Overview: Rock climbing in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada
Not only does Squamish have some of the best rock climbing around, but it is also known as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada. In between Vancouver and Whistler on the beautiful Sea to Sky Highway, Squamish is nestled right between the mouth of a turquoise blue fjord and the stunning granite walls of the Stawamus Chief that tower over the town before fading into evergreen-covered mountains. If you can look upon the Chief for the first time without it taking your breath away, you might need to check your pulse.
The environment is one of a kind. Go from bouldering in a prehistorical forest where the slugs are as big as your hand and the moss reclaims un-trafficked boulder problems quickly to scaling above it all on massive granite walls home to some of the best corner shimmying and finger crack climbing to be found. Then, to top off your day, try your hand at windsurfing on the beautiful fjord you overlooked your whole climb. Only in Squamish.
Don’t get tricked by the Chief’s beauty into only climbing there, however. Outlying areas, like Paradise Valley and Cheakamus Canyon, have just as much to offer, even if they don’t have quite the awe and grandeur of the “Grand Wall.”
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The climbing is all super accessible, as well. Most of the bouldering is reachable via no more than a 15-minute approach and the sport climbing takes only marginally longer. With over 3,000 boulder problems spread across 7 main areas (Murrin Park, Grand Wall, Apron Boulders, North Wall, Smoke Bluffs, and Paradise Valley), over 700 sport routes across five regions, and an endless amount of trad pitches to be had, Squamish has been a world-class climbing destination for years.
Its popularity is only growing, which has actually led to some problems and tensions between climbers and the non-climbing locals. Due to its close proximity to Whistler and outstanding scenery in its own right, Squamish has seen an upsurge of gentrification over the last decade. A trend that tends not to mesh well with an equally growing dirtbag community.
If you’re a climber, don’t expect the locals to be super friendly. No matter, though, because the Chief ranger will be as welcoming as if you were family. Since the climbing community is a conglomeration of people from all over the world, everyone is extraordinarily friendly and ready to swap stories about where they’re from.
While the conditions can be fickle for the featureless granite, and hard projecting a bit of a fruitless endeavor, Squamish is a one-of-a-kind designation that needs to be on any climber’s list.
Specific description of Squamish rock climbing style
Squamish has a bit of everything! While the multi-pitch trad climbs up the massive walls of the Chief that loom over the town itself is undoubtedly the biggest draw to the area, the bouldering scene has grown over the last two decades or so as well (basically since it’s birth in 1996!). Some world-class problems lie in wait there!
Squamish sport climbing is probably the least prolific of the disciplines but even that’s not saying much, as there are over 700 listed routes in Volume 2 of Nic Vissers and Kevin McLane’s guidebook.
Best season to rock climb in Squamish
To say that Squamish has a good season is a bit misleading. Squamish has good days, and you pretty much have to be a local to catch them.
However, since most of us aren’t so lucky, late summer and early fall is generally considered the most bearable time to climb in Squamish, when the heat is lower and the humidity is at least marginally below 100%. The optimal time is August-mid September, after the bugs leave but before the rains come. Some areas, like the North Walls, will still be a little buggy so bring a mosquito coil or wear bug spray.
Squamish can yield some particularly excellent days in the winter if you can time them between the near-constant rains.
Climbing grade range
For bouldering, Squamish has everything from V0 to V14, but the best concentrations are at the V4, V8, and V10 grades.
For sport, 5.2 to 5.14d; the highest percentage lies in the 5.10b to 5.11b range, though Squamish also has a large selection of hard hard sport compared to many other crags.
As for trad, Squamish again has a huge range of grades scattered across everything from single pitch routes to multi-pitch ones.
How stiff is the grading?
For those unused to wrestling their way up slimy granite slopers, Squamish rock climbing will feel hard. It’s a very physical style of climbing and so much of it (even the lower grades) is just so condition dependent. Whether or not that V4 feels like V4 or V8 just depends on whether you’re trying in 40% humidity or 80%.
Get used to obsessively watching the humidity forecast and try not to take it as a personal slight to your climbing ability if you blow off a 5.10 because the holds just feel like grease. Because conditions are so rarely optimal, the grading feels stiff most of the time.
For bouldering specifically, the large amount of terrifying “no fall zone” highballs makes everything seem pretty stiff as well.
Top rock climbs in Squamish
For the first time Squamish boulderer, the Top 100 and Top Highball lists in Marc Bourdon’s tome of a guidebook is a good place to start. However, many have been placed on this list in the hopes of encouraging people to lesser trafficked areas, so don’t think just because a climb isn’t on the Top 100, that it isn’t as good as others that are.
- Crackhead (V3): An absolutely flawless roof crack that’s pretty much unheard of in Squamish bouldering that finishes by squeezing up a perfect horn. Stout and powerful!
- Trad Killer (V4): All the best Squamish has to offer in one climb: delicate heel hooks, slapping at slopers, and intricate, balance moves. Truly fun and well deserving of its Top 100 spot.
- Swank Stretch (V5): Interesting movement that takes from a sit start of a blocky jug, up a sharp crack, into a powerful throw to a fun heel hook/mantle top out.
- Resurrection (V9): As part of the often overlook North Wall boulders, this Top Highball should be on more people’s list. A powerful crimp line with some committing moves up high; but the landing is perfectly flat!
- No Troublems (V10): One of Squamish’s most popular V10s and one with a highly contested grade. While steep and powerful, some say it’s very soft, but stellar either way!
- Straight Out Squampton (V10): Name aside, this Top Highball courtesy of maniac Jason Kehl is not for the faint of heart. With a crux lunge for the lip VERY high above a bad landing, it gets two spooky symbols in the guidebook.
- The Egg (V11): Classic Squamish sloper slapping, but with a strangely technical twist. It is said that if you climb the grade, you have to at least try this problem (though the send may heavily depend on conditions).
- Black Magic (V13): Located in the heart of Gibb’s Cave (quite possible one of the coolest looking boulders in all of Squamish… and that’s saying a lot!), this puppy boulder problem is more like a sport climb than anything. It climbs from the very pit of the cave, out a steep and sustained 45 degree roof.
- The Singularity (V14): Try your hand at the climb that has shut down pro after pro and took over a decade to see a second ascent. Even if you don’t feel like pulling insanely hard, if nothing else, “the room” it’s located in between the parts of the massive Cacodemon rock is well worth the experience to see.
- Young Blood (5.13b): Right in the middle of the Grand Wall bouldering sits the impressively massive Cacodemon boulder. This equally impressive route climbs the powerful, steep roof into a technical granite face. Clean falls, good fun.
- Spirit of the West (5.14a): A somewhat recent addition to the Squamish sport select, definitely head out to Paradise Valley if you climb hard. It’s an astonishing line with the perfect 11a warmup opening right into the first crux and a series of fluid cross-moved.
- Dreamcatcher (5.14d): THE famous sport route of Squamish (thanks Chris Sharma!). You’ve no doubt seen it featured in Dosage Volume 9. It starts in the Cacodemon’s inner amphitheater (looming above The Singularity) with a V9 slap and traverses diagonally along a sloping rail, into a thin crack, and up the final bulging face. Literally something of every climbing style!
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- The World’s Toughest Milkman (5.8): Some call it the best 5.8 anywhere. Only one pitch but ascends up an overhang van huge flakes.
- Squamish Buttress (5.9): A Fred Beckey classic 6-pitch line up blocky corners and some beautiful dihedral stemming.
- Rock On (5.10a): 5 pitches of good fun up clean corners and a stiff flaring crack near the top.
- Exasperater (5.10c): A traversing finger crack requiring no less than 20 finger locks. It’s been known to inspire entire trad careers.
- Grand Wall (5.11a A0): Widely regarded as THE multi-pitch route to do in Squamish, this 9-pitch beauty up the Grand Wall has a little something for everyone: runout slab, well-protected cracks, strenuous lay-backing, and delicate vertical face climbing. It’s been freed at 5.13b.
- Cobra Crack (5.14): Called the hardest crack in the world, this beast has been known to captivate crack climbing greats like Pete Whitaker and Sonnie Trotter. If you’re a crackhead, at least give it a look!
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Best local spot
Zephyr is a climber owned coffee shop right in the heart of downtown Squamish with great roasts and a laid back environment. On rainy days, go early in order to snag a table before the other climbers take them.
For a post-bouldering brew and burrito, stop by Mag’s 99 Mexican Street Party. Located right by the highway on the way between town and the Chief, you can’t miss this place between its bright-colored paint job and giant billboard that reads “Fried Chicken Mexican.” Need we say more?
Where to stay around Squamish?
Stawamus Chief Provincial Park Campground: For close and immediate access to the best of the climbing, camp here right in the shadow of the Chief. It’s $20 per night but there are only 18 drive-in sites and 57 walk-in tent sites. It’s usually full in the summer.
Squamish Adventure Inn: Somewhere between a hotel and a hostel, pay anywhere from $14 to $50 per night (depending on the season) for a nice, laid back atmosphere. They also offer gear rentals for things to do on your rest days.
Squamish Oasis Hostel: A small cash-only hostel with only 4 bunks for men and 4 for women. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, this is the place. They even have a meditation area.
Wild Camping / Vanlife: While still the most popular method for climbers to live in Squamish, it’s become increasingly difficult over recent years at the town has become more gentrified. Vehicle dwelling is strictly prohibited in the limits of Squamish itself and local van-lifers have even had their vans vandalized (pardon the pun) with corrosive acid in some residential neighborhoods.
Additionally, there is no overnight parking in any of the Grand Wall or Apron parking lots.
The best places to park your van overnight are on either side of town. If you’re looking to camp closer to the Chief, head up Mamquam FSR, the dirt road that goes beyond the Apron parking lot. There are several pull-outs along this road where you can park and camp, though the road is very dusty.
A little more quiet and discrete, head north of Squamish back along the Sea to Sky toward Whistler. There are a few pullouts along Squamish Valley Road) on the way to Paradise Valley if you’re climbing there), and then plenty more overnight parking farther up in Cheakamus Canyon. Take the Cat Lake exit and you’ll find a wide gravel lot right off the highway. Keep going up the bumpy dirt road for more parking.
Best kept secret
The Brennan Park Rec Center is a beloved resource for climbers. Find drinking water, free wifi, free ping pong and foosball tables, and even a couch that’s only slightly less comfortable than crash pads.
This is also the best local option for a shower. While you can’t buy just a shower, you can pay a measly fee for access to the swimming pool, hot tub, and steam room, which grants you access to the showers as well. It’s $5.95 CAD for a day pass for $4.95 CAD with a student ID. No matter, $3-$4 for a dip in the hot tub and a hot shower is well worth the price of admission!
Other Squamish area beta
Gear Stores: Squamish has two main climbing gear stores to pick up any last-minute things you might need: Valhalla Pure Outfitters and Climb On. The latter is the more popular, dirtbag climber-esque shop with a free-to-use laptop and a used gear consignment area in the back. You can never have too many E9 pants!
Climbing Gym: The Grand Wall Bouldering Co-op may not look like much, but if you get rained out for five days straight, it’s a great option to get moving and keep those climbing muscles in shape. It costs $15 for day access.
Now to you
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