This is about my first time rockclimbing and subsequent camp in Squamish; the climb was at Smoke Bluffs and the beach was somewhere along the Squamish Valley Road at a faraway beach campsite.
Rockclimbing, or A Different Kind of Rush or I Fucking Hate Rock or Car Camping are all appropriate names of this entry. It was my first time rockclimbing, and car camping, too. Having not much leads on my main areas of adrenaline interest, I didn’t think twice signing up for the 60 person beginner to advanced rock climbing trip. I was a little disappointed about car camping, but that was as far as my concern went.
In fact, I didn’t even bother to write a pre-trip, and also, I packed in the morning, meaning I arrived on scene without my sleeping bag. The extra volume that my borrowed climbing gear had taken up in my bag had apparently also taken up space in my limited mind. That didn’t concern me either. “It’s May,” I said. ” And I’ve slept in colder with a sleeping bag that was basically useless.” Still, when the night came, I gratefully accepted donations of clothing from my awesome tent mate. It definitely saved me from half of my body being cold all night. However, 9~ degrees is plenty warm enough to sleep without a sleeping bag, although you should layer up. Some slept in a sleeping bag but without a tent so they would have stars imprinted on their eyes.
What had I expected out of the trip? Nothing really. Socializing, a good sleep after a tiring day. There were several familiar faces from previous trips and those that weren’t soon became familiar. I learned of the club famous stoke master whose main job was maintaining pure stoke. My car mates, one of which I had been on a trip with before. Cooking mates, people whose faces were familiar but I had never talked to earlier. My climbing mates, some of which I knew from previous trips, and first years who were inspiring in their keenness. Last of all, there were the little ones, the seven or so year olds who were out climbing with their families, perhaps for the first time, looking all the more like little heroes dwarfed by the rock face in their miniature climbing gear.
I had had qualms about being in such a large group, but I was wrong. The five people instructional groups kept the groups tight. It’s hard to think that the first day was when I first stumbled over tying double eights. The double eight knot, used to secure the climber when he or she is climbing, evaded our uninitiated hands at first. Speaking for myself, I practiced knotting over ten times before I felt the motion working its way into my memory. Once we got that down, we learned how to use the belay device, a piece of metal used in conjunction with the rope the climber is climbing on and a locking carabiner. For the longest time, I was convinced the climb would be easy after the relative difficulty of new equipment.
There wasn’t mental space to be scared. Holding the newly minted knot formations in our minds, we were told to “just climb.” No, you aren’t taught how to climb; it’s supposed that you have climbing in you on your first climb. Just like no one instructs you how to use a jungle gym, you are set loose and expected to play and gain vertical. And that we did. I let my partner go first, being more confident in belaying than my ability to climb. An eager climbing-lover who climbed jungle gyms (that was me too, back in first year, no more) she virtually sprinted up the wall. Easy! My turn. I was eager to see what it was that she loved so much and I clung to my first foot and hand hold on the rock without a thought. Uh oh! Pretty soon, I realized that unlike climbing gyms, there were no visually apparent or consistent handholds. Faced with probably the first organic monotone face I had ever seen, the rock made me feel like I was reading braille for the first time. The surprising part was how grippy the natural granite was, a solidness and organicness that was soothingly like a bedrock for my trust. The less thrilling aspect of it was finding the hand and footholds, which I did by touch and not by brain, and I also scaled up, like a salamander, like my instinct had taught me to do. Anti intuitive was one word I could use; subconsciously intuitive was another.
The next four hours, we spent rotating using two ropes, “two lines”, scaling up and down routes generously changed by our instructors (The best part about any activity is definitely the keeners that donate their knowledge). The four hours gave us each ample time to climb different routes (we each probably climbed 7 lines), a chance to consolidate our knowledge of knots, the feeling of belaying, the feeling of climbing, and fine tuning that intuitive or anti intuitive instinct about climbing that we all have and collaborating it with the actual sensory information gleaned from actually climbing rock. For example, through climbing we learned the grippiness of granite; if it was a certain texture it would hold with the help of our climbing shoes; if it stuck out in even a tiny crack, it would be enough to sustain our weight, which could only be deducted to mean that granite was grippy; and so on. Next, learning what inclines we could scale was yet another factor that we learned on the way. If there are cracks to stand or grip on, the vertical won’t matter much. These walls are extrude from the ground at a very steep angle, hence the rope to catch as when we fall. If you fall, you will realize that. I fell once and since I had strayed from the direct fall line of the rope, I swung. But after that I looked harder for those cracks-“That’s all we do all day-looking for crack. Where’s the crack?”-and trusted the vertical looking slab later. I prefer the more slab like beginner routes than the obviously craggy ones, a bias I picked up from learning on slab-also, obvious crags are also boring, bothersome, and even scary because my mind isn’t focussed with laser attention on feeling the rock with the sense of touch rather than my sight.
After four hours I was pooped, and I was surprised I made it that far as I said “I’ll be happy to belay you but this will be my last climb” several times. I also had said in my head “I hate climbing” out of sheer fear countless times at the start and on the way up, only to reach the top gratefully and relish the simplicity/joy of rappelling down. I’d also been disappointed/flabbergasted that one does not climb by pulling oneself up with rope or go down that way, either. Somewhere some moving media must have put that image in my mind; if not, then jungle gyms had. Breaking every misconception or lack of conception I had of climbing, I was thoroughly exhausted. The best news I heard then was “Everyone good to go to Mcdonalds?” I shamelessly admitted that the idea of a cone of icecream from there was the only thing that kept me climbing.
Some french fries, icecream, and smoothes in our stomachs later, we begun to embark on an even more rewarding stage of our journey, which we were yet to know. A long paved winding road trimmed on both sides by soft fern green trees and equally lush rivers served as a pleasant reprieve for the next several miles. Somehow on that road, we already felt like we were in paradise. There were no other cars; the entire road was picturesque; and snow capped mountains loomed in front of the dashboard as they stereotypically do in photographs. But this was not a photograph; we were traversing through many people’s dreamscape, most of all mine, for real. There was nothing, absolutely nothing to complain about, and I was sorry that I even considered leaving without camping because I was burned out from the climbing and had no sleeping bag.
At the end of the peaceful road there was a fiasco rather than a destination. We were the first to arrive, surprisingly, since we had made a long stop at McD’s and also a short jaunt to a brewery. “Arrived” meant being stopped at the end of a road among a smoke show of tent-on-cars and camp fires a scant metres from cars and bush in dirt circles clearly carved for that purpose. Dismayed, we got out and found out that they were all taken, and not from our fellow 60 person climbing crowd. “How can we camp here?” we all asked each other. Suddenly, fellow climbers burst from the trees. Just beyond that we saw were two gigantic logs crossing a moving river. “There’s a camp site on the other side!” one exclaimed. “It’s amazing! Huge sandy beaches!” the other collaborated. Rather than feel excited though, we stayed rooted at the spot, knowing we had to cross the river somehow. At least I and the driver’s girlfriend did. One of my climbing mates had already crossed on the log and was shimmying her way back. I felt a pang of jealousy at her bravery, but I didn’t go myself. And if I did, I’d want to walk across, to really feel that rush of adrenaline. Either or. In the end we all stood there waiting for the rest to come before making unnecessary crossings, taking into account the huge, heavy bags we had all brought in anticipation of easy car camping.
In the end, as more and more of our party arrived, a rope was est up, a la rock climbing, and one by one we made the river crossing. I stepped on the log with utter confidence but as I went on and on I lost my stability with the rope. It swayed so much I thought someone must have gotten on with me, but then I realized it was wobbling on its own from its own slack. I snickered at the ingeniousness of camping with a group of climbers but crossed with my helmet on my backpack loop, although I did not put it on my head.
The greatest surprise still lay beyond. As we scampered off the log in relief and through the short burst of green forest we emerged into the most beautiful beach that I suspect many of us had seen, judging by our collective surprise and gasps of appreciation.Snowy, blue mountains hugged one end of the river; green lush forested peaks on the other. Large but sparse sun dried logs cluttered artfully along the narrow beach front. Clayey sand suspended our weight and filled the cracks between our toes in some places; fine pale sand shifted to accommodate us in others. Through out it, the crowning glory, a strip of jade green river flowed like liquid jade next to the untouched beach. There was little a person could do with their own hands that would destroy this perfectly integrated strip of beauty and instead many opted to just take pictures of it.
Just a small portion of the long, long beach front where some have already started a fire (we were not the only party there; at least three other parties occupied the far-down-the-road beach.
The blue mountain side of the beach
Let’s get this straight: I’ve never been a fan of beaches. I don’t know how to interact with water or flat mushy land that’s hard to run across with no natural features to jump off and frolicking on flat ground gets boring for me quickly. But on this beach, I felt completely in my element. Also, I was extremely tired, dirty, and the water looked inviting. Someone’s boyfriend had wandered out in the water already and their girlfriend called out to him, “Crazy!” as he took more and more to the water, eventually going for a swim. Virtually sweating in jealousy of the serenity he must be feeling, I rolled up my pants and dipped my toes into the water. The water was so cold I felt the bones in my toes become brittle instantly. Still a minute later I left my friends at the beach front and joined the “crazy” to cool off. The water was as comforting as I thought I’d be. My aching legs suddenly become new again as I lost feeling to them in the icy water. More than I have ever before, I walked to and from the water, steeping myself in the icy cold, and enjoying every minute of it: the warm numbness, the clayey bottom, “seeing” with my feet, seeing the beach from a different angle to the bemused expression of my friends.
It was paradise but there were duties to attend to: dinner, tent, bathroom. I decided to leave the cover of darkness to come before I took care of bathroom duties, so we set up our tent first. It comfortably fit me and my tentmate. (It was the first time I had shared this particular tent, since I bought it last year but didn’t get a chance to use it before winter started.) Dinner was also a first, sharing our cupboards to make a communal pot of pesto veggie pasta. A rock was substituted for a cutting board and a swiss army knife was borrowed. The dark descended before the pasta boiled and we eagerly feasted. Surprisingly the large pot fed the five of us with just the right amount, and we broke dinner as we saw that a large bonfire had started on the beachfront.
(One bathroom break later), we found ourselves in the middle of a mad frenzy to build the biggest bonfire ever on an island that wouldn’t be a big deal if it burned down, on a beach front that wasn’t patrolled. The more avid climbers hauled large branches as kindling, and logs that were usually meant for sitting on up to dried out trees as the main fuel. A continuous job, the fire leapt over our height easily, sending a cloud storm of embers like fireflies into the dark night. “Like a pyre”, someone remarked as log-meant-for-sitting on was added vertically for a centre pier. The fire exploded in the dim night. Still, the operation was not done. Time quickly flew by; from finishing dinner at nine, and the continuous expansion of the fire at ten, eleven, and well into twelve, the fire never ended. Only two logs were used for sitting; sit to close, and you were roasted as if someone was blowing a blowtorch in your face. But our party of sixty all still huddled enthusiastically in front of the fire. An untuned ukulele was passed around, and sharing the duties of tuning it, I eventually found I had a penchant for strumming the little sweet instrument. It was to that tune I continuously strummed that I started to fall asleep, but that was long before the party ended at two a.m. Before that, smores, drinks, talk and half naked dancing commenced around the fire. I trashed myself with more smores than anyone should have eaten, but I resisted drinking. Between more inspired party conversation and displays by the half naked log-getters we all revelled in the heat of the fire and how this was the best night of a lot of our lives. It wasn’t lost on us, not even the more seasoned hikers than me, that this beauty and impromptu beach party was of a high calibre. And it wasn’t lost on me that I enjoyed the party as much as I thought I always would; in short, this was the first party I had ever been too, as I’ve tried to avoid parties in the caution that they could get saturated with alcohol and get wild too quickly. Instead of getting too hammered to enjoy the surroundings though, the stoke of the fire was bigger than any number of beers that everybody downed.
The fire, with big branches as kindling and sitting logs and tree trunks as the main stoke.
Who am I? That’s a question I often ask when I go on these trips, which my entire family disapproves of. Their image of outdoors pursuitists are Neanderthals with a death wish, and to some degree this is very true. None of us are happy with walking on the ground, and now I’ve learned, as I suspected, that it’s when we get wild that our social side really shines. I’ve grown up holding self restraint on a pedestal, and this is the first time I’ve really let go of it in a big crowd. It felt good, really good, and also dangerous. Like mountain biking, once I let myself become a firm but ultimately elastic member of the crowd’s whim, I’m more prone to doing crazy happy things but also dangerous things. Is that me? Should I shape myself based on weighing pros and cons, like I always have, or is that even an aspect of myself that I can change?
We all decided to go on this trip, so something bonds us together. And maybe that thing is that we’re all a little crazy. Some of us just find out later rather than sooner.
PS The night was cold but not freezing without a sleeping bag. I wore about 5 layers up top; 2 athletic tank tops, 2 fleecy tops, a synthetic puffy jacket, and a basically uselessly thin jacker on top. I even started to sweat under that, but unlike a sleeping bag, top layers aren’t designed to circulate body heat over a large area and allow even heating. My hands smelled like my feet after a night in thick gloves, sweating but still cold. My lower half consisted of synethic pants, legwarmers, and then my tent mate’s jacket (I put my feet in a bag first before I put it through her fleecy jacket) It was almost a sleeping bag, with extremely poor circulation of air. I also couldn’t move because then I’d feel the cold. Oh, and I wore a hat. It was pretty miserable and I don’t recommend it but like I said I wasn’t freezing and I’ve frozen three times before with improper gear on my first camping trips. I still came back. But my standards are a little higher now and I don’t recommend it, because then you will have less energy the next day for more awesomeness (which amounted to just two more climbs as our car group elected to leave early.)
And there you have it. My first time rockclimbing, sleeping outdoors with a sleeping bag, first party, and so on and so forth. And now I’m quite tired so I’ll turn out, but not before I say that I was definitely jealous when I saw skis and mountain bikes strapped to the same car parked where we were parked in a parking lot in Squamish, clearly on their way to Whistler.