The Stawamus Chief or 'Squamish Chief' as it is known by most is perhaps the mecca for Canadian 'big wall' climbing (outside of the Cirque of the Unclimbables or Baffin Island). It is a granite monolith with a beautiful 500m face that towers above its surroundings and the nearby town of Squamish. In fact the Chief is the second highest granite monolith on earth after the Rock of Gibraltar.
There are literlly hundreds of climbing routes ranging in difficulty from 5.7 to 5.13 and can often require an overnight bivvy (which is allowed).
While I personally haven't climbed any of these routes I have ascended to the top along the steep 'backside trail' which climbs up the back of the Chief. It is relatively easy to find and as there are three separate summits the hike to the top is fairty demanding but plenty rewarding.
You are surrounded by many other peaks from the Coast mountains and the view of Howe Sound is awesome. Sitting perched with your legs dangling with an 500m drop beneath you is quite an experience, one I would recommend, provided you proceed with the utmost caution.
The Chief is located within the 506ha Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. and is so named (Stawamus) after a native settlement that was located along the banks of the Squamish River.
This is also a very busy place to be on weekends and throughout the summer so come expecting crowds... though the hike up the backside thins out many of the tourists who are hoping for a Sunday jaunt up to the top, even via the normal backside trail route, which requires no technical knowldege just determination and some endurance... many turn back.
Also there is more than enough room on any of the three summits to find your own little area to enjoy the view and the experience in private.
Getting there is really quite simple. You take highway for about 50km or so to Horseshoe Bay. After Horseshoe Bay you take the 'sea to Sky' highway (#99), Squamish lies about one hour north of the city of Vancouver and the Chief lies just south of the city proper.
As previously mentioned it lies within the boundaries of the provincial park and quite simply cannot be missed. It is on the left (eastern) side and pretty much demands your attention whether you are looking for it or not.
The backside trail can be reached by following the well maintained trail to the left through the campsites for about 5 or 6 minutes until you reach a group of largeish boulders on the left hand side. The boulders are located right at Olesen Creek as well. Scramble up over the boulders and onto the stairs, from then on in you are on the trail.
After about 30-45 minutes you will come out onto a small plateau where you can stop for a breather or a snack or to take in one of the first real views afforded you on the trail.
You then continue upwards through the forest and because each summit has a different route to the top you will emerge upon one of the three summits. All tolled the hike to the top should take between 1-3 hours depending on your level of fitness.
For rock climbers you should check with the Provincial Park authorities or look for the Squamish Chief or Stawamus Chief paper or any of the numerous websites that are devoted to the Stawamus Chief. Also there are few signs as they are seeking to avoid any crossover between climbers and other recreational users.
There are campsites located at the park and the overnight fee is $5 Cdn. per person and there is a $3 Cdn. parking fee as well. From March to April climbers should pay attnetion for route closure beacuse this is the nesting season for the endangered peregrine falcon
Rock climbers should keep cleaning to a minimum and never remove any tree without permission from BC Parks.
The usual rules of bring out what you bring in apply here as well. It is a beautiful area and of cousre everyone would like it to remain so.
When To Climb
The winter months (late October to March) can be very wet and rainy so any climbing done at this time should first check with the weather so as you know what to plan for. The summer months and early fall are the best time to go, but it can be quite crowded as it is a popular destination.
The rock can be very slick in the off season and because of this the difficulties are easily compunded.
Camping is allowed, there are about 45 camp sites that are all used on a walk in basis. Fees are $5 a night and planned bivvying on the longer muti pitch climbing routes is allowed.
The best way to check the local weather conditions is to go to the environment canada website and click on the town of Squamish BC that will give you up to date weather conditions that should aid in planning.
Check www.compusmart.ab.ca. I found this on a page entitled extensive moutnain weather forecasts. I checked it out and it has forecasts for all of the parks. Straightforward to navigate as well.
Of the following list the first six are on the headwall and the last four are simply climbs of interest.
The Grand Wall 5.11a (the classic original route which took forty days and several hundred bolts before it was ready)
Apron Strings 5.10b
Cruel Shoes 5.10d
Mercy Me 5.8
Leftside of the Pillar 5.12a
Northwest passage 5.8
University Wall 5.12a
The Flake 5.10b
Triumph the Shadow 5.13b (perhaps the most difficult climb at the park which is proably why it is seldom duplicated)