The second crux of the Sword pitch. Photo of Mike...
This is THE route at Squamish. It has is all: perfect rock, great setting, runout slab, stellar crack, strenuous laybacking, delicate face, and many variations.
The first ascent was a 40 day epic, beautifully documented in the film "In the Shadow of the Chief" available from www.fringefilmworks.com/
It was finally freed at 5.13b in 2000 by Scott Cosgrove and Annie Overlin using a number of variations.
You can get to the base of the Split Pillar by one of the routes listed in the Area description. Merci Me is described here:
P1: From Flake Ledge climb the first pitch of Merci Me (5.7) past three bolts. The first is probably 30 or more feet out.
P2: Merci Me continues up and slightly left into trickier terrain (5.8). Break right near the second bolt and go past a detached flake and then to a two bolt belay right where the wall becomes vertical.
P3: Traverse right and slightly down, around the bulge (out of sight from your belayer) and into the 10b rising traverse. This traverse has good pro, but the feet are poor making it strenuous. Aid or boulder (5.12-) past three bolts to the base of the Split Pillar.
P4: The Split Pillar is a highly photogenic crack comparable to an Indian Creek splitter. It's 10b to jam, but you would need the endurance of a 5.12 climber to layback it. The crack widens relentlessly from rattly fingers to wide fists over about 100ft. 30 more feet include some fun flake and squeeze chimney moves. The belay on top of the pillar is second to none.
P5-6: The Sword is the technical crux of the route with an 11a crux early on. Place a few good pieces before committing to it. Pull out left onto the face above the crux and savour the exposure that might seem to have crept up on you. Easier climbing through a broken crack eventually forces you back into the dihedral on the right for a technical endurance finish to keep you honest. The belay here is in a spectacular position, but it's hanging and can be avoided by linking the bolt ladder above. Slings can serve as etriers for the 8 or 9 bolts in the ladder.
P7: Perry's Layback is a fully bolted, lower angle pitch, which makes it sound like a walk, but many people debate whether it's the crux of route rather than The Sword. Climb efficiently...
P8: The Flats: Several variations are possible here. The easiest, at 10a, goes right along a ledge until bolts lead up a slab to a ledge. A very reachy pull takes you to the belay ledge.
P9: The final pitch is a very honest 10c requiring some tree climbing and then underclinging horizontally to the right around a big flake (The Sail Flake). Once the flake heads up and back left you're pretty much there.
The climb can continue via the Roman Chimneys route, but most traverse off via Bellygood Ledge, a well-named 300 foot traverse to the right. Stay roped up.
Descent: After traversing Bellygood, continue heading right into the forest. The trail should take you to a slab that you can descend hugging the vertical wall. A knotted rope will eventually take you to the well traveled backside trail which will take you to the climbers campground and finally the parking lot.
The route "really" starts with the Split Pillar (approaches described in the Grand Wall Area description), but since Merci Me is the minimum mandatory climbing to get to the start, this description assumes you've scrambled up to Flake Ledge (the shortest variation).
Merci Me is runout bolts (up to 5.8) with some small to medium cams and nuts possible near the end.
The 10b traverse to the Split Pillar takes singles of small (finger size) to medium cams and nuts.
The bolt ladders are manageable with improvised etriers and spare 'biners or draws.
The Split Pillar is the gear hog on the route. A double set of cams from off-fingers to wide fists is normal. More if you're going to dog (and you will if you layback), less if you're solid jamming from tight hands to big fists. Save a 1.5 inch piece for the last 15 feet. The final squeeze chimney isn't easily protectable, but hey, it's a squeeze chimney.
The Sword pitch takes mostly smaller nuts and cams up to tight hands. There are a few opportunities for slung horns and a 2 inch cam is optional.
Perry Layback is closely bolted.
The 10a pitch in The Flats is bolted but a small nut and a hand-size cam are handy.
The final pitch takes finger to hand size cams.
A few quick draws and cams are handy on the traverse off Bellygood Ledge.
There were two parties on the Grand Wall yesterday (April 29, 2007) enjoying the sun. It looked like the upper party was there to take photos of the lower party. One climber from the upper party had been lowered from the belay at the top of the Sword and was pendulumed off to the left where they waited for the leader of the lower party to come up the Sword. Does anyone know if it was anyone (photographer or climber) who's work we might recognize, or was it just some friends really going the extra mile for each other (if so, please post those shots!).
By John Wilder From: Las Vegas, NV Jun 27, 2007 rating: 5.11a6c22VII+E3 5c C1- PG13
This is probably one of the best routes anywhere. Spectacular climbing in a spectacular setting....unbelievable.
Rack: Doubles to #3 Camalot and a single #4 Camalot worked out nicely. If I were going to do it again, maybe 6 or 7 small to medium stoppers, but certainly not a full set. Lots of draws- the bolt ladders eat them up, as does Perry's Layback. You do not need aiders or daisies for this route- slings are more than adequate.
We approched via Apron Strings, and believe this is the way to do it- an additional 2 pitches of spectacular climbing on top of an already great route!
Wow. So, so good. Starting off the ledge on mercy me keeps you a little fresher for the crux pitches, apron strings is a great two pitch route but is easily done by itself, no reason to link it up unless you want to.
In the Squamish select book, an .11a variation is shown on the topo for the last pitch before bellygood. It goes left past a single bolt to an .11a face crux. The flake system you climb for this variation is BAD, I almost pulled a dinnerplate off of it, and the entire flake system is too hollow to hold a fall, bad variation in my opinion. Especially since people were talking about how fun the .10c pitch was, and I missed it for that crappy variation. I don't think a #4 camalot is necessary, doubles up to #3s are definitely good for the split pillar though.
By Andy Laakmann Site Landlord From: Bend, OR Aug 14, 2007 rating: 5.10+6b+21VII+E3 5b A0
What more needs to be said? Awesome route.
Some details -
Face stays in the shade until at least noon
The wind can blow up high, making shady mornings cool
Split Pillar is awesome fun. In the wider section, I couldn't get a (new style) #4 camalot to fit, but a (old style) #3.5 fit perfectly.
The Sword's crux is short and technical. Don't underestimate the pump factor when you try and grab the chains at the base of the bolt ladder. My partner took a quality whipper after grabbing the chains, and apparently this is quite common. When you hit the chains, reach your entire arm through the chains before it is too late!
Perry's Layback is strenuous, but straightforward. Take your time to carefully move your feet through the short crux section (right before the big rest)
The Flats is fun slabbing
Sail Flake is tough with tired arms. A bit of a sting in the tail. The business portion of this pitch is mostly #0.5-#0.75 camalot size. Easiest way off the belay is to climb the tree in true Squamish style.
I agree with David Shiembob on the rack. Doubles are all that are necessary, triples are simply extra weight. I only placed 1 nut on the whole climb - a #7 BD on the Sword pitch. Cams sink in everywhere. Excellent route.
Okay, I'm a pretty good sport climber (mid 12s) but my trad is a bit rusty. If I layback the split pillar pitch, can I pull onto rests to place gear, or will I just be screwed? Any ideas of which pitches would be best for me to lead? Any pitches have more face relief than others? Thanks for any beta.
By Andy Laakmann Site Landlord From: Bend, OR Aug 16, 2007 rating: 5.10+6b+21VII+E3 5b A0
The first three pitches from Flake Ledge to Split Pillar (5.7, 5.8, 5.10b) are essentially all face climbing with the occasional piece of gear or crack move. The Split Pillar felt like Indian Creek 5.10-. It is in a corner so there are plenty of stem rests if you are confident jamming tight to wide hands. It goes from green camalots to wide #3 camalots in about 100 feet to a huge rest. The last 20 feet are a squeeze chimney. You could layback the chimney, but I'm not that bold. The Sword has big rests between 10-15 foot sections of harder climbing. Perry's Layback really only has one rest at the end, but it is very closely bolted. The Flats is face climbing. Sail Flake is strenuous underclinging with OK feet, but the flake is very positive.
I have wondered whether a 5.12 sport climber could layback the Split Pillar. Seconding would certainly be possible, but I think you would have to be a very solid 5.12 sport climber and oriented more towards endurance than bouldering. It's a long pitch and the wall your feet would be on is smooth, so it would be very strenuous. If you try, I'd like to know how it goes.
If your jams are good enough to place gear from the crack, my feeling is that they would be good enough to make upward progress too.
By Tony B From: Around Boulder, CO Jun 29, 2008 rating: 5.10+6b+21VII+E3 5b A0
A great climb. 2 each cams from 1.5" to 3" and one each .5", .75" and 3.5." I placed more stoppers than are described here, taking a set from #5 BD equivalent to the top is a good idea. A few more notes. 8 slings is sufficient- you don't have to leave a biner on every bolt on aid- every 2nd or 3rd will do. Also,Perry's layback is a ton easier if you don't try to clip them all- skip them down low while you are fresh and you won't get so pumped up top so as to need them. Basically if it is a strenuous clip, leave it alone.
A few notes on distance- the first two pitches on the slab approach can be combined in 66 meters, and the sword pitch is best run directly into the aid ladder in one pitch as well, a little over 35 meters that way. The total lengthe of the shortest way up this route including approach, is about 370 meters, not including the bellygood ledge traverse, which is 150 meters to the woods.
By Andy Laakmann Site Landlord From: Bend, OR Aug 15, 2008 rating: 5.10+6b+21VII+E3 5b A0
Climbed it again on 8/14. As good as I remember :)
green c3, one set of mastercams blue, yellow, orange
One set of nuts (I placed a variety of sizes, including larger ones). No need for super small nuts.
3x0.5 camalots (the Sword/Sail Flake takes a bunch at this size)
Doubles of 0.75,1,2,3 camalot
So doubles are fine, as mentioned above. The only exception (for me) was purple camalots on the Sword pitch, but if you have a matching TCU (or similiar) cam then you'd be set with just two #0.5 camalots.
Considering saving a purple and slightly smaller cam (orange mastercam) for the last section of the Sword getting to the chains... fricken PUMPY and no time to be fumbling with gear :) You'll also want to save a #0.75 camalot for near the top of the Split Pillar.
I had a #4 new style camalot, and it barely fit on the Split Pillar. I'll take my old #3.5 next time. Apparently I can't read my own notes, as I wrote that exact same thing last year!
Sail flake was easier than I remember.... right when you need it small feet start appearing. If you have a tired follower, think about the swing potential for them and pro accordingly. I actually reached back and placed another purple camalot for the benefit of my follower - who did fall, and then still swung well below the crack. Save your green camalots for turning the lip of the flake.
Good gear comments all. I second the leave the #4 Camalot and bring the old 3.5 instead. We did it 8/16/08 climbing in two parties. We were above my friend from Mexico City, his first trad lead was the Sword pitch, he onsighted it. He did run it out a bit and his last piece was somehow a 00 C3! Proud day for him. I watched it and he looked so solid, great day.
I tried shimmying Bellygood Ledge on my belly. Maybe it is too big but I didn't want to do it a few shimmies into it. I found that if you walk it, you can undercling and feel relatively secure.
I am looking to do this route next summer. What is the best time of year (least crowded and decent weather window)? Also, I have done Diamond routes, is this similar in commitment?
By Andy Laakmann Site Landlord From: Bend, OR Dec 7, 2008 rating: 5.10+6b+21VII+E3 5b A0
Both times I've done the route, I've managed to avoid crowds and the heat by starting very early and climbing the first two pitches of Mercy Me (5.7 dyke) in the dark by headlamp. I vaguely remember leaving the parking lot at 4:30 AM. By the time we finished the second pitch, the sun was rising. Both times, another party didn't even start the route until we were well into the Split Pillar.
Unless you're into 10b liebacks in the dark, this means you can't do the Apron Strings start... but the advantage is you'll have nobody above you on the route and if you move at a typical pace, you'll be back to your car by 1-2pm in the afternoon and the sun has just hit the face by then.
It works great!
A few points.,,.
Unless you are familiar with the 3rd class approach to the base of Mercy Me, scout it ahead of time. You'll NEVER find it in the dark by headlamp without prior knowledge. You can tick Seasoned in the Sun (10a) when in the neighborhood.
Mercy Me is very easy by headlamp, so don't stress about that.
It feels great to get back to your car by lunch time and look up to see the typical Summer conga train going up the wall. You have the whole afternoon to go cragging at the Bluffs.
And if you're really, really, really, really, really game... do the Cruel Shoes start in the dark by headlamp. Gulp.... ;)
I definitely agree with Andy on this, start early to avoid the crowds. I think I've been the first on it all four times I've done it, although two of those times were weekdays. Finishing in the very early afternoon is great; finishing in the late afternoon, as I did on my first time, is not.
Both pitches of Merci Me link perfectly with a 70m rope. The Flats and the Sail Flake could be linked, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you've been on the route before and know what gear to place to avoid brutal rope drag.
Now that I've done it a few times I've started cutting back on the rack. Last time I ditched the second #3 camalot and went with doubles up to #2, one #3 and one #3.5. It does mean you can't sew up the Pillar, but it was very reasonable. Next time, maybe no second #2. Not recommended for a first time rack unless this is way below your grade.
Starting with Cruel Shoes would be fantastic, but it does mean that you would probably not be the first to the Pillar. Maybe next year....
Regarding the question about commitment relative to the Diamond, there's no comparison. The Grand Wall is at sea level, a fifteen minute hike from the parking lot, has bolted anchors at all belays and good protection almost everywhere except Merci Me, which is well below the crux grade.
By Peter Franzen Administrator From: Phoenix, AZ Aug 10, 2009 rating: 5.11a6c22VII+E3 5c A0
What a fantastic route. I lead every pitch, and I agree with pretty much all of the comments here on the route. I nearly took a good whipper while hanging from the chains at the end of The Sword, and I think that Perry's Layback is by far the most strenuous pitch on the route; it can be aided pretty easily, although there are a couple of easier moves that need to be done at the top of the arch. I think that anybody who boulders at V4 or above won't have any problem with the crux on the Sword, but figuring out how to maintain composure on the layback is pretty damn hard.
I took doubles in everything up to #3 Camalots, although I could have done without almost all of the TCUs and all of the smaller nuts. I had one of the large Metolius Supercams too, which really came in handy at the top of the Split Pillar; a new #4 really doesn't fit, and the Supercam was a perfect piece to slide up with me for a few moves. I used a bunch of medium to large nuts which came in handy when I began running low on finger-sized cams.
I agree on starting early too-- we left the parking lot at around 5:30 and were the first people on the route, and I wouldn't have wanted to be in the traffic jam that we watched on the Split Pillar and Sword pitches.
Just did this for the second time and I'd say Cruel Shoes is the way to approach for a full-value outing. Crowds can be hit or miss. Earlier in the week I watched from Freeway as a conga line snaked up every pitch of the Grand but a couple of days later we were the third party (behind some friends) with a 8:30 start.
By Jeff G. From: Fort Collins Aug 29, 2009 rating: 5.11c6c+24VIII-E4 6a A0 R
This route is simply fantastic! One of the best climbs anywhere.
Massive sandbagging going on here to call this route 5.10. I mean really? The Sword and Perry's Lieback 5.10?
I thought that I would have to layback alot of the split pillar but I managed with forearm deep jams and feet straight into the crack. Only had to layback the chimney part at the end. We also decided to leave the #4 at home and did fine with a double rack up to #3's. I did have to walk cams up it though a little bit. I would definitly recommend the Cruel Shoes start, pretty spicy and there's not too many people on it. We started at 8am and were the first party on that route and to the pillar on a Wednesday. We finished it up via the Upper Black Dyke, which was pretty cool. I was surprised to see it only got two stars because I had a great time on it, totally different rock and climbing style than most of the routes we've done here.
I finally got to do this route! Thanks to Andy for finding me a great partner who could lead the hard trad pitches. I did layback the majority of the Split Pillar while seconding. Once it widened past red cams, I couldn't jam. I was able to rest here and there, but I'm not sure I could have placed gear.
Also, I lead pitch 3 and was too short to reach the bolts on the bolt ladder. I got the first one, barely, but couldn't clip the second. I'm only 5'0", but if shorter women are looking to lead that pitch, be warned. Additionally, at the top of the Flats pitch I couldn't make that reach and was barely able to make the move pulling on the draw. My partner couldn't do the move either and he's 5'8", but he could aid through it with a leaping throw off the bolt.
It was a great route. I lead Perry's Layback and had to rest about 3/4 of the way through. Could be because I wore myself out laybacking the Split Pillar, could be because I'm 10 weeks pregnant. Who knows? Either way, I'll have to try again someday for the redpoint!
By b.r.e.t. Dec 21, 2012 rating: 5.11a6c22VII+E3 5c A0