The first recorded rock climbs on The Chief were done in the late 50’s, but it was not until 1961 that the Grand Wall was finally climbed by Jim Baldwin and Ed Cooper in an epic 40 day siege. Since then, the Grand Wall has become THE route on the Chief. It has is all: perfect rock, great setting, runout slab, stellar crack, strenuous laybacking, delicate face, and many variations. I first climbed The Grand Wall in May 2007 with my friend Ross, and finally got a chance to climb it again seven years in June 2014 with my friends Tobias, Jessica, and Geoff (as two rope teams). The following page contains my original 2007 trip report, where I've added some some photos and and an improved route overlay from my 2014 climb. (The 2014 additions are in blue.)
A couple of random words of advice on this route: Advice #1: Start early or late to avoid crowds. On our 2014 climb, we made the mistake to start at 7:45 and arrived at the base of the route at the same time as two other parties. Murphy's Law dictates that the first party on the route is usually not the fastest. Also, the Split Pillar and Sword slow even competent parties down. We ended up sitting at chilly belays for a few hours worth before we got to the Split Pillar. We could have started at 11 am and topped out at the same time. Advice #2: You need only ONE #4 cam. And at least two #3 cams, or three if you don't want to walk your cams too much on the Split Pillar (this is the pitch that requires the most wide gear).
Route overlay for The Grand Wall (created in 2014).
OVERVIEW of our SQUAMISH TRIP (May 2007)
Amazingly, the forecast for Squamish called for a stretch of clear skies and warm temperatures. So, Ross and I headed north for 4 days of Squamish granite. Our main objective was The Grand Wall of the Chief (which Ross had climbed twice since last July), but we also climbed some other stellar multipitch routes. The trip to Squamish also served as a warm up for our planned climbing roadtrip in June 2007 to Red Rocks, Yosemite, and Rocky Mountain National Park. This trip reiterated how lucky I have been to climb with Ross. He is one of the few who can make The Grand Wall look easy.
Day 1 – May 10: UNFINISHED SYMPHONY on the Chief (5 pitches: 5.9, 5.10a, 5.10d, 5.10d, 5.11b)
Day 2 – May 11: THE GRAND WALL on the Chief (10 pitches: 10b, 10b, 5.8, 5.9, 10b A0, 10b, 11a A0, 11a, 10b, 10c)
Day 3 – May 12: MILK RUN + UPPER TANTALUS WALL on the Chief (8 pitches: 5.8, 10c A0, 10c, 10c, 11b A0, 11b, 11a A0, 11a A0)
Day 4 – May 13: SUNBLESSED and ENLIGHTENED on Sunshine Wall (Sunblessed is 4 pitches: 10a, 10a, 5.6, 10b; Enlightened is 3 pitches: 10a, 10c, 5.9)
Route overlay for Unfinished Symphony.
Route overlay for The Grand Wall (created in 2007).
Route overlay for Milk Run + Upper Tantalus Wall.
Classic thin hands second pitch of Sunblessed, Sunshine Wall.
PITCH-BY-PITCH DESCRIPTION of the GRAND WALL (May 2007 and June 2014)
A pitch-by-pitch description of The Grand Wall is below, with photos from my 2007 and 2014 climbs.
Getting the gear ready, stalling to maximize our time in the sun.
Beta photo: the first half of the route as seen from the base.
PITCH 0 - Getting to the base
• difficulty: 5.12a
• start time: 10:49 am (2007)
We slept in until 8am, and spent a leisurely morning reading in lawn chairs in the sun outside a local coffee shop. It was sunny, but the air temperature was cool, and we knew the sun wouldn't hit the route until around 1pm. By mid-morning the caffeine began to kick in and off we headed to tackle the Grand Wall. There were 2 parties ahead of us on the route. One party was already at the top of the Split Pillar when we began to organize our gear – must have been a cold start for them!
A pumpy and fun warm up pitch to begin the route.
PITCH 1 - Apron Strings I
• difficulty: 5.10b
• start time: 11:24 am (2007)
There are several variations of the first half of the route up to the Split Pillar. We chose to link up Apron Strings (a fun 2-pitch 10b) and Merci Me (a 2-pitch 5.8 on a dike) and traverse under a roof to the base of the Split Pillar.
The first pitch of Apron Strings is a rather pumpy laybacking start on a stellar 10b crack/flake.
Geoff, the master stuck-gear-cleaner.
This one had been in there awhile.
Ross leading up the second pitch of Apron Strings, the first of the many right-facing corners.
PITCH 2 - Apron Strings II
• difficulty: 5.10b
• start time: 11:50 am (2007)
The second pitch of Apron Strings is another 10b crack up to a tree belay, quite cruiser now that we were warmed up.
The anchors on the route are all bolted, which makes for quick transitions and allows for possible bailing if needed.
In this photo, the Split Pillar is on the right, just left and up of the tree. Pitch 5 involves a short section of A0 aid to reach the belay near the tree.
PITCH 3 - Merci Me I
• difficulty: 5.8
• start time: 12:15 pm (2007)
From the top of Apron Strings, we climbed the first 1.5 pitches of Merci Me, splitting off halfway through the second pitch to traverse rightwards towards the Split Pillar. Merci Me follows a runout bolted 5.8 dike with several face holds.
Easy face climbing, but runout! Runout is not my style...
Ross at the chains below the roof. A bit chilly in the shade.
PITCH 4 - Merci Me II
• difficulty: 5.9
• start time: 12:40 pm (2007)
The first half of this pitch followed the bolted dike of Merci Me, and then split off to the right to traverse to a chain anchor at the base of the obvious roof. This traverse was conveniently wet and slimy at the crux reachy 5.9 move right before the anchor.
Jessica making the final rather committing traverse step to the anchor. It's often a bit wet here.
An airy traverse of steep flakes starts off the pitch.
• difficulty: 5.10b A0
• start time: 1:06 pm (2007)
From the chain anchor, we traversed down and right through some flakes, and then had to do some pulling/standing in slings on a short bolt ladder to the belay at a tree at the base of the Split Pillar. This was a fun airy traverse pitch, and good practice on my A0 aiding techniques.
Jessica just after the 10b crux.
Geoff leading the A0 bolt section. We split Pitch 5 into two sections because a backup of parties at the anchor directly below the Split Pillar.
An old piton below the Split Pillar.
Ross leading up the nearly vertical Split Pillar. What a pitch!
Steph climbing up the Split Pillar.
PITCH 6 - Split Pillar
• difficulty: 5.10b
• start time: 2:02 pm (2007)
The heart of The Grand Wall route begins with The Split Pillar, continues onto The Sword, and then to Perry’s Layback. The fame of these pitches is well deserved.
The Split Pillar is an amazing right-facing layback. Super pumpy! Ross didn’t even break a sweat though….
Geoff nearing the top of the Split Pillar.
He decided to go inside the chimney at the top, while the rest of us did an airy step to a ledge on the outside of the pillar.
The Split Pillar pitch is the wide gear-hog of the route. We had two #3 cams and one #4 cam with us. This was sufficient for the Split Pillar, with a little walking of the #3 cams. Only one #4 is needed for the route. (This photo is of my old Chouinard #3 cam, which my friend cleaned off The Nose on El Cap and sold to me.)
Looking up the steep Sword pitch. Fun stuff.
PITCH 7 - The Sword
• difficulty: 5.11a A0
• start time: 2:54 pm (2007)
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, the steep granite of The Sword looms above. This was another pumpy pitch. We linked this with some more A0 bolt laddering to the base of Perry’s Layback.
Geoff nearing the top of the Sword pitch. This is the technical crux pitch of the route.
Looking up at Tobias leading the bolt ladder at the top of the Sword pitch. We broke Pitch 7 into two sections because a backup at the anchor directly below Perry's Layback.
An old bolt beside the bolt ladder.
Jessica leading the bolt ladder just above the Sword. Having fun!
Another photo of Jessica leading the bolt ladder just above the Sword.
Perry's Layback. Unless you want to run it out or lug up some heavy cams, the bolts are a welcome sight. Super pumpy but fun.
PITCH 8 - Perry's Layback
• difficulty: 5.11a
• start time: 4:03 pm (2007)
And just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any more pumpy, another right facing layback appears, named after Perry Beckham who first freed this pitch in 1980 (with his ex-wife belaying, Perry drilled eight Rawls into the rock below a wide horizontal crack to protect the route and then freed the pitch, Perry’s Layback was born). There is a cool much-needed no-hands airy rest at the top of the layback, by leaning against the block at the top. The pitch ends at the flat ledge above.
Tobias on Perry's Layback (more like Perry's Giant Undercling). Although short, this is probably the most strenuous pitch of the route, especially since it occurs high on the route. The bolts are quite welcome here.
Right and up from the flat ledge.
• difficulty: 5.10b
• start time: 4:42 pm (2007)
From the flat ledge, there are a couple of variations to the next pitch. We climbed up and right on face holds and past a reachy 10b crux to the belay. It looks like it might be wet in the photo, but the pitch was almost all dry (overall, the entire route was pretty dry, with only a couple of seeping sections).
Tobias on the traverse to the right at the start of the pitch. We found the climbing on this pitch to be slightly unnerving but perhaps just because we were tired.
An old bolt on Pitch 9.
Ross climbing the tree at the beginning of the final pitch.
Ross at the end of the undercling, just before a short layback section and then overcling back left. The route tops out on Bellygood Ledge at the notch between the two trees.
• difficulty: 5.10c
• start time: 5:12 pm (2007)
The final pitch below Bellygood Ledge begins with some tree-climbing (wouldn't be Squamish without a bit of tree-climbing on a route!), and then follows a 10c undercling and overcling to the top. A pretty short and fun pitch.
Tobias on the cool undercling-overcling section. The undercling portion is about 10c.
For those with time/energy/desire, you can continue to climb a few more pitches upwards via Roman Chimneys or the Upper Black Dike, or (like most people), you can end the route here and traverse to the trail via Bellygood Ledge. This is what we chose to do since, at least to me, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a campfire was looking mighty appealing. Bellygood Ledge is an amazing feature cutting across the rock. It’s pretty exposed (a 50-ft section is a 2-foot ledge with sheer vertical walls on either side, protected by a bolt at either end), so a good idea to stay roped up until you reach the trail at the end.
Back to the car at 6:35 pm (2007), a little under 8 hours since we left it. What a Grand adventure! Thanks Ross for being psyched to climb it again!
The first (of three) exposed sections on Bellygood Ledge. You can set up a tension traverse here on fixed rings on either side.
The second exposed section. Crawl or undercling.
The third exposed section. A spicy finish to a great day.
View towards Squamish from high up on the Chief (taken on 2007 climb).
More on my website
This trip report is copied from my website, which has several other climbing trip reports and photographs from the North Cascades and elsewhere: www.stephabegg.com.