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New, already-popular climbing route beside Shannon Falls took nine months to complete

'The Spirit of Squamish' route developed by Squamish climbers a perfect — if gruelling — pandemic panacea.

It is a new rock climbing route that likely has some of the most superb views in Squamish,  and that is saying something in this town, with its abundance of picture-perfect scenery.

Aaron Kristiansen's latest route, "The Spirit of Squamish” (5.8), takes climbers up the rock beside Shannon Falls.

The eight pitches bring climbers up the right side of the falls about 200 metres.

"From the base of Shannon Falls all the way to the tippy top," said Kristiansen, adding that it is a moderate-grade climb that beginner to moderate climbers can tackle or at least aspire to.

The project was completed in April, though it wasn't announced until earlier this week.

The nine-month project was a physically demanding slog for Kristiansen and his friend Cameron Hunt. It took hundreds of hours and became their part-time jobs, Kristiansen said.

"One of the realities of the process of route development is that it is very labour intensive. We sort of jokingly refer to it as extreme gardening," he said. "You are up there and you are digging and pulling vegetation out of the cracks with wire brushes; you are scraping away at the lichen to make the climb passable, safe and enjoyable for everyone."

Kristiansen, a registered nurse at Hilltop House, said this challenging route development would likely not have happened were it not for the pandemic.

"It was like my dirt therapy," he said.

"I didn't go to the gym. I was just up on these walls, in lieu of that."

The area has been a popular destination for climbers and hikers alike, so why hadn't this route already been developed?

Kristiansen said that after talking to other route developers, he chalked it up to how much work was involved.

"Other people before me saw the potential but turned away," he said.

"This was done in the absence of… time with my family and friends, cancelled vacation and ski holidays.”

The route has proved popular already.

As soon as Kristiansen posted about it, the post got hundreds of comments.

(As of May 29, about 1,000 people had commented about the route on a Squamish climbing Facebook page, according to Kristiansen.)

Climbers he doesn't know have reached out, he said, and he heard there was a line up to complete it.

"As a route developer, that is what really motivates me," he said.

While he will undoubtedly get to work on another route in the future, for now, he just wants to climb.

"I just want to go climbing with my friends, with my children. That is always fun."

Kristiansen joked nothing could be more socially distanced and pandemic-friendly than being up on a rock in the pouring rain in November.

"This past winter has been a real hard one, not just for myself but for my colleagues and all of the residents and their families at Hilltop House," he said.

"As a climber, we all take solace in our pastimes. In times when there is a lot of mental stress and anguish, you really want to engage with your friends and activities that kind of take your mind away from the day-to-day... It saved me."

At the end of each day, he came home soaking wet, covered in mud — and happy.

"We are up there in the dead of winter, in the rain, digging away. It is about as much fun as it sounds, but as any avid gardener could relate, there's satisfaction that comes with the work of having dirt under your nails. And to see the progression of your work and the satisfaction that your finished product — is really what it is all about," said Kristiansen.

Naming the climb "The Spirit of Squamish" was Hunt's idea.

"On one particular pitch, you are directly across from the waterfall, and it is such an impossible location to find yourself — just the way the wall angles at that position and the prevailing winds that blow in the right direction — you are always dry," Kristiansen explained.

Combined with the roar of the falls, he said, the climb "vibrates with energy...You have the views of Howe Sound behind you and the falls right beside you — it is just such a spectacular location."