The irony that my life of vandom started in a Jeep is not lost on me. Stepping stones are necessary before achieving the end goal. That’s twice now that I have teased the story of my first dirtbag adventure to Squamish, British Columbia.
Despite very little planning, I was at the Canadian Border with a Jeep filled with basic camping supplies and a couple hundred bucks. It seemed a small fortune and I had time on my side. Vancouver (Canada, in general) is so clean and welcoming. There were never any doubts that I would be able to support a couple weeks of bumming around the crags.
Of course, I left late. It is kind of the nature of flying by the seat of your pants. I had tons to scramble together and found myself with a few hours of driving left after grabbing a quick bite to eat in Vancouver. I pulled onto the Sea to Sky Highway as the sun set over the ocean. This highway is nearly indescribable. No way can I do it justice in a few simple sentences.
It borders the coast and gets you from Vancouver to Whistler and beyond! It’s a windy, twisting, scenic dream road. Cliffs to the East and the Ocean to the West. It was dark – but the moon illuminated the landscape magically. I could still see the waves crashing onto the banks and acknowledge how monstrous the mountains of Southern Canada are. Climbing them seemed like destiny.
Not knowing anything about the area was certainly a challenge. I am pretty sure I had MapQuest directions. No gps, no cell service. I did have a laptop and internet. It was 2011 – there was internet at every Micky D’s and Starbucks. I’d be contactable and able to reach out. Besides, the area was really popular. There were people at every camping area that was mentioned. Not only that! Everything was full.
I would have to experiment with sleeping situations. I had no plan and I’d have to suffer the repercussions. It had been a long day of driving, 7ish hours I think. I was ready to crawl up and sleep right away but the search had just begun. I stopped in a location where I could do some research – trying to find a forest road or something. I was flying solo and didn’t need a whole lot.
The weather had looked beautiful and the forecast was favorable. I just needed to identify a place to park and lay out my bag. After locating a couple of promising leads – I drove to the first spot. Boom! No camping sign. Ok. No problem. Second spot. Boom. People everywhere. Nowhere to park. Plus – it costs booku bucks. Third spot starts weaving down this long dirt road. No signs anywhere.
Yes. I began to feel optimistic. This must be a Jeep road to a climbing area. There should be a great spot at some point. The drive started feeling more and more tense as my eyes began to droop. I needed to rest – and soon. I can always find a better spot tomorrow. This is a temporary fix. There was a slight opening on the right side of the narrow two lane dirt road. I snugged up to the forest with my vehicle. I laid my sleeping bag down in a mostly flat area of dirt and brush. Stared up at the cliffs and stars above for a few minutes before drifting off into the dreams of someone in their happy place.
Aside: I still don’t understand why I thought sleeping outside, on the ground, with no pad was my only option. This was long before I discovered the amazing possibilities of sleeping IN your car. For whatever insane reason, the thought had never crossed my mind until I started to plan my van trip.
Obviously, my energy and excitement woke me up long before the sun rose over the mountains. It was dark and warm. I woke up and made coffee and oatmeal that I’d grabbed quickly from a cheap grocery store on my way through the big city. The moon still shone brightly, illuminating the cliffs that appeared to grow out of the ocean.
Squamish was a smallish community. You know the type. One main drag, with houses that spread from a road, presumably named Main Street. It felt like your typical mountain town – just dwarfed by sheer cliffs rather than impressive mountains or a ski resort. I am sure there are other places like this in the world – my 19-year-old self certainly hadn’t seen anything like this ridiculous terrain.
I was not a super experienced trad climber. The big walls terrified (but inspired) me. I knew that the reason I started pursuing rock climbing was to accomplish amazing physical feats. To push my mind, body, and soul. That meant that the big wall was the goal. Of course, you always dream of the crème de la crème. It’s important to chase the ambition of reaching the peak. Yet, we must be reasonable.
I knew that my best chance of linking up with a group of welcoming climbers was going to be by exploring the crags. I pulled into the day parking lot and grabbed a smoke. There was plenty of hustle and bustle in the parking lot, being a solo climber makes you stand out. People in the campground made breakfast and coffee, making the trailhead smell like a Denny’s.
A wave and a smile were all it took for a large group of Canadians to invite me to their crew. The sayings are true. They are kind. They generously encouraged me to join them to one of the beachfront crags. It was late summer and perfect climbing temperatures.
Author’s Aside: Perfect climbing temperature is subjective. It’s subjective on a day to day basis. Actually, it’s in the eye of the beholder. This is a long-standing inside joke about me and climbing days. My friends say that no matter the conditions, I will at one point during the approach, mention how today is a perfect weather day for climbing. I’d argue back that any day is a perfect day to climb.
We rapped down from the top. The access in and out was unwalkable. We tapped down on a beautiful beachscape. There was a cliff as far as I could see in both directions. Really, it is in every direction. There were windsurfers on the water. We saw bikers on the approach. Climbers were kicking around in the sand looking for lines.
I had found my people. This was the crew I wanted to be with. Climbers, adventurers in exploratory settings. Having a plan was unnecessary when it was this easy. To roll up somewhere, make new friends and find new adventures. One of my all time favorite lines is, “If you’re not having fun while it’s happening, it always makes a good story later”.
From this day forward - I’d always forever have a climbing dirtbag within me. It’s part of my soul. The ethics, protocol and expectations of this lifestyle quickly became clear as I bummed around Squamish for the next couple weeks. I ate PB&J’s and oatmeal the whole time. I bivvy’d on the ground next to my car on random forest roads. I sought crags that were way off the beaten path. I tried climbing harder than I ever had before.
This was where I fell in love with wide cracks. The Beaver. Never forget the struggle that comes with your first wide crack. This adventure would serve as an example of what was to come moving forward. I’d never be okay with a completely sedentary life. An office was not meant for me. Structure would have to come on my own terms.