Years ago, I saw a photo of an austere crack zigzagging up slate-gray granite above a forest. The photo triggered a desire like none I’d had: I needed to climb that route. I read the caption: Exasperator (5.10c), Squamish, Canada. “I better start trad climbing,” I thought.
At the legendary Squamish, just 40 miles north of Vancouver, hundreds of thuggy boulders dot the dense forest below the 2,300-foot Stawamus Chief, which offers trad routes ranging from single-pitch splitters to 12-pitch adventure climbs. Exasperator carves a perfect line at the base of the Chief’s west-facing Grand Wall. Jim Sinclair and Jim Baldwin claimed the first ascent, on aid, of the 150-foot route in 1960, but it wasn’t until 15 years later that it went free at the hands of Eric Weinstein and Dave Nicol. Today, Marc Bourdon, author of the Squamish Select guide, lists Exasperator as a Top 100 climb.
The first half follows a straight-up crack before reaching a small stance and an optional anchor. From here, the line takes a sharp turn right, traversing through 20 feet of delicate fingerlocks and techy footwork on protruding grains. A final section zags back left, widening to thin hands.
After I served a five-year trad apprenticeship, my big day came in summer 2018. I racked up, charging through the 5.10a first pitch. After years of buildup, it was time for the crux. With my small digits, each hold in the traverse felt like a finger jug, and I was soon clipping the anchors, feeling melancholy that my dream was ending. So I did what any sane climber would do: I lowered, pulled the rope, and climbed Exasperator again.
Squamish, British Columbia
Jim Sinclair and Jim Baldwin; 1960
Eric Weinstein and Dave Nicol; 1975