mud from above continued to pile up below, but also because at every belay a new option or crack presented itself. We were like married men just discovering the internet, options abounded. But every distraction pushed the summit a little further.
When it came time to focus on the true prize, we enlisted the infallible Crosby Johnston, freshly recovered from a week of guiding and excited to see first hand what we had been cooing about all week. We climbed the route to our high point, selecting the finest of the options and pushing towards a steep headwall below the summit. A headwall with a single splitter. The perfect line and the complete free ascent had been baited, hooked and reeled in. Unfortunately, the line snapped and the winning prize got away. We summited, beaten but in good spirits, knowing that sometimes even a man with options goes home empty handed.
Snowpatch Spire East Face, 5.12, A0 11 pitches
FA Chris Geisler, Crosby Johnston, Joshua Lavigne, Simon Meis