Trip Report: SKEENA 26 III, 5.9 (12 pitches) Bill Enger, David Whitelaw, Yale Lewis
A couple of months back, my buddy Bill and I completed our third line on Squire Creek Wall. It's located way around to the south, past the Illusion Wall, Chickenshit Gulley and all that. We picked the last big chunk on the left and turned up a real jewel at a fairly relaxed standard.
Its not like these things are a mystery. The features are more or less in plain sight from the trail. A short, fairly flat three miles and its all obvious. A pair of binoculars and its almost indecent. Its been right there all along, soaking up the famous northwest sunshine.
Every once in awhile, basking on our bivy ledges we'd get to talking, passing the bourbon eh? " Well ya know," somebody would begin. "There's that stuff around to the south. We talked about it for years but with no real sense of urgency. Finally one autumn the Rodeo had been completed and we had to stare at each other and blink. Two buttonheads without a cause.
At odds with the rest of the world since day-one D-Town has rambled on with the barest minimum of love for just over forty years. Too far, too weird, too low angle, too obscure, too wet. Two-thousand feet tall?? Two ropes?? Two hours from Seattle? Fuck that!
Sometime last century, in a sort of cedar-smeared socialist epiphany we peasants smashed our machines and marched into the forest naked save for the hand-drill, and a crown of devil's club. Now the hammer has taken us full circle and despite the cold sweat of watching the tool so arthritically pound out the dust it is indeed the wilderness we have come for.
Like Heidi's grumpy grampa, sequestered. By degrees we have been forgetting our old ways; road trips, guidebooks, beta?, campgrounds, this climb or that. No trails, no rangers, no fees, no pools, no pets. You just pay up front and place your bets. The not knowing isnt mearly a part of it, it's the heart of it.
So we went around the corner to the south. We had no idea how to even get there. It was after all, the remote side of Squire Creek Wall; fabled for being unreachable. One November we walked up the trail and took pics of the southern ramparts with a dusting of new snow on them. Later,in spring we skiied up the road and attempted to snowshoe up the big hillside beneath the Illusion Wall. We didnt get very far but we learned a few things.
The hillside is steep, but the forest provides sufficient cover so that there is little underbrush. It's only as you approach higher elevations that the lowland giants give way to the famous hundred-acre tangles of matted, down-sloping cedars and broken logs. While the sane played at Vantage this last spring, Bill and I thrashed around in the forest and the flies and the melting snowbridges until we found a workable path. It was getting to be a bit over the top! We were many many weekends into it before we even got an unobstructed look at our mail-order bride.
In June we cramponed up snow gullies and tiptoed around huge psuedo-seracs and tilted snowblocks until we found a camp fairly near the base of the wall. There was snow everywhere. Cornices along the summit periodically cut loose and sent thousand foot cascades of shaved ice down the rock. The sun came out, the snow blocks fell over, waterfalls spewed out of big corners hundreds of feet above us, and the whole place sparkled. In all fairness we didn't know what to think. At least I didn't. It was different. It wasn't what I had imagined. We gaped for hours and wondered if it would play. The cirque arched around us in the sun like a collosal necklace with waterfalls for jewels and we agreed that the prize was worth the walk. Now with a light load and some solid prior knowledge the approach can be sent in around three hours.
There would be no high-ledge bivys this time. Just a shady base-camp with prayer flags and our ubiquitous water cubes. From camp, a ten-minute hike across boulders, grass and wildflowers brings one to the start of the route with only minimal aggravations. What a summer we had! While the rest of the nation struggled with heat waves and forest fires Darrington became our always-sunny summer camp in the Sierras.
We baked in the sun and it never rained. As usual, occasional guests and girlfriends joined us in the dirt and the heat and in particular Yale Lewis' hard work packing gear, jugging lines and shooting video helped us immeasurably. The route steadily advanced by a pitch or two per weekend. To our good fortune, the gully below camp held snow until late August, which in turn provided water for cooking and slush for our margaritas. Nobody said this pioneering shit had to hurt ALL the time!
Bill on Pitch 1
Drilling on Pitch 5
Dave on Pitch 5
Bill on Pitch 7
Photos by David Whitelaw, Bill Enger
Squire Creek Wall, South Face Skeena26 in blue photo by John Scurlock
The south side of Squire Creek Wall isn't as steep as the Illusion Wall or even Slab Daddy it's just that the rock is so exceptional and the setting so perfect. The stone is brilliant white and peppered with textures, bumps and knobs. When it gets a little steeper, the knobs get a little bigger and there are good places for gear on many of the pitches. This is a friendly route of high quality and though the first pitch touches 5.9 at a couple of polished spots most of the rest of the route is 5.4- 5.6 with sporadic freak-outs of up to 5.8. We tried to make a route that a 5.8 leader would find reasonable. We just went with the flow, and followed the knobs for a dozen pitches.
After discovering that this South side of the mighty Squire Creek Wall is divided into several big low-angled buttresses, we still wanted to climb there. After all, how many people had even seen this wall close up, much less climbed on it? The question became, "Which buttress to climb here?". Of course we knew that Zippy had climbed the beautiful Primal Scream buttress. Does that feature have any other name? Who knows? All we knew is that there are acres of lovely white granite, waiting, enduring geologic time and its changes. With snow lapping up against a broad swath of climbable rock, it seemed we could start anywhere. I was amazed to be seeing this, and willing to start anywhere.
At first, looking over from the approach trail in the bottom of the valley, it seemed it would be very difficult to get there. Dense brush to the creek crossing, steep forest, unseen terrain above all made it foreboding. Which was just right, I wanted to work hard for this. Previously, I was amused by Greyell's remark that while he was toiling long hours slogging up to the Illusion Wall, we were having it easy on the very nearest end on Slab Daddy and Oso Rodeo. Short approaches! Easy living! This big wall slab stuff is too serene! Well, enough of that. If we wanted to go up on the South Face of this beast, we were going to sweat hard for it.
Early probes on skis and snowshoes, Otto in April
DavidW skiing up in April
Trillium by the roadside
The beginning of the bike approach era, on May 19th
Once we started approching by bikes, we didn't go without them. The hardware evolved; mine grew a rack and David's lost his, mine grew flat pedals and his grew flat bars
Early season's challenging runoff
With ski missions in April, snowshoe and boot approaches in May and June, and then bike-assisted approaches later, we bit into this work with repetitious zeal. Every free day was tested - weather any good? partner lined up? days off work approved? special gear needed? - this project was an ever present topic of daydream and worry. We pushed up the wooded hill over and over, flagging a boot track to a new high point for eight trips into July. Unable to find load-carrying helpers, my non-climbing friend Bill Camp went along once for company but no others were able to come through. There was only Whitelaw for the work, and for the company.
Into the old growth forest
Some approach details
About the work David's worries were constant. Battling sore shoulder and ankle, he was often on the verge of giving out or giving up. "I'm gonna hurl!", was his catchphrase as we loaded up from a rest stop more than once. He said he wanted to give up once or twice. I didn't give that credence, knowing his work-hardened frame to be stronger than his head, and we stumbled on.
As for the company, there couldn't be better as I knew from other days working with David on the North end of the wall. One time as we thrashed up through the brush, he burst out in a tune with the lyrics, "Stickin' it to the weak!" - which became the jingle of the weekend. His stories about fools who came into the shop where he works demanding refunds for equipment used for years, and tackling jacket thieves trying their escape, kept my mind off the miles trudging up the road. Good trips were kept even more lively with his invention of snow Margaritas at Happy Hour, and the Espresso Cauldron in the mornings. We talked about how we could get 20-something dudes to help bring up the gear to base, happy to take part in a grand project. David said having them along to carry our gear would be "better than robots!"
The South Face buttresses in May
Near the base of the route, but long before climbing, in June
We finally got on the rock on July 7th, my father's birthday, and we knew it was all laid out before us, good times ahead. With snow lapping up against the sloping wall, I had no idea where to begin so David checked it out and decreed that we would go way out to the left and up the easiest looking dirty corners, putting in temporary piton anchors, and swing back into the line a couple of pitches up. So that's just what I did, leading off into the dirty unknown festooned with hammer and pins, full rack and drills, ready for anything but knowing we weren't putting in the "real" pitches. Much later in the year we pulled out the two sets of piton anchors I placed here. This day, I got us over to the route's real line, at the eventual anchor atop Pitch 2. After drilling the bolt anchor, we agreed to rap-bolt the first two pitches, ho hum. When we finally got on rappel, however, I declared I wanted to do Pitch 2 drilling on lead, perplexing David who said, "I don't know what the fook is goin on", or something like that. Was I some kind of ethics prima donna, or what? Well whaddayaknow, a disagreement.
Absolutely, I wanted to do every pitch ground up, drilling on lead, on sight, all that good stuff. David agreed, so that's what we did. I led the eventual Pitch 2, placing three bolts, having found about five gear placements, and got to the huge knob in the middle of the white slab. I drilled the hole there, but found I didn't have a bolt. I stuck the drill in the hole, clipped a quickdraw to it, and ran up to the anchor using the brushy edges for security! 4x and gear to 3 1/2".
Our first look at Pitch 4, when we realized we had found the line
Higher up on Pitch 4, getting ready to drill above the overlap
We got better at the communications and planning, and things smoothed out. David has such a clear vision of the true line, we kept on course and left plenty of room to the right and left for future projects. The wavy "brown knobs" on the right were a constant source of wonder between Pitches 5 and 10, and there is plenty of smoother whiteness out to the left. We moved steadily up, doing two or three new pitches each two- or three-day trip, while leaving fixed ropes up as high as the anchors of Pitch 7.
Skeena26 in the center
Flowers on the way to the base in August
Every trip we were hauling up a load without the dreamed-of porters. Finally we got Yale Lewis on board for some hauling and camera help. We got better pictures hanging off to the side on the fixed ropes. We even got some video of leading through the lower established pitches. Too bad there is no way to capture on-sight leading with a neckful of pro and drills, hammer banging your hip, smearing up to the good knob to get the bolt in after a long run. This is the real stuff, why I am doing this after 25 years of cruising the classic routes, someone else's work, all their decisions and worry gone into the distant past. Looking over our pictures now are attempts to keep that feeling fresh, to revisit this time. May it never fail to surprise and twinge the heart with that intense racing feeling of going for broke. Yes, these slabs are low angle and moderate in difficulty. But they are just steep enough to keep in mind the question - what if I went higher without stopping to drill, misjudged where the next stance was, and there was none?
We finally got some help in August; Yale Lewis hanging out on Pitch 8
David preparing Pitch 11. The route ends at the large white snag above
There is more clean rock around the place
In September the snow at the base had finally melted off, and David found the excellent Pitch 1
Finding and building this route made for a fully absorbing season. It should be a pleasant, moderate, full day of climbing for anyone. photos by David Whitelaw, Bill Enger and Yale Lewis
Loc: finally back to OR
Nice, Finally something I could climb! I love this quote:
"At odds with the rest of the world since day-one D-Town has rambled on with the barest minimum of love for just over forty years. Too far, too weird, too low angle, too obscure, too wet. Two-thousand feet tall?? Two ropes?? Two hours from Seattle? Fuck that!"
sorry, not a first accent. (Maybe the exact way you went tho, cause we didn't put in bolts out on the smooth polished rock, for belays, like im guessing you did) looks like you placed bolts on the first couple 'pitches' of 'primal scream' too! I was hoping that this side of the wall would never be bolted, cause you can find nice chicken heads to safely climb/rest on, and places to stuff gear in for belays, if needed, if you just make short or long ones, and/or go a little 'off route' for a belay. Was always wishing that primal scream could/would BE always be bolt free! IT GIVES IT A DIFFERENT FEEL. As in, being out in the mountains. Deciding which way to go... Primal Scream was the 'jewel' on this wall !!! It goes straight up, staying on the ridge, where you went to the left. I have gone to the left, the same place that you probably did too. It naturally draws you that way. Cleaner rock. A fine line that i had looked at for over 20 years before we did it. (climbing up to jet tower and Salish, and craig lakes, and camp 86) Ken and i did it all solo free on our first time, in first part of nov., about 15 years ago! Looking at the pic from John S, ( i tried to get pics from Dave so i could mark out lines for him, about 4 years ago, when i met him up at my property at the base of squire wall. I have probably climbed all the 'easy' stuff on this wall, in a period of about 15 years time. (I have approached Olympus ledge from 6 different ways, as an example) We used to always climb a different way, and i have done this south wall(s)/ridges about 20 times, all, different ways. most all, solo free. Oh well. so goes the dreams, of a dreamer .... there are plenty of unfinished routes to the north of zips wall, thru the bowlin alley, and the ridge wall(s)to the north of that. Thats a huge wall that needs bolts to make good safe fun lines.
I'm never there all ways just arriving
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
I have great respect for what you and your friends did on this wild wall. I believe that the new or latest or current or whatever you call them climbers do, too.
I say three cheers to Squire Creek Wall. It is not in vogue for climbers to pursue long rock climbs on less-than-vertical rock, but I think there is adventure here and this is a place of astounding beauty.
Dream on. Post more about your vision for the wall. And post more stories and pictures. Everyone here loves that kind of thing!
yes! you are soooo right Matt! I got so caught up in squire walls Black hole, we bought 40 acres at the base, so i would have a way in, cause the way the future was going with gates and road demolitions, and destruction... or what ever nice word they call it now days... AND !!!! I really should be thanking them for putting bolts in, for me, so i can do it again. it is harder to find young bucks now days that want to run it out like i did. AND i am no longer able to climb like that! Hell, was a bitch back then. So many times, the '5.12/13' climber would come into the store, with all his power, and pumped up chest, and i used to get so excited to have someone to climb with me up there, only to have them totally freeze up, and start to cry or complain about their feet hurting and basically being scared with no rope! Telling them not to look down never worked! It was pure stupid of me to down climb, all those times, to the freezed up, 'not so powerful person now' to get a rope to him. This happened more than 6 times. Then i was pure scared, and sweaty hands, cause if he fell/slipped, many, to many times, he woulda taken me with him! Coulda. Shoulda never done it, looking back, cause they always said they could do it, cause "this is so easy" (not like town wall or the gym), "low angle" and "beginner stuff", "no problems", were some of the words i used to hear.. I was Never any good at down climbing really smooth stuff, with a pack on. Ken had to rescue me one time up here, cause i got strafed by 5 ravens (2 died doing it) by climbing above me and drilling a bolt to lower a rope to me, after i freezed up. They totally scared me!!! AND, Primal Scream, the name says it all! Have seen a few deaths from falls, in the mountains, but the first time i heard, and saw my friend free falling (rapped off end of rope)below me, yelling the death scream, will never forget it! Was pure primal. Thats how it got its name, i didn't name it. Not really into naming stuff up there. just down loaded the nice pic here, and drew in some lines on this wall that i have done over the years. Sure i got most of them. Now to try and upload it here...
Edited by crazedmaniac (01/05/1312:16 AM)
I'm never there all ways just arriving
posted a few pics here with some quick words, tyson.
THANKS for not posting one of the previous 4 pics Matt!!!! I really appreciate it. (can read why on the words with the pic). If some one down loaded one of them, i ask that you not share it, or please, just delete it. After i uploaded them, and saw it, i saw where i had left some out, so did it again. Had problems every time. Wrote some words, ea. time too. Decided on this one, cause that's how ken would like it. The orange lines are his. In doing so last night, i figured i had gone up these slabs 22 different ways. All spread out, from west to east. Really don't see any reason for bolts here, (shallow angle, plenty of cracks and bushes..) before, but now that i am old and injured, would be nice. Don't like the word nice , either. (Not Implied Correct Emotion) I just have serious issues with it, because of the already mentioned reasons. Its a personal thing. I really don't see 'good' or 'bad' any more. Just ..IS. Still have likes, and dislikes tho....
I would like to know why it is called SKEENA 26 III ???? did i miss that part???
There must be about 30 different ways you can go thru this area, in just a short width. We were always choosing the way by, best cracks for fast climbing, Able to place pro where steep, rope drag, and a sturdy belay. Did many, many pitches thru here, with no pro the whole 150' to 190'. Just running the rope out, to get something in, then belay the other guy up, so he could chose his own way. aka, not having to go same way, to pull the pro. Was a lot of fun.
there have been a cpl times, we were wondering if we were the first to come thru 'this area' on squire walls, only to find a sling around a tree, that was killing it, or grown into the bark, from a previous rap. ( found every owner for all of them, only a few old pitons remain unknown) Only in the very polished, no cracks and VERY steep area's,(say aid?) was i positive that we were the first. It is a very interesting feeling to have the feel of being ... first thru, or wondering if you were. Bolts there are a sure ... sign. Or ... lines on some beta ....
I'm never there all ways just arriving
WILL POST IT SOON, TYSON. only because there are so many bolts there now. And will post the lines that i have placed bolts on too. Guessing you are talking about 'dinking around' slabs? Went up there last year with some very young kids, only to have them see me get all pissy finding big shinny hangers & bolts every where ..... some where i used to place my feet. OR obviously drilled, hanging from rope.
I'm never there all ways just arriving
tell ya what Tyson, Get 'em' to tell 'us', why its called skeena 26 III, and why Chris (Mr.hard core mountain man) called another route he bolted up, on illusion, Skitzo?, and i will 'post' a all of lines above hooter cave ( on 'dikin around slabs', and 'first slab')sooner than i would normally... and more, cause i don't normally do that kinda stuff. I love to tell story's tho... brings back fun memory's, and reminds me of excellent times with good friends. I used to do a lot of 'guiding' and taking people up to Squire Walls for their very first time climbing on REAL ROCK! Several did what im sure were first accents(leading)on their very first day of climbing. Many pounded/placed their first pitons up there. And ok, shapp, found some more pics for you, you might like. Im Starting to tell story's with my pics here. (like i do on my show and tell pages .. or Face Book). Wish everyone did, I see some really super cool and great photos here, but NO description or comments about em!!
The south slabs can be VERY dangerous ALL spring, and into summer, with snow and ice stored above. that's one reason, why we spent most of our time on the ridges. Have seen huge amounts of snow with rocks and large trees/bushes go by us before, that was hidden in the shade, or tucked in behind little gulleys, and in the trees, even in july. Sounds like they got real lucky up there, this past year ... The snow coming down, causes other stuff to be dislodged, as in tons of rocks, that go all over the place. A helmet is NOT going to do you any good being blasted by 100,s of rocks. Have seen literally 100,s of tons of rock come down thru the GIANT FUNNEL called chicken shit gulley, MANY TIMES!!! There is a huge place above it, and it all seems to funnel down thru it. I wouda named it something along those ... lines. Couda. Shouda. Good story why they named it that tho .... Underwear man.
I'm never there all ways just arriving
I would say "all summer" is a bit of an exaggeration. One can easily view the area above by going a wee bit further up the main trail, but later in the season I would venture to say it is not necessary to sweat it more than slab daddy, Oso rodeo, primal scream or the chicken shit gully. Let's do this one Curt. I have an option to make it even more memorable.