A Story For The Readers!

It was slightly overcast, an early day in April, a spring chill in the air – just perfect for a long route.  My girlfriend Lydia Zamorano was up for climbing the Chief (as usual), but we didn’t have time for Angels Crest or The Ultimate Everything, so we opted to climb the Squamish Buttress.  We figured we could do it fast enough by now.  With bullet packs and chalk bags, we soloed up Banana Peel into Boomstick Crack, 5.7, then worked our way through the forest.  By the time we got to the first 5.9 moves it had started sprinkling a little, and the wind had picked up dramatically – blowing the chalk from our bags and whipping it across the South Gully.  We pulled on our hats.  When we got to the 5.10c, we were both so cold and unmotivated rappelling down seemed like a better option.  Away we went.

One month before this, I was up on the Prow Wall working on one of my projects, and I kept looking back across at the Squamish Buttress thinking how cool it would be to trend left to the obvious ledge system and scramble to the top, “it would make for an awesome escape route”.  Not too many days after this realization, I ran into my smiling friend Jamie Selda a mellow and motivated guide living here in Squamish. He told me he saw the same line, and thought the only way to connect the two would be to link the dyke feature into the ledges.  He stoked the fire. It was the missing link.

As Lydia and I worked our way down that day, we ended up nearly face to face with the diagonally leaning dyke, and being on the North Face of the South Gully we were quickly sheltered from the biting cold.  But there were no holds.  Only a bleak seam 20 feet to the left.  So with a surprising amount of skepticism, I uncoiled the rope and began a journey up the seam.  Cleaning mud from the crack for hands and feet, I could barely get any gear, my feet skated on the wet moss, and I began to wonder if this was a terrible idea.  I was suddenly high above my last small piece, in running shoes nonetheless, and practically lunging for the ledge.  I stuck it, mantled it and built a belay.  Lydia came up with a smile on her face which indicated to me ‘it was safe to continue‘.   So I flipped over the rope and took off on a ledge that was smothered in bushes and branches and carpets of moss.  It was the most fun I had had all day – not knowing which way to go – the idea that we might get stuck somewhere in the gully and have to rappel was sort of exciting, but even more than that, the idea that we might actually get to the top somehow – uncontrollably, a war whoop leapt from my lungs.  I scampered up a curving offwidth pitch with my back to the wall, smearing my feet up the grimy ramp and laybacking the edge (which is much easier than getting stuck inside) I found another belay and brought up my sweet lady.  Again, she was all smiles and rosy cheeks, our noses were running, our ears were red, but we were having an adventure in our own back yard.

And that, is how the hardest week of my life all began.  Smirk!

A look down onto the North Face (click to enlarge) – a keen eye can see two climbers topping out the Regular Route, and also see the half moon scoop I’ve been referring to, (to the left).


Upon getting home from my trip to the Rocky Mountains last week, I had a mischievous middle finger, so I was fixed on the idea of going back and trying to “tidy it up a tad”.  The same day we arrived home, my good friend Ben Moon landed in Squamish (from Portland, Oregon) for a week with nothing to do.  Imagine that?  A man without a plan?  I see it now as something rather serendipitous, if it were not for Ben, his open mindedness, his enthusiasm and his strong rowers back, this climb would most certainly still be a sitting pile of mud, a Guatemalan transplant, so to speak.

I took him up the climb and it was just as filthy as I remembered, but immediately he saw what I saw and pulled back a patch of soil to reveal what I had hoped, a beaming hunk of perfect white granite.  His eyes lit up and he knew right away this was worth the trouble.  Ben is my hero, I still don’t know why he chose to get involved exactly, he had no alternative motive, it’s not like he was going to guide it or anything, he just did it because it looked like more fun than work, and, he felt it was the right thing to do I guess.  I thank him for the company, the laughs, and the dried mango with red bulls.

As for me, I’m not just a climber, it’s what I do, it’s what I love, it’s how I make my living.  It’s all connected. So when people ask me why, I tell them it’s because I wanted a mellow solo at the end of a hard day’s work, which is not entirely a joke, but more, I wanted to give Squamish something back, because it has given me so much (say cheese), I wanted to get my hands dirty and create something out of nothing, (all true), I wanted to expose a climb for the first time 5.9 leaders, the soloist, the guides, the lot.  The plan was to relieve traffic jams, and create an alternate exit for those who may be intimidated by the 5.10c finish.  Besides, how long could it take really, 2 days?  At the most right?  No big deal:)

Here are some shots before too much cleaning ensued.

Scoping out the base of the crack.  Can you see the potential?

Here you can see Ben pushing his way through the brush.

emerging (mostly) clean on the other side and wearing the same grin that Lydia had two months before.

Ben leading the last pitch.  This was the last I saw of him until we reached the top.

TEAM SCRUB,  reporting for duty.  SIR.

Me and a hoe, just taking five.

Moondoggie, showing us all how it’s done.

This was a one hour appearance by Andrew Burr, no joke, (just minutes before catching a flight home to his wife and daughter).  Burr is the other American Photographer that hauled his ass up there and worked like a horse.  In fact, I was the only local who put in time,  where were all the Squamish Peeps when we needed them?

taking the pain.  This was one, of our 10 hour days.

So was this…

And this…

However, there could be worse places to hang out and do some PUBLIC SERVICE.

happily dehydrated.

And soloing his way back out.  Notice the layers of mud on his face.

It’s a good thing it’s only 5.9

Evening is upon us, but it’s starting to shape up.

There’s a surprisingly clean spot in the middle there.  Weird.

Here,  Ben Moon is fresh as a daisy,  ready to start the day and do it all over again.  What a psycho!

In the end, it took us 5 days.  Over 70 combined hours of scrubbing and nearly $200 in tools.  A drop in the bucket compared to some new routes out there, and certainly worth it,  as this is now (technically speaking) the most manageable free climb to the summit of the Chief.  Ben and I find it’s a lovely addition, because now it makes the Squamish Buttress a much more mellow and consistent day.  We called it many names over the course of a week, wink, but in the end, we settled on just two…

Public Service 5.9


The Squamish Buttress, North Face Var, 5.9 (aka The Squamish Butt Face)

Although it won’t be the only climb established this year, nor will it be the best, it might just be the most traveled, so without further ado, I’d like to thank the people involved in making this project go down, seriously, this sort of shit doesn’t happen everyday, nor does it happen alone, so with a deep voice and great gratitude, to the names and links below, this Bud’s for you…

Jamie Selda’s Futuristic Vision.

Lydia Zamorano’s Endless Patience.

Ben Moon’s Hard Ass Work.

Andrew Burr Two hours of hiking, one hour of scrubbing.

And all the sponsors who encourage me to keep climbing, taking pictures and putting up new routes.








PEACE OUT and happy scrubbing, er, I mean, climbing, yes, happy (and safe) climbing to all!

  • Abc

    And that s also why I keep on reading your blog.. Awesome story, thanks for both efforts (the scrubbing and the writing).

  • Geordie Webb

    Hi Sonnie,

    Ben sent me the link to your story.
    Great work!
    Having been high in the Squamish Buttress with frozen water in the 10c crack I rekon a side route is definately welcome!


    Alice springs, Australia

  • Fre

    Great job man!!! The traffic jams right before that .10c are indeed pretty horrendous, a bottleneck like the Lion’s Gate Bridge no less. Can’t wait to try it!!!

  • Danny

    Man, great stuff, awesome writing.

    There is nothing better than trudging to the bathroom early in the morning with my laptop in tow to do my biz and a little bit of morning reading.

    The line sounds sick.

  • Sonnie

    Ha, thanks guys! and Danny……I’m glad you enjoyed it too, but for future reference, please try to refrain from viewing my blog while locked in the water closet, if you can. That’s weird:)

  • Travis

    That sounds like quite an adventure and a great time. Thanks for the work.

    Danny, that is weird.

  • Eric

    aweome …. as a moderate trad climber u just took the fear out of the buttress for me !!!

  • cool story. the time spent on our chosen hobbies, not the actual activity it’s self, is unfathomable. i can’t say i’ve ever cleaned anything like this, but i recently completed a bike trail me and a friend have put over 200 man-hours into and a couple of months evening work on. sometimes the digging was the motivation more than the riding.

    someone needs to look into why i can go into the woods and shift 8 tonnes of earth and fallen braches but i can’t neatly fold all my washed clothing after it’s come out of the dryer?

  • Kris Wild

    Just saw a link to this on squamishclimbing.com. Nice work Sonnie! That should be a great contribution to the community. That variation is long overdue. I stared at those ledges for a long time from UE, but never noticed the lower way to access them. If you take on any serious earth moving again in the future, give me a call. I’ll set you up with the real tools of the trade.

    Isn’t it amazing how as the difficulty of a new route decreased, the time it takes to scrub it increases exponentially?


  • Sonnie

    Ha ha – exactly – 5.14 takes five seconds, 5.13 takes five minutes, and 5.9 takes five days? what the hell? ha ha ha.
    And Jamesr, I know what you mean, you couldn’t pay me enough money to do that much gardening at home, and yet, for a climb, I’ll hike up there five days in a row, ignore my life for a week, destroy my body, and work like a mule, for free. I think we’re fucked eh!

  • Sonnie

    P.S. Kris, right back at ya dude on the Calc Direct, Evan told me about it last night, sounds like just the ticket.

  • Brian Moorhead

    Good work gang, a new moderate to the summit is always welcome.

  • KenC

    Well now, this IS something completely different. A classic case of “lead by example” that I hope catchs on. Thanks to all of you for giving back to the community. It is appreciated.

  • Apes

    TEAM SCRUB is HOT!!!! Love that pic!!!!!

  • Dave Brayden

    Great work Sonnie and crew, I’m sure this will become popular. Clever idea covering the ledge with a tarp!


  • Skier Mike

    Climbed it Sat Sept 4. First time 5.9 leader and felt the exposure of our day get a lot bigger on that ledge system, super fun…Cluster of groups that day. Party of three behind us went for the shallow left facing corner crack up and right of your bolted belay. It also appeared to be scrubbed and cleared of brush.

    Thanks for your hard work!

    Skier Mike

  • Nice work. My 10 yo daughter Kira wants to climb The Chief over two days and I think this could be the route! (Crazy, I know, but I can lead & we can always walk off Broadway if we have to…). I’ll let you know how we go.

    The effort you have to go to to put up routes here is incredible. Check the route out in this photo that I put up a few years back: ZERO CLEANING http://robjwall.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/before-we-left-australia/ BUT ITS 8 HOURS DRIVE AWAY AND NOONE WILL CLIMB IT! You can’t win 🙂

  • James

    Great work on the new route, can’t wait to climb it this summer! I hope someday you get the chance to return the favour and climb something I put up.

  • Mary Saugstad

    Hi Sonnie and all the folk who cleaned Butt Face: thanks so much! I finally accomplished my goal of climbing the Chief! Was a great day climbing to the first peak with my husband!