Will Stanhope dances up Pitch 4 (5.13-) on the first free ascent of Cannabis Wall, The Chief, Squamish, British Columbia. Stanhope and partner Jason Kruk cleaned the popular aid line on rainy days in August, then Stanhope returned to free the wall on September 6, 2008. He aims to take a free approach to similar aid lines in the future. [Photo] Rich Wheater
Throughout August I spent six days scrubbing Cannabis Wall and, as though on cue, September offered up a couple of weeks of perfect weather. With this welcome respite from the Jamaica-like August, my climbing partner Jason Kruk and I got really excited, and on September 6th I sent the route on my first real attempt from the ground (though we rehearsed some on toprope and lead while cleaning) for its first free ascent.
Cannabis is the popular route located directly right of Freeway on The Chief (read Sonnie Trotter’s “Escape Route” about Freeway in Alpinist 22) and was first climbed in 1969 by Eric Lance, Brian Norris and T. deGuistini. The now-free, five-pitch wall (5.12 R, 5.13- R, 5.12, 5.13-, 5.12-) is fairly low angle, making the crux pitches exceedingly tenuous and quite low-percentage. You won’t fall off because of a throbbing pump. Instead, you’ll fall because of a small foot error. For this reason, training meant memorization more that anything else.
Taking the lead with Jason following, I found the route to be quite scary. Pitch 2 deviates slightly from the aid line at the top. You leave the security of fixed copperheads and head into a “holdless groove” without any protection. Afterward, a series of holds leads back and around to the belay. I tried this part on toprope and deemed it “easy.” On lead, it turned out to be desperate. I took a pretty big whipper (ca. 40′) into the corner, tweaking my back a bit. Later, I found a small wire to make things more reasonable.
This variation was one of three I scrubbed out; the other two include avoiding some of the initial bolt ladder on Pitch 1 and dodging a slammed-shut seam on Pitch 5. None of these are major variations, nor do they stray more than 10 meters from the original aid line. Also, halfway up the last pitch I came upon a ledge and decided to split the pitch into two to reduce rope drag before the final 40 feet of 5.10.
Squamish is still a bit of a backwater, not like the Valley at all, and there is definitely more potential for freeing old aid lines there: Uncle Bens, Humpty Dumpty, Up From the Skies. I would love to try these routes–and send Cobra Crack–free. Belaying Matt Segal on the fourth ascent of Cobra Crack last week was the most inspiring thing I’ve ever witnessed in single-pitch climbing.