Places to Be: Climbing Squamish’s Smoke Bluffs

Burgers and Fries

The sharp rock digs into my two fingers, wedged into a small crevasse in the rock. The skin threatens to tear as all of my weight dangles from the muscles of just two digits. I take a deep break as rain hits my face, pushing my contacts out of focus. With all the strength left in me after a full day of climbing, I swing my legs up, shouting with exertion as I struggle to stay on the wall. My toes, crushed into my tiny, rubber-soled climbing shoes, fight to find grip on the wind and rainswept granite. By some miracle, my big toe finds a groove big enough for me to balance on. With a shaking leg, I stand, relieving the strain on my now crushed fingers. I grab the crack over my head with my other hand, shaking out the lactic acid and adrenaline that has filled my right arm. The hard part is over; I've bridged the gap between the sets of easily-climbed cracks.

​To get to the gap, I climbed up two successive cracks and up onto a ledge. There lays the gap, the crux of the climb. Three metres separate the ledge, the end of the first two cracks, from the second set. In between are only three small holes in the rock with almost nowhere two place your legs, the basis for most of the power and balance in climbing. With my left hand firmly crammed into the the top crack, I’ve bridged the gap. To do so, I used the tiny handholds to pull myself up, my feet slipping on the slick slab.

From here, I use a move called a lieback to climb the final crack. The lieback is a climbing move that uses tension to help you stick to the rock. To do one, you need a crack where you can wrap the fingers of both hands into. Then you lie back, parallel to the wall with your feet, placed below your hands, pushing you away from the crack. This tension keeps you firmly stuck to the rock and by sliding your hands and feet up the crack, you can easily gain height

Lieback Flake

It’s a little after 11 a.m., and after being awake for four and a half hours already, I'm ready to start climbing. After all of the pre-climbing checks with my belayer (everyone is tied in properly, harnesses are strapped and all carabiners are locked), my fingers finally find rock. The first few moves are simple but I'm quickly at a loss for my next move. The big toes of both of my feet are balanced on a ledge, but above them is a smooth slab of granite. The only handhold is well above my head and seemingly out of reach.

I have no choice but to jump for it.

I go through the move in my head, visualizing it in perfection. And then I go for it. Or, rather, I try to but fear freezes me up and I do little more than bend my knees stupidly. Again and again I convince myself to go for it and fail to move a muscle.

​One of the best (and worst) parts about rock climbing is that as physically demanding as a sport as it is, it is more mentally demanding. Every move is a puzzle to be solved and once it is, you have to execute it. Something that is more simply said than done. I’m pumped full of adrenaline and it has short circuited my frontal cortex, the logic centre of the brain. (Thanks Artem, for the physiology lesson). I know the rope will catch me. I know I'm tall enough to reach the handhold. I know my feet will find grip when I go for the reach. But my brain refuses to believe and trust my body. To beat my brain, I let my muscles go loose, take a second to collect myself and then explode upwards. The tips of my fingers reach the elusive handhold and a foot finds a tiny indent to stick to. I’ve done it.

From here I complete a few more moves before I get to the namesake lieback. But in the rainy conditions, it is above my ability and I am belayed down, slightly disappointed.


Cornflakes, the line next to Lieback Flake, is the most rewarding climb of the day. More successful than its brother Lieback, but more challenging than Burgers and Fries. Most of the climbing has chunky handholds, tight cracks to wedge feet and hands into and flat slabs of granite. The most exciting -- and difficult -- problem is presented by two rocks that stick out from the main wall, creating an upside-down triangle shaped hole above a tiny ledge. I manage to get my feet to the ledge but there are no handholds. I yell down to the group below for suggestions. “Jam your arm into the hole,” I hear. Okay, let’s try it.

​I stick my arm, up to my elbow, between the two outcroppings and twist it until it’s stuck. Then, I move one foot off of the ledge, out onto a tiny foothold. Then I move my second foot off the ledge, my weight resting on my wedged arm. My arm is screaming, but my new foot positions allow my right side to grab a ledge and pull my other arm out of its crevasse. But I'm not clear yet. Now, I have both feet on a outcropping but the only handholds are half a metre to my left. I grab a vertical crack with my right hand and slowly inch my arm, and body weight, over my feet to my left until my longest finger reaches the handhold. I have enough of a grip to swing my feet onto a step stuck between two layers of rock and I'm home free. Only a few more moves to the top.

​At the top, I take a second to turn around and see the entirety of Squamish, outlined in front of the giant granite Chief. At the top I soak in the view as it should be seen, from the top of a climb, and reflect on a successful day of climbing.