Smith Rock, Squamish - How does it compare to the Gunks?


Original Post
Clare Angelora · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2015 · Points: 30

Heading to the PNW to try out some climbs in Squamish and Smith Rock. Can anyone compare these places to the Gunks approaches and ratings? For example, Seneca Rocks felt completely sandbagged in comparison to the Gunks.

Also, is it necessary to buy a guidebook or will Mountain Project suffice? If not, what guidebooks would you recommend?

Alicia Sokolowski · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 1,045

I'm a Gunks climber that can give you my Squamish impression.  

Approaches in Smoke Bluffs do not really exist, <=5 minutes flat walk is standard.  The chief was basically like the Gunks, a bit shorter maybe, for the routes we did.  Shannon Falls, we took the bushwhack approach, which wasn't very bushy.  It felt no longer than to the Trapps. Murrin Park was a shorter approach.  

I found the climbing to be stiffer than I expected at first because the climbs required different technique, better balance and footwork, generally.  The gear on the slabbier climbs on the chief felt more spaced out.  Just like anywhere, though, you get used to it and by the end of trip, I think you'll be climbing at the same grades you do in the Gunks.

I haven't made it to Smith yet, but my best friend moved out there, so a trip is in my near future.  I wouldn't mind hearing what you thought of Smith after your trip if you feel like posting up.

Edit to add: We brought Squamish Select as a guidebook and got good use out of it.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

Depends on how well rounded you are. If you are good at cracks and slabs, the grades will feel similar. If you're not...they'll likely feel a little tougher.

Smith is super thin vert tech climbing for the most part (and going out of season, btw), and Squamish tends to be thin and hand cracks and slab climbing. 

Either way, both are good fun- although I prefer Squish to almost anywhere else I've climbed. 

Christopher Woodall · · Somerville, MA · Joined May 2015 · Points: 138

Gunks/New Hampshire climber here. I have never been to Smith Rock, but I have been to Squamish!


Approaches: Smoke Bluff approaches are short, Murrin Park approaches are short. The Chief can vary from Gunks like to pulling on fixed lines up some questionably settled terrain. Shannon Falls was a little longer and a little more confusing from what I remember (where to turn off the main trail), but still very easy. In general the difference comes from the fact that the Gunks is a set of 3 basically straight line cliffs (The Trapps, The Nears and Millbrook) which you can walk along until you hit your area, but walking along the cliff edge is not always a strategy that will work for you at Squamish, things can be further apart in some areas. You will adjust after a day or two, just kind of plan your days so you target lots of climbs in specific areas. That said the approaches are short, so we found ourselves driving to multiple climbing areas in a day and still getting in more pitches than an average Gunks day.

Ratings: Soft at the Smoke Bluffs, but only slightly soft everywhere else. I was barely a 5.7 gunks leader, but comfortably climbing 5.8 and struggling up 5.9 at Squamish. That said, the protection is way different, no nice horizontals, just vertical cracks and the slabs can be run out. A big stumbling block for me was learning NOT to place protection constantly and to just climb and place pro at my waist. This can be jarring for a gunks climber who is used to finding a good horizontal at a good stance plugging pro and moving to the next one. Instead you have to be constantly thinking about plugging your key hand jams with gear.

If you are interested in preparing for Squamish I recommend spending a day or two at Cathedral and Whitehorse in NH (or possibly the dacks) and do some granite slab and crack climbing. It is a different style, and I think the grades at squamish were about a full grade to half a grade easier than Cathedral. The rock tends to have a little more friction than Cathedral, and the cracks tend to be more continuous and nicer.

Ryan M Moore · · Philadelphia, PA · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 35

Smith rock felt comparable to the New, maybe a little more technical. Squamish comparable to New Hampshire. Approaches were very mild at both.

Robin S · · OR · Joined Jun 2016 · Points: 30

Approach at Smith is anywhere between 10 min and an hour, depending on where you're going. Mnt Proj is good but the Smith guide book by Alan Watts is outstanding. He's been a Smith climber his entire life and the book is super solid. Great topos, photos, and descriptions. 

JCM · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 95

Aside from grades:

MP is adequate for Smith, though a guidebook is still useful.

MP coverage for Squamish is quite limited, and getting a guidebook is strongly recommended.

Don't go to Smith in the summer.

Zachary Winters · · Mazama, Washington · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 137

Squamish is my favorite climbing. Smith is really great too, but too hot for me in the summer.

Sport: Smith is more technical, Squam (Cheak) is steeper

Trad: Squam is more technical, Smith (lower gorge) is more physical

Squamish has more multipitch, bouldering, and slab.

Grades feel fair at both, but I'd say Smith is a tad stiffer overall. Have fun!!

FoamFinger _______ · · Rad Town, Not set (USA) · Joined Jan 2013 · Points: 250

You can rent the Smith Rock guidebook at Redpoint climbers supply if you want to.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190
John Wilder wrote:

Depends on how well rounded you are. If you are good at cracks and slabs, the grades will feel similar. If you're not...they'll likely feel a little tougher.

Smith is super thin vert tech climbing for the most part (and going out of season, btw), and Squamish tends to be thin and hand cracks and slab climbing. 

Either way, both are good fun- although I prefer Squish to almost anywhere else I've climbed. 

Really? Even to Red Rock?

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530
Ted Pinson wrote:

Really? Even to Red Rock?

In some ways, yes. In others, no. 

Red Rock has an extremely long climbing season (9-10 months) compared to Squamish and more climbing available (although the development in Squamish is hard to keep up with these days- and if you add in what's close by for alpine, its probably debatable)

Squamish, though, has a great vibe, amazing climbing all the way around, and the scenery is tough to beat. 

Khoi · · Vancouver, BC · Joined Oct 2009 · Points: 45

I'm a Vancouverite who has been climbing in Squamish for the past 10 years.  I've been making annual trips to Smith Rock for the past 9 years, and I've been to The Gunks twice.

Smith Rock is my all-time favourite climbing destination.  The Gunks comes in second; if I lived in NYC I'd be climbing in The Gunks every week - weather permitting.  Squamish isn't even in my top 10....

***SQUAMISH***

Alicia Sokolowski's description of the approaches at the Smoke Bluffs is..... a bit inaccurate...  Approaches in The Bluffs can be anywhere from 1 minute to 30 minutes, with a large majority of them falling in the 10-15 minute range.  The vast majority of these approaches will involve more uphill terrain, albeit moderate, than flat or downhill.  And generally speaking the longer the approach the more uphill there will be.  

It was weird for me to read a Gunks local describing the approaches in The Bluffs as flat when I considered the approaches at The Gunks to be flatter than the approaches at The Bluffs.  However, that could be because I am only thinking of the Carriage Road; I am not factoring in the stairs to get there from the Visitor's Center parking lot, nor the amount of slight uphill when coming from the climbers' parking lot.  Also, I am not factoring in the final uphill walk up the trail from the carriage road to the base of the cliff.  And I have only been to The Trapps.  

Hmm... OK, so maybe the approaches at The Gunks aren't as flat as I consider them to be.....  lol

The approaches at Murrin Park range from 0 minutes to 15 minutes.  The approaches at Shannon Falls range from 10-20 minutes.  The approaches at Cheakamus range from 1-20 minutes, with the majority of them being in the 5-10 minute range.  The Approach at Area 44 is about 15 minutes, and the approach for its expansion, The Pillary, is an extra 5 minutes.  The approaches for all of these aforementioned areas primarily consist of navigating trails in the forest or more open areas.

The approaches at The Malamute are around 10 minutes, and consist of navigating the top of a giant forested granite monolith, so a combination of forest and friction slabs.

The approaches at The Stawamus Chief range from 1 minute to 60 miunutes, and in terms of terrain they can involve all of the above, along with significant amounts of uphill hiking, scrambling, pulling yourself up via fixed lines, etc.  

In terms of grades, I have long considered the grades of Squamish to be soooft, not quite Red Rocks soooooooft, but definitely up there.  However, if one does not know how to jam cracks, and/or is unfamiliar with the skills involved in climbing friction slab, then the grades in Squamish won't seem soft AT ALL.  I consider the grades in The Gunks to be stiff: a 5.3 with a slightly overhanging section (Beginner's Delight), a 5.5 with a full on roof that you climb out from under (Minty overhang), and plenty of 5.6's and 5.7's with significant overhanging sections. 

EVERYTHING in Christopher Woodall's post is bang on!  Give his post another read over.  Like he said, placing pro in Squamish is significantly different from placing pro in The Gunks.  Often times you will find a nice opening in the crack with constrictions above and below that fits a cam perfectly and will prevent it from walking, only to end up cursing yourself a minute or two later for blocking what could have been a perfect jam!  In such situations a nut would be a better choice for pro since it takes up far less space, thus still allowing you to jam in the opening.  On the plus side, odds are that you won't have to carrying anywhere near as many slings as you have to in The Gunks, since you won't need to extend your placements as often.

Regarding guidebooks, unfortunately there is only one option for routes right now: Squamish Select by Marc Bourdon.  Kevin McLane's comprehensive 2-volume Squamish guide has been delayed for the 4th or 5th year in a row now.  For bouldering there is also only one option: Squamish Bouldering by Marc Bourdon.  I recommend acquiring a guidebook.  Mountain Project alone would be insufficient.

***SMITH ROCK***

I LOVE SMITH ROCK!  And I can't gush enough about the place.  It's gorgeous.   Between the amenities of the Bivy campsite (hot showers, flush toilets, sinks, charging station - all that for just $5 a night!) and the composting outhouses at the crags, I feel like the place rolls out the red carpet for climbers! Historically, the parks staff have a fantastic relationship with climbers.  One time I overheard an older, more experienced park staff train a young new guy.  He told him that climbers come from all over the world to climb here and that they are a great bunch of people: friendly, mellow, positive, easy to deal with, etc.  I have a hard time imagining a new park ranger at Yosemite receiving the same message in their training...

Approaches vary from 10-60 minutes.  There could be a significant amount of uphill and downhill, but the terrain is fairly mellow.  And for most areas on the frontside the approaches consists of walking down from the parking lot or bivy campsite, crossing the bridge, and then walking along the river until you turn uphill to get to the crag of your choice.  For climbs on then backside you can go the longer flatter way by just continuing to follow the river until it winds around to the backside, or take the shorter route by scrambling over Asterisk Pass, or, for the areas around the Monkey Face, go up over and down the Misery Ridge trail, which is the steepest way to go.  There will be fewer crowds on the backside, and even fewer in the Upper Gorge, or Lower Gorge, or the crags in and around the Marsupials.  Given that the spring season in Smith Rock is coming to a close, crowds might not be a problem at all....

In terms of grades, I have never considered Smith Rock to be on the stiff side.  The grades at The Gunks are significantly stiffer!  That said, the sport climbing - and some of the trad climbing - at Smith is predominantly on welded volcanic tuff, so slightly overhanging, vertical, and slightly less than vertical technical face climbing on nubbins  and tiny pockets dominates the menu.  As Smith Rock Select guidebook author Jonathan Thesenga points out technique and good footwork are required, and the brute thug approach will not get you far at Smith.  Plenty a self-proclaimed hard man has gone home with his tail between his legs.  If you go to any of the basalt rimrock crags, or the Lower Gorge or the Upper Gorge, then basalt columns, and the cracks in between them, are the order of the day.  The rock and the climbing in those areas are very different from the main area!  It's like you're in a completely different climbing destination!  I find the grades in these areas to be on the soft side - assuming one knows how to jam and smear.

Regarding guidebooks, there are two.  There's the big fat comprehensive Rock Climbing Smith Rock State Park by local legend Alan Watts, the godfather of Smith Rock.  It is a FANTASTIC book!  It goes in depth into the history of the climbing there, with engrossing stories.  It has beautiful hand drawn topos and colour photos.  The other option is the Smith Rock Select by Jonathan Thesenga.  It is far thinner, and has only about 15% of the routes the Watt's book has.  Yet it also has humourous and entertaining stories of the place, and of many of the climbs too!  One of the things I really like about Thesenga's book is how much of his irreverent and snarky sense of humour permeates throughout the book.  There are two editions of it. Unfortunately, two funny jokes did not survive the changes made to the second edition.

If you just use Mountain Project I think you'll still be fine.

Have fun!

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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