Brittany Goris - Climbing in Squamish
"I wanted that 1% improvement in my climbing and The Stawamus Chief was to be my teacher..."
“What would you give up to gain 1%? 1% in strength, 1% in climbing ability…?” Eric Hörst’s passionate voice asked me over the stereo in my rusty, dented, and deeply cherished little Honda CR-V as I drove south from Squamish to Seattle for a work obligation for what felt like the hundredth time this summer. I was listening to his recent podcast about ‘The 8 Superpowers of the Very Best Climbers,’ to make myself feel better about the fact that I was going in the opposite direction of where I felt like I was supposed to be. The two cities are only 3.5 hours apart (plus a border crossing), but after doing that commute nearly every week for over three months, it had started to feel eternal.
I could have been climbing in Index, or any of Washington’s other amazing crags that are much closer to where my job with Girls Rock Math (an empowering STEM-based summer camp for young girls) is based in Seattle. Yet the thought rarely even crossed my mind each time I packed up my car to head north again once my work was done. Squamish was the only place on my radar. No matter how many things I climbed, my summer tick-list just kept getting longer; for every project I sent, I found two more to fill its place.
The price to be there was high, as the hours and miles added up. I always left late at night to avoid traffic, often after a full day of work or climbing that made the car ride seem even longer as my body ached and eyelids drooped. It always gave me a lot of time to think, which was what I was doing as I listened to Hörst’s thoughts on goals, motivation, and sacrifice. What would I be willing to give up to get just 1% more out of my climbing? Dozens and dozens of hours in the car, apparently.
What was so compelling about the Sea to Sky Corridor that I was willing to give up so much to spend my summer there? Miles and miles (or should I say kilometers) of perfectly splitter granite cracks of every size, steep friction slabs, burly sport climbs, complex boulders, and iconic multi-pitches barely begins to cover what makes Squamish so special. After living in the Pacific Northwest for almost a decade but very rarely crossing the border, it was long overdue that I learned to climb here.
To me, Squamish has always represented growth. The rock is a different texture than where I learned to trad climb in Washington; coarser and more slippery. The cracks are more sustained, the approaches are longer, and the multi-pitches hold more variety in styles than my bag of tricks could ever hope to hold. I’ve always had to work hard at my weaknesses to climb well in Squamish, so this summer that’s where I knew I needed to be. I wanted that 1% improvement in my climbing and The Stawamus Chief was to be my teacher.
In his podcast, Hörst identifies that “perhaps you would say that 1% isn’t a difference-maker, but it is when you’re competing at your limit; when you’re performing at your limit. If you’re trying to achieve the next grade, 1% can be the difference maker.” Just being in Squamish required a huge sacrifice, but it also taught me to set aside my ego as I learned the style; another sacrifice that for me does not come easily. Once that finally clicked into place I was able to discover a true passion for Squamish, and after a few months, it started to feel like home.
I was no longer intimidated by the hour-long approaches to what the community lovingly called “sky crags,” aka single pitches located at the top of the Chief. I felt like a gecko on the featureless runout slabs, kept my marbles together on many challenging multis, and I could fight my way up some slightly-above-entry-level offwidths.
On top of that, I got to achieve a life-long dream of climbing on the Big Show, an impressively steep sport wall in Cheakamus Canyon, as well as take down hard finger cracks (my specialty) left and right. Hörst declares that “in order to achieve greatly, you must sacrifice greatly.” What he doesn’t mention, however, is that knowing the cost of all those sacrifices makes the achievements infinitely more rewarding. Every time I drove back and forth from Seattle felt like a physical and emotional battle, putting my life in Squamish on pause, but in the end, it hardly felt like a big sacrifice at all for the amount of success, joy, and growth that was the result.
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The first time I stood on top of the Stawamus Chief in Squamish I hiked up the mountain walker way, cursing and sweating with every step. I was there to climb, not hike, so I pretty much decided I would never do that nonsense again. The only place you’d ever find me was on the forest floor. Even as recently as this winter I scoffed as friends expressed their appreciation for the benefits of the long approach. Who knows when the switch flipped in my brain, but nowadays I don’t just avoid hiking the Chief, I seek it out. Maybe it’s because I don’t mind suffering as much as I used to, or maybe it’s because I’m so stubborn that I hate the idea of not being able to do something, such as climbing something because the approach was too arduous. Maybe it’s because I started wanting more adventure. Maybe it’s because that’s the only place to find climbs like this one, called Heatwave. Maybe it's because I've learned that the days spent climbing high in the sky until the last light of day turns the Howe Sound from blue to pink to black and filled with stars are the ones that make me feel the most alive. Photo by @a.eggermont @lasportivagram @lasportivana #lasportiva #lasportivana #accessyourpassion #laspomoment #deuter #adventureworthy #climblyfe #climbing_is_my_passion #climblikeagirl #womenwhoclimb #girlswhoclimb #climb #climbing #pnw #pnwonderland #womenonlead #saaaaht #climbinglife #tradisrad #climbersunited #unitedwesend #squamish #doyouclimb #liveclimbrepeat #climbing_lovers #leadclimbing #choosemountains #c_l_i_m_b #squamishclimbing #squamishisawesome
Photos by ©Alex Eggermont
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brittany Goris is a member of the La Sportiva Climbing Team.
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