Sunday, July 14, 2013

High on the Mighty Chief: 1 of 3

The Chief, reputedly the second largest hunk of granite on the planet, stares down on the town of Squamish with a continual, hulking presence like a giant powerful god. In worshipful obeisance, townspeople and visitors clamber over this immense rock, striving to reach the Nirvana of its three peaks. Many hike the trails to the top, but the truly faithful take ropes and assail the vertical front walls. Rock climbing has become an obsession in Squamish. And the mighty Chief offers one of the best challenges in the world.

Checking into the Howe Sound Brewery and Inn, a hangout for local climbers, I quickly fell under the spell of the Chief. John Furneaux, one of Canada’s top mountain guides, who has scaled Mount Everest three times, explained how the magic captured him. “I grew up in Newfoundland, but from the age of 12 the Chief and surrounding mountains called to me. At 15, I hitchhiked across the country and then spent five years becoming a guide. It’s the best thing I could ever have done. I love this life.” As we scrambled over the rough terrain at the base of the Chief, John pointed out various routes. We watched climbers like ants hanging precariously high on the sheer walls.
Next morning I went for a climb with a friendly mutt named Suzie. We both clambered into harnesses and roped up at Smoke Bluffs in a Squamish suburb under the watchful eye of Crosby Johnston of Altus Mountain Guides. Without hesitation, Suzie jumped onto Crosby’s back, who then gracefully ascended up a near-vertical cliff called Neat and Cool. A total novice, I followed with painstaking ineptitude, jamming my fingers into cracks, scraping my knees and clinging desperately to anything resembling a hold. But I made it. What a high! I was a convert!
The popularity of climbing was demonstrated by six girls, one only 10 years old, from the
Rock Wall Climbing Gym in Vancouver. They hiked past carrying ropes and helmets, resolutely eyeing the higher pitches.

Matt Lucas, a powerfully built man in his thirties, has been key to establishing a climbing gym co-operative in Squamish and also runs a tea shop (his favourite tea: single-estate Assam). Matt explained that bouldering has become immensely popular in the past decade. “It requires less equipment than climbing and boulders abound at the base of the Chief. I love the fun and the comradery.”

Later at the pub, I sipped a Devils Elbow IPA, swapped yarns and couldn’t wait to get roped up again.

Wanna Get Roped Up?
- Meet John Furneaux:
- Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company:
- Altus Mountain Guides:
- More Info:

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