Squamish Stems

Two team sends of Squamish's hardest corners 

August 2023

Every major climbing destination seems to have a unique style to master - Yosemite has its slippery flare cracks, Indian Creek its unrelenting splitters, and Squamish its seamed-out stem corners. Part of the enjoyment of climbing travels is being on the steep part of the learning curve, sorting out how to climb on new stone. This summer I spent a month in Squamish, BC, teaming up for quite a few days out with my friend Connor Herson. My primary objective was the singular Cobra Crack, but embracing the Squamish stem tests was a close second on my list.

Tainted Love 5.13d R

Sitting precariously on the precipice of the Chief in Squamish, there's an imposing 20-meter-tall corner that appears utterly insurmountable at first glance. These sheer and featureless lines have an irresistible allure for me. To the untrained eye, both sides of the corner seem as smooth as glass, offering no discernible holds, except for a solitary hand jam rest midway up. The technical master Hazel Findlay was the first to ascend this improbable corner back in 2017. Since then, only a select few have dared to challenge it, earning it a reputation for its minuscule gear placements and an inscrutable sequence of movements.

Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll on Tainted Love 

Alex Eggermont Photo

Tainted Love had claimed a top spot on my trip agenda. Early in my trip, I took a break from Cobra Crack projecting to rest my many skin wounds. I embarked on this stem outing with Connor, hiking over 2,000 feet in elevation to reach the Chief summit. From there, we could rappel into this single-pitch masterpiece, enabling us to conveniently rehearse it on top rope. I thoroughly enjoyed the technical maneuvers – the tiniest protrusions and imperfections in the 90-degree corner transformed into usable holds when employed in opposition. On our first day, both of us quickly deciphered the sequences, but we failed to commit the moves and the intricate gear placements to memory before the sun caught up with us.

Eagerly, we returned the very next day, hopeful to lead the climb. Connor, the trad climbing prodigy that he is, sent on his first lead attempt after a quick top rope warm-up lap. He moved cleanly up the whole route appearing slightly jittery but maintaining his composure. I then made a few attempts to lead it, fumbling the crux sequence as I struggled to recall the minute holds. While I was making progress, the exhaustion began to take its toll. On my fourth lead attempt (my fifth lap, including the top rope warm-up), I placed trust in my mental plan and inched my way up the corner, giving maximal effort on many moves, but I did it! We enjoyed the team camaraderie of both sending the route on the same day.

A video from my ascent

Stélmexw 5.13c, 5 pitches

A week and a half after Tainted Love, Connor and I again had torn up skin from hard finger-cracking. It seemed like our palm skin had mileage left, though, so we eyed up another 13+ stem line on my trip list. This route was put up by Jesse Huey just last year, and was unrepeated to date. This five pitch line has two 5.10 intro slab pitches, a lovely 11d arete, the foreboding stem crux, and then a dirty (but fun) 5.12c outro pitch. 

We jaunted up the first three pitches with a mini haulbag full of comforts in tow. The stem crux pitch appeared to have even fewer holds than Tainted Love, but at least the one side of the corner was under vertical this time. This 35m pitch was also fully bolted. I went up first going bolt-to-bolt to put chalk on the various bumps and chips. It was extremely difficult to see the undulations of the stone until the chalk added visual contrast. I then lowered down and encouraged Connor to give a good flash attempt on the pitch. I then was able to witness true granite mastery, as he moved consistently and confidently up the corner and did indeed flash the pitch! 

Jesse Huey on his first ascent of the 13+ corner pitch

Connor lowered back to our sky ledge so that I could also give another lead attempt. From my initial foray up the corner, I knew I could pull it off in just a couple of tries and regretted my shoe choice for the day. I brought quite loose all-day-comfort shoes for this scouting mission, wanting to save my sending Katanas for the Cobra. I cinched these TCs down as tight as I could and set off. 

I climbed okay, but could not trust my feet - the oversized shoes feeling extra gooey in the ambient 80°F heat. I overcompensated with palm pressure, cutting feet a few times in a double palm position while trying to hold a toe edge. It wasn’t pretty, but I had to rise to the occasion and keep up with Connor. I found a few marginal rests along the way and recovered from pumped calves, and even a fully cramped shoulder from the awkward hyper-extented pressure. Only by climbing with both my full heart and complete focus did I make it to the anchor without falling. 

Connor caught a photo after my battle with the Stélmexw corner

Connor jugged up the pitch to clean draws as I hauled our supplies. He then onsighted the following 5.12, and I flashed it just behind. In another fun team outing we managed to get the second ascent together in a first day, single day outing! I am very proud of this style which is often reserved to only the Tommy and Alex's or the Seb and Siebe's of the world.  


I went home from Squamish with unfinished business on Cobra Crack, the top goal of my month-long trip. Over about ten sessions on the route, I did begin to make large links, but seemed to lose my lockoff power as the trip fatigue built. I am excited to give it more effort next summer, now knowing how to prepare for the route. Though, the trip was a definite success with many enjoyable days climbing with my wife Tahany and good friends. 

The hard stems also gave good perspective on my Mormon Canyon Corner Project . The ~5.14 stem pitch on that one feels like doing Tainted Love as an intro, straight into a double digit corner-contortion boulder, then ending with Stélmexw difficulties as the outro. Seriously futuristic stemming! I’d love to hear any ideas on hard stem routes in the US I could repeat to level up for this inspiring project. 

PS: Connor has had an absurd trip himself, sending almost everything. Read the details here! https://www.climbing.com/news/connor-herson-sends-5-14-squamish/