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A visit from the first family of rock

Squamish's climbing community was abuzz last weekend as the first family of rock came to town.

Squamish's climbing community was abuzz last weekend as the first family of rock came to town.

Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden, the climbing world's super-couple, arrived in Squamish at midnight last Saturday (July 31), and wasted little time - they were up at 4 a.m. to check out the Grand Wall and see what the Squamish buzz was all about.

Both of them were pleasantly surprised, and very impressed, with what they discovered.

"It's awesome - we're pretty impressed for sure," said Beth Rodden, who, at 24 years old, is one of the most respected climbers in the sport today. "There's a lot of really nice rock and the amount of quality cracks here is amazing."

Her first impressions were echoed by her husband, Tommy Caldwell, who has firmly established himself as a powerhouse in the world of rock climbing.

"I've never climbed on a big wall next to the ocean," he said. "To have the ocean, the Chief and the city right in the middle, that's pretty awesome. It's probably the most user-friendly climbing area I've ever been to."

Just two months ago, Caldwell redefined the sport's boundaries by establishing what could arguably be the most difficult big wall free climb ever completed. Caldwell spent four days on Yosemite's 2,500-foot Dihedral Wall to climb the route entirely under his own power-using his own body and not pulling on gear to climb higher.

The 25-pitch route about 1,000 feet west of the famed Nose is one of Yosemite's oldest big wall climbs and involves a crux section midway up with one 5.14a pitch followed by five consecutive pitches of sustained 5.13 moves, and then a 5.12 pitch, capped with three more consecutive pitches of 5.13 - a route that just a few years ago would have been unheard of.

"I wanted something that was way over my head. I wanted to become completely consumed," he said.

Ed Cooper, who made the historic and well-documented first ascent up the Grand Wall of the Chief in 1961, took 41 days to complete the climb with partner Jim Baldwin. Cooper, who also endured a 42-day "sufferfest" on El Capitan in 1962, called Caldwell's feat "a remarkable achievement.

"I don't see how some of that could have been free climbed," he said, adding that climbing equipment today is much more advanced than the yachting ropes he used.

Sonnie Trotter, one of Canada's strongest up-and-coming climbers who has been living in Squamish since April, had the opportunity to climb the Grand Wall with Caldwell. The climb was slightly different than the Baldwin-Cooper ascent, but it gave Caldwell a nice taste of a classic Squamish big wall route.

"He was really impressed with how clean it was and the quality of the rock," said Trotter. "He's just a really motivated climber; he goes for it."

Trotter moved to Squamish because the area boasts the highest concentration of the hardest test pieces in Canada, something Rodden and Caldwell recognized immediately.

"I think it's great," said Rodden. "It seems like a really cool place with lots of established climbs and a lot of stuff that can be done. It's like a mini-Yosemite without all the regulations."

Both Rodden and Caldwell started out as competitive sport-climbers, but have since branched out into bouldering and traditional (gear) climbing, seeking every experience possible in as many conditions, locations and situations available.

"We like climbing in every aspect," said Rodden. "You get to try everything. It's good to know what's out there and to become a lot more well-rounded."

"It's really good to be able to do it all," said Caldwell.

While in Squamish, the young couple spent time climbing and bouldering, and have noticed the friendly, outgoing atmosphere that exists in the climbing community.

"It's pretty amazing here," said Caldwell. "There's climbers everywhere - in the grocery store, downtown. It's pretty awesome."

"It's super friendly," added Rodden. "It's nice and mellow. Everything is so accessible. It's definitely a nice place to hang out and there's lots of other things to do too."

Locals have known it for years, but the reputation of Squamish as an international world-class climbing destination keeps getting stronger. Rodden and Caldwell have now experienced it first-hand, and already have plans to come back - thanks to a great first impression.

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