Be prepared and recreate within the boundaries of your abilities.
In light of the steady stream of search-and-rescue calls this summer, this is an important mantra, which is often repeated by Squamish Search and Rescue manager B.J. Chute.
I have the added blessing of having this wisdom burned into my brain during our semi-weekly briefings. And I’m glad because it certainly came in handy last week.
I’m a new trad climber. In my enthusiasm, I’ve been eagerly ticking off as many routes as possible, and last week was no exception.
Me and a climbing buddy went up to the Stawamus Chief’s Bulletheads and figured we’d tick off Cream of White Mice, a three-star 5.9 multi-pitch route. That’s basically the upper end of beginner climbing. Once you hit 5.10, that’s intermediate.
I expected it to be relatively doable, but, just in case life happened, I compulsively brought my headlamp, extra batteries and more water than I ever drink.
There was a longer run-out traverse — an area where you can’t put protective gear — but aside from that, I wasn’t expecting any significant challenges on the route.
Long story short, I ended up traversing in the wrong spot. I was using an older map that didn’t clearly show a big dihedral feature there. I ended up traversing to that feature thinking that this was the correct path.
It turned out to be a path on a route significantly harder than what I chose. Luckily, since I climb well below my grade on longer multi-pitch routes, this new ‘variation’ didn’t immediately thrust me into something far, far harder than what I could do. It was roughly 5.10d, which is the very edge of my ability.
I can get up a route like this, but it would not be clean. It would be very ugly. And it was. I ended up tugging on the last three quickdraws — cheating if you were to ask any climber. But the light was fading and I wanted to finish up.
Then, after an unexpectedly harder route, we found ourselves facing a fifth class walkoff where a fall would be serious or life-ending. There’s supposed to be a fixed line, but we later found, to our chagrin, someone had chopped or broken it off.
So we ended up resorting to slinging rappels on trees on the worst parts. We also had to take things very slowly. We started climbing at 6 p.m. but wound up returning to the parking lot at 2 a.m.
Had we been caught completely unprepared, this could’ve easily been an embarrassing search and rescue call. Imagine if our headlamps went out. Or if we ran out of water. Or if we weren’t comfortable setting up rappels. Instead, it turned out to be a funny story and an unexpectedly epic adventure.
However, all of our preparation couldn’t get us ready for our final obstacle.
On our return, something was suspiciously missing from the parking lot — my friend’s car.
Spare headlamp batteries can’t save you from the towing service.