The Stawamus Chief – Peak 1

Elevation Gain: 600m
Distance: 2km?
Total Time: ~10 hours
Date: May 27th, 2023

My GPS stopped recording some time around the chimney (go figure) and not that it’d be useful for this type of climb anyways 😀

The Stawamus Chief, or simply The Chief, is considered by many to be the mecca of Canadian rock climbing. It boasts hundreds of unique climbs on an amazing variation of rock-solid granodiorite. It’s unique position above Squamish and the Howe Sound also makes it a major attraction for hikers, with a very popular set of trails to the top. From a summit perspective, the Chief has three officially named “peaks”, but the third peak is the highest and the true summit. I have done both the first and second peak in the past, as a hike, but never reached the third peak. I plan to go for the highest peak at some point, but preferably via a climbing route.

Like many others I have often wondered what it would be like to get to climb directly up the west face of The Chief to reach one of the peaks. As it turns out there is a nice moderate 5.9 route, developed around 2012 by Sonnie Trotter that enables just that. The route known as The Butt Lite, takes any number of lines up The Apron (a prominent slab feature that runs from the base to half way up) before diverging off the classic, but difficult (5.10c) Buttress Line. Andrea was keen to climb this as a birthday wish list item and while I had already done the first peak, this seemed like an awesome way to reunite with the familiar peak.

Our plan was to take Calculus Crack, a very popular 5.8 multi-pitch route up The Apron, finish on the last two pitches of Long Time No See (5.7 and 5.8 respectively) and finally The Butt Lite 5.9. It would be a grand total of 13 pitches, but mostly easy climbing and very straightforward route finding thanks to the abundant beta online. Andrea arranged to have a few climbing friends meet us at the top of The Apron where we could finish climbing together and hang out on the summit. To avoid long weekend line ups on the apron we opted to start around 7:30am.

There was a short hike up to the base of the climb and then we waited for about 15 minutes for another pair to start up. From there, Andrea took the first lead to kick things off. I followed up and found out my back pack, filled with birthday cake and lunch items was making for a strenuous early morning start. Nonetheless, I began to warm up and took on the second pitch, which was a fun wide crack and then a ramble through the forest to the next anchor. As it turned out, I took the wrong route at the top of the crack and we had to do a small traverse back onto rock to get onto the next pitch.

A long ways up from here!
Andrea starting up pitch 1
Looking up at pitch 2. Surprisingly wide at the top

Pitch 3 was an easy low angle double crack system up to the base of the crux pitch (a 5.8 finger crack) where I built a gear anchor. Andrea came up and then lead the crux pitch with ease. I took us from there too the top of Calculus Crack on some easy slabs. We could now see Alex and Trevor waiting for us two pitches above on Memorial Ledge and Andrea’s other friends Ht and Yunfei were running in parallel on Long Time No See. The next part was figuring out how to get to Memorial Ledge. There’s quite a few options including a dirty scramble up, but we decided on the final two pitches of Long Time No See.

Andrea climbing pitch 3
Ht and Yunfei on Long Time No See!
Pitch 4

Andrea lead us up the 5.7 pitch and then I took the 5.8 finger crack. It was quite vertical and honestly felt a bit stout for the grade, but in the end all the moves went and I topped out on the ledge with Trevor and Alex awaiting us. We hung out on memorial ledge to share some cake and eat lunch for the next hour or so and then made the short hike through the forest to start The Butt Lite route. Andrea took on the run out 5.8 slab route to start things off and cruised up to a tree anchor. I followed and then lead up a weird and dirty 5.5 slab route. We scrambled up from here and then reached the 5.7 pitch before the last two hard sections of the route. Again this proved to be a bit of a weird route, very ledge-y and not a great place to fall, but overall easy climbing.

The only photo of pitch 7 unfortunately
Looking back down pitch 7
Andrea coming up
Hanging out on memorial ledge!
Heading up the base of The Butt Lite route
Andrea leading up pitch 1 of The Butt Lite
Pitch 2
Trevor coming up pitch 2

We topped out and now headed for the first crux of the route: a steep 5.9 flake feature followed by an airy ledge traverse. We let one party go ahead of us, two guides who sped through and then Andrea lead up. I followed next, and had to fight to get one of the cams out, but otherwise had no issues. The final crux is a somewhat famous 5.8 chimney and depending on your climbing style can be very challenging. Thanks to online beta, we knew it protected well with a BD #5 cam and so had hauled it all the way up. I swung leads and clamoured up a short bouldery step before walking the small ledge to the base of the chimney. I clipped my backpack to my belay loop and then started to push my way up.

Andrea climbing pitch 4 the 5.9 crux. I forgot to get photos of pitch 3 but it’s not memorable in any event.
Andrea nearly out of the vertical bit. Photos by Alex
Myself seconding up
Looking back at Alex starting up the 5.9 pitch

Slowly I inched up and then placed the #5 which inspired enough confidence to push on. The positioning felt secure and all that was left was to get one foot out past the chimney and traverse out of the narrowing top and pull up to the next ledge. It was a bit awkward at the top, but a knee jam/au cheval move got me into a secure position where I could put on my back pack again and then it’s easy ledge climbing to a tree anchor.

Nearing the tricky exit
Out of the hard part now
Looking down after topping out

Andrea followed up and left the #5 in place for Alex and Trevor as they only had a grungy #0.4 horizontal placement to work with, without. From there it was a bit of a zig zaggy ledge route to the top and when I tried to follow I found there wasn’t enough slack to do each ledge traverse. As a result, I untied, wrapped around a tree, tied back in and then just a more direct line up a steeper crack system to bypass the traverses.

Andrea coming up now
Last bit of ledges traverse to the top
Andrea and I before the last scrambling portion!

At the top we concluded the final climbing portion! Alex and Trevor joined up and then we scrambled around to the top of peak 1. Andrea’s friend Mike and his friend Alan were waiting for us after their own climb and we all hung out for awhile. The wind was picking up and that finally motivated us to head down. The descent is not much to speak of as its an easy, well marked trail.

A little bit of thrashing to find the proper trail
Looking at Peaks 2 and 3 from Peak 1
Heading back down

It’s great to finally cross off a big dream climb and as a birthday party for Andrea no less! The routes up the true summit, peak 3, are considerably harder, but I’m hoping at some point I can climb up to the top of that one too.

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