Squamish is the rock climbing capital of Canada. In no other Canadian town do you live mere minutes from so much good climbing. But before global warming and the indoor gym opened, any climbing fanatic would consider mid-winter spent in Southwest British Columbia a bit of a jail term. A dedicated climber will find a lifetime’s worth of world-class winter climbing east of the Columbia Divide, but further west it’s wiser to invest your winter stoke in snow sports over climbing.
The potential always exists for ice in Southwest BC, but rarely does it stay cold for long enough to form. Squamish has the vertical terrain, and it certainly has the moisture available for ice, but its sea-level elevation at the head of a Pacific Ocean fjord keeps the climate mostly mild through the winter. Any potential for higher-elevation ice is usually buried by the deep coastal snow fall and constant stormy weather. However, a prolonged cold-snap caused by an arctic outflow will wreak havoc on the skiing but will create excitement among the dedicated coastal winter climbers, if only for a week or two!
Blue, grey and yellow icicles pop in stark contrast to the dark green jungle of the rainforest. Climbing ice in Squamish is a visual sensation. One is fully aware of the rarity of rainforest ice. When it forms it’s usually of high quality. It’s a gift to be cherished. It’s also highly motivating, given the short window of opportunity to climb ice here. This winter has been a banner year, maybe the best in recent memory. Some amazing first ascents have occurred and many of the established classics saw regular traffic.
Now that most of the climbs have melted, at least for this round, I can reflect on what was probably the most magic day of the season for us. When I talked to Paul McSorley about climbing something, I knew exactly what he had in mind. He and the boys had their eyes on an unlikely series of frozen ice runnels and cascades, a multi-pitch ice line running the height of the Chief in the vicinity of the summer rock climbs Upper Echelon and Ultimate Everything. The upper pitches looked awesome from town, but the rest, who knew? With the usual suspects Jia Condon and Tony Richardson, we met McSorley in the Chief parking lot before dawn. Bumbling around on the snowy approach in the dark like only four local guides could manage, we accessed Broadway Ledge and the start of our climb.
The line revealed itself to us pitch-by-pitch. Thin cascades of ice and narrow, Chamonix-style goulottes characterized the route. Remarkably well protected, the ice on every pitch was thick enough periodically to accept screws for protection. Each pitch would be climbed entirely on ice, with just a little bit of frozen turf and R/X-rated climbing. When we topped out in the early afternoon we knew we had experienced a very special thing. An amazing an unlikely ice climb to a classic summit, with an ocean view. It was Jia that came up with the name for our route, fitting too for just how improbable and enjoyable the experience was:
“That was like, the ultimate, Ultimate Everything!” And it stuck.
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