Nicole and I recently went to Squamish for 10 days and managed to tick off 7 multi pitch climbs. One of these was Butt Lite- a 5.9 route up to the summit of the Chief. Given that this is the easiest route up the Chief, I thought there would be interest in a trip report. I will include some comparisons to other climbs to help give a baseline for where I personally felt the difficulty lay.
Nicole and I were in Squamish the week before August long weekend and were therefore hoping to get Butt Lite finished during the week, when there were fewer crowds. We had a long list of climbs on the apron we wanted to do, so our plan was to head up Calculus crack (5.9 if you do the direct start) and if all went well, do the buttress on our first climb. If things didn’t go well, we would go back and do it after doing Deidre (5.8) on our second day. Deidre would be easier and faster, but we would be fresher on the first day. It is easy to bail at the top of the Apron, so we knew we didn’t have to decide ahead of time.
If you don’t want to read about our climb up Calculus, skip to Attempt 2 to read about Butt Lite.
Attempt 1 via Calculus Direct
We started climbing at 7:30 am, as we wanted to avoid both sun and crowds. The apron gets sun around 10:30 or 11 at this time of year and it heats up fast and has no shade! Despite the early start, there was a party on the regular start and we could hear people above us on the climb proper. Luckily, we were planning to do the direct as we had heard it was much better climbing than the regular ‘jungle’ start. This allowed us to have the first two pitches to ourselves and avoid the line on the regular 5.8 start.
The first pitch of Calcuus Direct is 5.9, but felt harder than anything I had done at smoke bluffs. It was hard enough for both Nicole and I that we began to question doing Butt Lite, which has a 5.9 pitch near the top. Nicole also found herself missing our forgotten #4 on pitch 2! I had told her she would be fine without it, so I found her a little angry at the belay! Luckily we had a #5, so she could bump that. Despite this we made good time and Nicole lead the 5.8 finger crack without any aiding. At this point we were feeling better, but the hard 5.9 start was still in the back of our minds. As a result, we decided to climb Memorial Crack and see how that felt before we made a decision. Unfortunately, when we hit Memorial, another party was just starting up, so we had about an hour delay. By the time we started there was another party waiting below us, so expect line ups here!
Memorial is another finger crack/set of parallel finger cracks, which eases up significantly higher up. Unfortunately, I felt insecure in the lower crux portion and left both my 0.4’s behind. I would have liked one higher up! Instead I provided Nicole with some comedy when she saw my nut placements (aka ornamental danglings), higher up. I found this climb to be challenging and insecure at the bottom, but it protects very well. It felt better than Calculus Direct, but that could have been because of how well it protected. Nicole did not enjoy the bottom of this route and found quite challenging as well, despite being on second. As a result of this as well as the delays we faced because we would be behind several groups on Butt Lite, we decided to call it. We wanted to speak to the climbing store about the route before we gave it a go and also wanted to start even earlier to avoid lines. Because I would have to lead the 5.9 pitch, we wanted to go in feeling comfortable and not put me in too stressful a position. Luckily Nicole was confident about taking any of the 5.8 pitches.
Attempt 2- Diedre
When we spoke to the climbing store they said that Calculus Direct and Memorial were both considered relatively stiff and that the 5.9 crux on Butt Lite was much easier. They said we should go for it, so we did! Because Diedre is very popular, we started climbing at 6:30 am (left the car at 6:15). Another pary arrived at the route at the exact same time as us, but we let them go first. They were planning to do Ultimate Everything, which is a longer day and were clearly very comfortable on granite slabs. Surprisingly, we didn’t see anyone else until we were on the last pitch and we spotted people starting down below.
Nicole summoned her inner slab beast and led the mostly unprotected first pitch on Diedre. I hate granite slab, so I was very very happy she put the rope up for me. While it is easy, it feels insecure to me and having no gear doesn’t help. Most people seem unfazed by this pitch, but Nicole and I have almost no granite slab experience so both of us found it scary. The 5.6 traverse on the second pitch is literally a sidewalk and if you can do the first pitch you don’t need to worry about the second. We saw some people traversing very high, but we went across low to a foot ledge and then a corner/ramp that led up to the belay.
The next 2 pitches on Diedre are 5.8 corner laybacking/stemming/smearing. Nicole loved these pitches and they were some of her favorite on the trip. We swapped leads through them and moved quickly. I didn’t love them, but I don’t like slabby feet and it felt like the same move over and over again for 2 pitches. It is similar to Joy, but slabbier so you do use the crack as more of a layback. If you place a lot of gear your feet and calves will hate you, but if you get scared you can put as much gear in as you can carry. Following this there is a 5.6 pitch that takes fairly bad gear. Nicole got some good gear low down, but not much in the second half. TCU’s might protect it better, but be prepared for a runout slab pitch. The last pitch is 5.8 that is mostly unprotected 5.5 except for the top. With a root assist to the belay in the trees, I think I avoided the 1 5.8 move. You can protect it with a cam/piton below.
Having made it up to the top in record time – it was barely 10am- we felt confident we could get Butt Lite done in the day time. Diedre is definitely a faster way up than Calculus!
This time we took Broomstick Crack up, which is a fun but slightly freaky flake climb. After some slightly lost wondering through trees, we found the bottom of Butt Lite.
The first pitch of Butt lite goes over a roof, clips a bolt and does a couple slabby/slopey face moves before hitting a 5.4 ramp. On this pitch our lack of experience on granite definitely showed! I found it relatively easy to clip the bolt, but the moves afterward felt slippery, slopey and generally insecure. Falling would result in sliding over the edge of the roof, so I was not in my happy place! After giving it a couple tries, I turned the sharp end over to Nicole, hoping her inner slab beast would re-emerge. Unfortunately, Nicole found it to be no better. We actually left a bail biner and would ready to retreat at this point, making both of us very sad, when something amazing happened! A party of two came up as we were leaving. The leader worked at Climb On in town and was taking his friend up the Chief on his first day of real climbing. When he heard we had bailed on this pitch, he wouldn’t have it. He again told us that we had climbed much harder stuff than the rest of Butt Lite and said that the move by the bolt was the ‘second hardest move on the whole climb’. He also said it was the only slab move and offered to trail our rope up the pitch with him! He was convinced we could do the rest of the climb.
Even on top rope, both Nicole and I struggled with this move- while neither of us fell, it was a close thing. Given that I was tied in below Nicole on a single rope, she was very happy I pulled through. She was hugging a large crack while I did the crux move, but it wouldn’t have been the most fun fall ever. I think more time on granite would make this move feel closer to grade, but as it was, I ended up doing a double mantle with no feet into a hand-foot match. This is exactly how experts recommend you climb a 5.8 slab and I am sure the party above was both impressed and full of confidence in my skill at this point. Nicole found this to be the crux of the whole route. I found it to be equal to the hard moves on the 5.9’s, but with a worse fall that I wasn’t willing to risk.
After getting through this pitch, Nicole led a 5.6 pitch that traversed up left to a section of scrambling between pitches. This was a very easy and secure pitch! Nicole had some rope drag, but since we couldn’t hear each other she got to pull up a bunch of rope through her ATC, which is her second favorite climbing activity, second only to dropping rat poop in her eyes.
After the scrambling we hit two pitches of 5.7 that the book suggested linking. The party ahead of us had linked them and we wanted to keep them in sight on the crux pitch, to watch them climb it, so we also linked them. I had never climbed so fast in my life trying to keep up to the fast group ahead! Luckily the pitches were not sustained and I could do them with minimal gear placement. The gentleman who was seconding ahead of me told me at the belay that he was going as fast as he could to stay ahead of me, so it turns out we accidentally raced each other up! Nicole seconded in record time and after gasping out some congratulations on my gear spacing and her fast climbing with a pack, we walked the scramble over to the base of the 5.9. You go up and left behind some blocks and it was helpful to see where the other group had gone, as it isn’t really climbing here and the route isn’t obvious. Walk towards the next pitch on Squamish Buttress, but then head left and crawl/thras behind some big blocks to get to the base of the 5.9.
The 5.9 starts up a crack with some side pulling moves, then traverses past two bolts and then hits a ledge where the climbing eases significantly. After watching the party ahead, Nicole turned to me and said “I won’t do that pitch, but I am sure you will have no problem!”. Trying to hand the crux off with a compliment worked and I took the lead. The start felt quite fun and secure, with the crux being right around the blots. The bolts are very close together and you can get gear in quite close to them both before and after! It felt extremely well protected! I had no doubts that I could get up the pitch once I started climbing, although I was starting to feel the fatigue in my forearms. Once you hit the ledge it has a crack in the back where you can place protection. It is very easy climbing, but I would recommend placing gear to protect your second, as you can’t see them when they start traversing. I wanted some gear to protect myself, in any case!
Nicole asked to be kept tight for the crux, but as soon as she hit the ledge I heard her start yelling ‘Stop pulling! I’m through the hard part’. Unlike some other people I know, I was able to avoid dragging her through some bushes and along a ledge and instead gave her a looser belay for the traverse.
The book suggests belaying off of a bolt and a nut below the chimney. We used that belay, as the bolted belay would create a lot of rope drag for the next pitch. The party in front of us suggested we build the belay with our gear, so that they could lead off of it and leave it for us. They found a 0.75 placement to use instead of a nut, but Nicole and I both decided the nut is probably the better and more obvious gear to use there. This is also where we met a free solo climber. He came wondering up when we were transitioning and asked if he could “skootch past”. Despite my offering him the inside, he scampered around on the outside edge of the very exposed ledge while Nicole flattened herself to the rock wall and closed her eyes
The chimney is short and protects well. You can walk in and place some high, small gear, before starting climbing. It also takes a #5 up high. We had a #5 because the book told us we needed one. The other party did not have a 5 and was laughing a bit at poor Timmy (I name my really big gear). Nicole ended up being happy to have Timmy because he was easier to place above her once she was in the chimney. I heard her have a bit of a heart to heart with him after she placed him, in which she forgave him for the massive amount of bruises on her thigh. In retrospect she probably didn’t need him, as she got a cam in just below him and a nut in just above him, but the gear placements weren’t obvious from below, and it was nice to have reassurance that she would definitely have gear at the crux. She squeezed up like a boss and was at the tree belay in no time. Seconding the chimney with a pack was not fun, but at least it was short. I dangled the pack between my legs, which worked great in the chimney and less great at the top when I tried to swing around and haul myself onto the ledge. I think next time I would actually wear the pack on my chest. I have never seen this in practice or heard this recommended anywhere, so if you try this I take no responsibility! However, you chimney with your back on one wall and feet on the other, so there is lots of room for a pack in front of you.
The top of this pitch is a series of diagonally slanting ledges. The top out is technically separate from the top out of Squamish Buttress, but when myself and a party on the buttress attempted to share it, we made rope spaghetti. I solved this by down climbing and removing lots of my gear, so Nicole had to climb straight up over the ledges, rather than walking the ramps. The beached whale maneuver is her specialist, so despite some whining about heel hooking by her head, she made it up no problem. The crux of this pitch is protecting your second without creating too much rope drag. If there is a party on the buttress, you may want to wait.
Our trip to the top entailed 16 pitches and we finished the climbing in 9.5 hours. If there had been parties ahead of us, this could easily have been much slower, so start early!
When you finish, you are not actually on the top. You are on a slab ledge below the top, where you can get thoroughly lost if you try. You also have one awkward scramble up a slab bolder, which we surmounted by having me give Nicole a butt push/shove up and then her tying the tail of a rope backpack to a tree and dropping the end to me as a fixed rope. The butt pushing would be optional if you can either scramble, or do granite slab. I was tempted to repeat my double mantle hand foot match, but Nicole thought that was a bad idea.
At this point, you actually want to go straight up and work your way around the climber’s left of the summit, to where you can scramble up. If you go left, there are some easy slabs you can walk back up to get to the true trail. Don’t go too far around! If you are contemplating pulling out the rope, go back up! The scramble to the top takes a ramp up the cliff on your left and there are some steel rungs in the rock at the top. This pops you out at the top of the hiking trail. Nicole and I had never been to the top before, but luckily there was a group of 30 Japanese exchange students making an obvious line down to the first ladder/chain. The rest of the trail down is well signed, but I was glad we didn’t have to find it in the dark. It would be embarrassing to get benighted on the hike.
During the walk down, Nicole’s old ankle injuries caught up with her and we completed the walk off in a record 2 hours. I have heard you can do it in 45 minutes, but this would mean that Nicole could not have draped herself over the stairway railings and slid down like a rag doll. I also discovered that when sufficiently tired, laughing required enough effort that she would lose all muscle control. This was a challenge, because watching someone stagger around like a drunk person and then fall over because of laughing, tends to make you laugh more. After I convinced Nicole that ‘sitting and waddling’ was not a good way to get down, she tried just star-fishing in the middle of the trail. After that failed, we passed all the gear and ropes to me and made it to the parking lot, where there was shade and water.
We delivered a six pack to the guy at the climbing store the next day. It seemed to make him happy.
The 5.9 and 5.8 chimney protect very well. Both are easier than Memorial and Calculus direct, in my opinion. The 5.8 first pitch on Butt Lite sucks. If you like slab or climb a lot of granite, you will certainly disagree.
Memorial tends to be a back-up point. Broomstick is not as much of one, as the climbing is very easy.
Getting stuck behind someone on Butt Lite would slow you down considerably. although there are wide ledges/many trees at most of the belays. The last belay before the chimney can really only handle one party, unless the other party is very nice or you are friends.