Conquering Craggy Cliffs

Friday, June 16, 2017 - By: Hannah R, Mackenzie ‘17

Projecting a wash of evening light onto sheer cliffs faces, the sun dipped below spruce trees as a Brentwood bus pulled into the Paradise Valley Campground in Squamish, BC. Squamish is a world-class outdoor rock climbing destination, boasting all levels of routes from beginners’ climbs to multi-pitch challenges for experts. And the best part is that Brentwood’s Outdoor Pursuits students get the opportunity to climb there.

Jovial, as always, ten ODP students set up tents, sat around the fire, snacked, and played guitars and sang until bedtime.

Few days find Squamish’s popular climbing sites as packed as a weekend in June (and it can get awfully hot halfway up a rock face in direct sunlight), so we had to get an early start the next day. Area 44, as the cliff we spent Saturday at is named, is perfect for a group because its climbs are a range of difficulties. After the hike in, a crash course in anchor making allowed a few experienced students to assist the leaders in setting ropes, while the others got ready to climb.

By virtue of Squamish’s mountain location, we heard – for the first time, for many people – wolves howling while we were at the crag (or so I’m told – I was halfway up the hardest route I climbed that day and didn’t hear a thing through my concentration… we’ll take their word for it).

The range of difficulty available allowed everyone to challenge him or herself and by mid afternoon, hot and tired, we headed to the lake to cool off before returning to our campsite. As a large percentage of ODP students this term are also in the music program (plus, of course, Mr. Norman and Ms. Olszewski, who always have a song ready), the previous night’s music making was repeated. Once card games had been played and – probably too many – s’mores eaten, we put our campsite and tired selves to bed, falling asleep almost instantly.

If Saturday was a jog, Sunday was a marathon: Area 44 is primarily face climbs, but the cliffs we spent Sunday at are all crack and slab. When using climber jargon, “face” can be translated to “there will, for the most part, be handholds and places to step”; “crack” means wedging your toes into fissures in the rock and stepping on them (it hurts, but it works); “slab” means the holds are microscopic crystals and you wish you had the sticky fingers of a frog.

Although it was undoubtedly tougher, Sunday’s climbs provided a good chance to increase skill levels in different styles of outdoor climbing. Having the experienced coaches we do helped enormously, as they were always willing to give direction or guide a student to find the next foothold. Well, except on those occasions when “up” was the facetious response to Raeanna W,’s plea: “Where do I go now?”

Singing, laughing, and content, we rode back over the beautiful Sea To Sky Highway to catch the ferry home.

Climbing is a full-body sport – arms, legs, core, fingers – which requires a lot of grit, but we still had enough energy to play a lively game of Spoons on the ferry and brainpower to solve riddles on the bus.

For the last three years, the Squamish trip has been a highlight of my season in ODP; I would like to thank the people who make the trip possible this time around: Ms. Olszewski, Mr. Norman, Mr. Miller, and Sebastian, our external guide. The effort you all put in to making such great experiences possible is much appreciated!

Hannah R, Mackenzie ‘17

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