Rock Climbing Waterline Walls – A Retrospecive

A retrospective on the early days of development at Waterline Walls in Castlegar, British Columbia.

Ron Perrier, the author of “Where to Hike and Climb in the West Kootenay,” recently reminded me of an article I did for the Kootenay Mountaineering Club’s newsletter “Kootenay Mountaineer” in 2009. It describes the early days of development at Waterline Walls, one of the most popular rock climbing areas in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. It was fun to look back, especially considering the drama that ensued the past few years when the property that Waterline is located on went up for sale, was closed to climbing, and the eventual success of the purchase of the crag by The Association of West Kootenay Rock Climbers.

Here is the article in its entirety as it appeared in the Sept/Oct 2007 edition of the Kootenay Mountaineer.

FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK

Forty Six New Routes, Two Minutes From Downtown
By Vince Hempsall

Ask long time locals, newcomers from across Canada or those who travel here from other parts of the world – Interior B.C.’s rock climbing scene, well, rocks. And it just got better. To the Slocan Bluffs, Kinnaird and Penticton’s Skaha you can add Castlegar’s Waterline Wall.

With the help of Kootenay climbing veteran Hamish Mutch, the new climbing area has been bolted and mapped, with more routes to come… t’s 7:30 in the morning and Neil Ives and I are at the new Waterline Wall climbing area watching a family of wild turkeys forage in the field next to us. I mention that it’s hard to believe we’re a mere two-minute drive from downtown Castlegar and he replies, “That’s what sets this area apart from others in the Kootenays – the access is really easy but it’s got a sort of remote feel to it.”

A copy of the second edition of the Waterline Walls guidebook created by Neil Ives and Aaron Kristiansen. The latter went on to create the West Kootenay Rock Guide with Vince Hempsall.

The newsletter this story originally appeared in.

Ives is one of four developers who have been busy this past year putting up new routes at the Wall, which is named for the utility water line that runs under the access trail. This gravel trail is actually a city “right of way” and it links the two halves of 14th Avenue, just west of Castlegar’s Columbia Street. In years past it has been a popular destination for birdwatchers, dog walkers and cross-country skiers but it wasn’t until the fall of 2006 that climbers began to visit regularly. That year, three Selkirk College students (Aaron Kristiansen, Kyle Ridge and Ives) and Hamish Mutch, a Kootenay climbing veteran, began developing in earnest, cleaning vegetation off the cliff, which is located on property owned by a Salmon Arm holding company, and bolting sport climbs. The area had seen some ascents decades earlier when mountaineers practiced placing pitons in the more obvious cracks, but it wasn’t until Kristiansen was introduced to the cliff by an aviation student, who spotted it while on a flight, that interest really took off. “We couldn’t believe this area hadn’t been developed already, considering the quality of rock and the easy access”, says Ives.

There are now 46 routes on six walls that range from easy traditional crack climbs to harder sport projects in the 5.12 range. The variety of climbing at Waterline is only partly responsible for the exponential increase of climber visitations in the past few months, however. “Since we put out the guide book to help offset the cost of bolting, this place has gone off”, Ives says. The 24-page guide costs $10 and the proceeds go towards hardware, which, given the cost of bolts, hangers, chains and drill bits, averages out to $85 per route. There are still many more lines to be developed at Waterline Wall and Ives says the increase in popularity will only spur him and the others to create more. “This place is fresh out of the oven”, he says, “and we still have a lot more to do.”

WATERLINE WHEREABOUTS Drive West from Castlegar on Hwy 3 toward Grand Forks. Turn left on 14th Ave and drive to the end past the baseball diamond. Follow the dirt road and park on the left. The first wall is 200 metres past the gate. Guidebooks are available at The Powderhound in Rossland, the Chamber of Commerce in Castlegar and Valhalla Pure Outfitters in Nelson.

Rock Guide Updates for Waterline Walls in Castlegar, BC

One of Canada’s best climbers, Sonnie Trotter, points to one of Canada’s best crags. Photo taken during the annual TAWKROC Rock Climbing Festival in September 2019.

Author note: Without the hard work of The Association of West Kootenay Rock Climbers, these updates would be pointless because Waterline Walls would have been lost to climbers forever. If you are not already a member, I encourage you to join. Actually, I believe it’s mandatory. If climbing at Waterline (and Kinnaird) isn’t worth a membership fee of $10 a year to you, it’s time to take up another sport. You can join at tawkroc.org. Also, big thanks to Hamish Mutch for his help with this one.

Belaying on Pool Boys, Pitch 1.

The route descriptions below are an addendum to the information found in the West Kootenay Rock Guide (WKRG). See page 47 of the Guide for access directions to this popular area, which is comprised of six different crags in close proximity to one another. Mountaineers have been practicing their rope skills on the easier terrain at these cliffs for decades but it wasn’t until 2005 that Aaron Kristiansen and some friends set about putting up the majority of the routes here. The community enjoyed 13 years of unencumbered climbing until the 80-acre swath of private property that the walls were located on went up for sale in late 2018.

Callie walks the quartz vein. Nostalgia, Pitch 2.

A developer expressed interest but thankfully Nelson rock climbing couple Mirek Hladik and June Ray stepped in, bought the land and then got permission from the City to subdivide the portion with the cliffs. While the legal aspects of the land purchase were being negotiated, The Association of West Kootenay Rock Climbers ran a campaign to raise the $60,000 that Mirek and June were asking for the 11-acre parcel with the cliffs. Generous donations from community members, businesses, organizations and a $30,000 land acquisition grant from the Columbia Basin Trust made the purchase possible and in the summer of 2020, TAWKROC purchased the property and the “No Trespassing” signs were removed. NOTE: Although owned by a non-profit organization, Waterline Walls is still considered private property and all those wishing to recreate on the land must sign an online waiver to do so, which you can do at tawkroc.org. See the TAWKROC signs at the base of the cliffs for more information.

Doug tries a heel-hook. Lauryn’s Line.

Beta: This area is excellent for families as the kids have room to roam without worrying about traffic or natural hazards. Plus the approach is five to 10 minutes along a flat trail. Most anchors were retrobolted in 2019 thanks to TAWKROC, CASBC, and a monumental effort by Bob Sawyer. All walls enjoy afternoon sunshine throughout the year, however, the first three listed here are in the shade until late afternoon and so are good options during the hotter months. You can expect some mosquitos in late spring.

Gear: Most routes in these updates are sport and a 60m rope and 14 quickdraws are adequate. The exception is the mixed line Black Bird, which requires some small cams.

Access: See page 47 of the WKRG. If there are no parking spaces available on the side of 14th Ave, please park at the baseball diamond and walk in. Also, with the new development, Raven Wall has been divided into three sections (Left, Centre, and Right) for clarity.

On September 22, 2019, Waterline Walls opened for one day during the TAWKROC Rock Climbing Festival Clinics. The instructors were Jasmin Caton and Sonnie Trotter and the 20 participants spent the day projecting lines on Raven Wall. It was the first time in 10 months anyone was allowed on the property since it had gone up for sale. But as of July 2020, the area has now reopened to everyone, thanks to the efforts of TAWKROC.

All routes listed in order of approach (North to South) from the car park.

Metamorphosis 5.12d SPORT
This climb is located on a short wall between the car park and Raven Wall. (Look for the giant fallen tree on the left.) It’s a bouldery and powerful route on a gently overhanging wall that gets steeper as you climb. Dyno the finish or channel your inner gecko and use the crimps. Finishing out right eases the grade. 4 bolts. (A Fitz-Earle, M Goodrich 13)

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RAVEN WALL LEFT

Lauryn’s Line 5.8/5.10a SPORT
This route is located at the far left of Raven Wall above Kathryn’s Crack (P. 47 in the guidebook). Approach either by the trail that leads up from Scallywag or by starting on the old trail to the top and then cross the scree slope. The regular route has four bolts and goes from face to rib to ledge and then crack. The direct finish is 5.10a and takes you through two bulges past 5 bolts total. (K Ridge, H Mutch 09)

Shady Lady 5.10a SPORT
Starts on the other side of the gully from Lauryn’s Line. Short and steep. Finishes on some of the only chicken heads at this area. (C Chatten, H Mutch 10)

Grana Padano 5.11d SPORT
Located between Kathryn’s Crack and Nathan Law, this 20-metre, 8-bolt route is named for a popular Italian cheese that’s hard with a sharp finish. The finale is easier for you tall persone out there. (S Senecal 17)

Nathan Law 5.12c SPORT
Start a few metres left of Scallywag (P. 47) and continue left past the roof and up the overhanging face to the thin, left-leaning crack above. (FA: JT Croston, A Kristiansen 10. FFA: L Neufeld-Cumming 10)

Go for Gold 5.11a SPORT
Start as for Nathan Law but stay right and pull the small roof, then transition right to gain the steep arête. Rejoin Scallywag at the last bolt and finish on its anchor. So named because it was first climbed on the same day the Canadian men’s hockey team won the gold medal final at the 2010 Winter Olympics. (C Shute, JT Croston 10)

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RAVEN WALL CENTRE

(See pages 48-49 in the guidebook.)

The Tourist 5.11d SPORT
In 2009 Dave Sturpin put up a line between Newly Weds and Brad’s Corner (P. 49 of WKRG). In 2013 Jesse Brown freed it and he and Keith Robine got permission to move 2 bolts to make it flow better. (J Brown 13)

Black Bird 5.12b MIXED
P. 49. This route was known as “Rattle & Hum” at one time and was listed as such in the WKRG. However, Andrew decided to change the name in keeping with the wall’s theme. The grade has also changed to accurately depict the pinky-jarring crux through the roof. Take some small cams to 1″. 27m. 7 bolts. (A Fitz-Earle, S Payne 12)

Feather Quest 5.12a SPORT
Located 3m right of Black Bird, this is one of the best and most consistent climbs at Waterline. A technical face takes you to the roof and then it’s an overhanging jug haul race against the pump. A crowbar was used on the flake by the first bolt but it wouldn’t budge. An optional small cam will protect the run-out finish through easy terrain. 26m. 7 bolts. (A Fitz-Earle, M Goodrich, S Payne 12)

Angry Birds 5.12a SPORT
Starts 2m right of FQ. Technical face climbing takes you to a crux move through the roof. Trend left and finish above the ledge with small tree. 24m. 8 bolts. (A Fitz-Earle, M Goodrich 12)

Raving with the Raven 5.12a SPORT
Starts 5m left of Super Grover. Sustained, steep climbing leads to a challenging roof and the left-facing corner above. (M Hladik, J Ray 11)

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THE VALHALLA WALL

See pages 52-54 of guidebook.

Feast or Famine 5.12c MIXED
Located to the right of VPO on the overhanging arête. Start as for Carnivore. Take a few small cams for the beginning where the climbing is easier then tackle the short, bouldery crux through a small roof before it eases off on the upper arête. (M Hladik, J Ray 10)

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CBC Wall

See page 51 of guidebook.

Down Wind To Base 5.10b SPORT
Located on a short buttress at the top and to the left of the CBC wall. To reach it either climb Sad Goat or Nostalgia and then prepare for some thin and balancey moves. 5 bolts. (A Kristiansen 09)

Nostalgia 5.10d/10a SPORT
This climb is located on the buttress just left of CBC Wall and crosses Sad Goat in the middle. (p. 52 in the guidebook.) P1 (5.9): Follow the 6 bolts to a 2-bolt station on the half-way ledge. P2 (5.10a/d) There are 2 choices: Continue straight up the buttress, using a burly lunge/dyno move which is 5.10d, or walk 10 feet left on the ledge to a second 2-bolt station. Climb back right across the brown wall to join the direct line above the crux. (5.10a) Both take 5 or 6 clips. The route ends at the bolted station for Sad Goat. A 70m rope will have you off the route in one rap, otherwise use the mid-station. (H Mutch, A Kristiansen 09)

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THE BIG BOULDER

See page 52 of the guidebook.

Pool Boys 5.10b SPORT
This route traverses across the Big Boulder. P1 (5.8): Start on the left side of the Boulder, halfway up the trail to the top. Belay from a few small trees, 3m left of the tall pine. Traverse right along the slab across four existing routes to the anchor below a bulge. P2 (5.10b): Strenuous moves over a steep bulge on the right lead to easier ground above. Belay from the Air Farce anchor. Rappel off V20. (M Curran, H Mutch 18)

Mansplaining 5.12a SPORT
The line of bolts located between Deep End and Deep Throat. Ends at the P1 anchor for Pool Boys. The crux is after the open book corner. 24m 10 bolts (S Senecal 18)

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Nurses Wall

See page 57 of the guidebook.

Nurses Crack 5.10a TRAD
p. 57. Be aware of the big, loose block above. Finish left of the roof.

Self Awareness 5.9 TRAD
p. 57. The chains are just over the roof to the right of the last horizontal crack.

Med Error 5.11a SPORT
p. 57. A bolt now protects the upper section so there’s no need to bring gear.

Nursery Rhyme 5.10a MIXED
P 57. The start for this route has changed due to a broken hold and is now a bit harder than 5.9.

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For a downloadable pdf of these updates, click here: 2020 Waterline WKRG Updates.

 

This Is Why Mountain Bikers Love Whitefish, Montana

There are many reasons why Whitefish, Montana is suddenly on every mountain biker’s radar and a 3,800-foot descent is one of them.

There’s something refreshing about the town of Whitefish, Montana. Perhaps it’s the clean mountain air. Or maybe it’s the expansive sky. Or it could be the refreshing simplicity of the place: Central Avenue is located in the middle of downtown, which is a short walk from City Beach, and from all these spots you’re offered an incredible view of the aptly named Big Mountain, home to Whitefish Mountain Resort.

Whitefish sprang up over a century ago when a railway station was built in the Flathead Valley, about an hour’s drive south of the Canadian border. It was inhabited by loggers, farmers and railway workers back then, but that changed in the 1940s with the development of the ski resort on Big Mountain. Soon athletes and travellers were visiting the area and many stayed.

This is the beginning to an article I did about mountain biking in Whitefish, Montana. To read it in its entirety, visit mountainculturegroup.com.

Good News In The Time Of Covid

We’ve all seen the bad news. But what good news stories are happening out there during the Covid-19 global pandemic?

I was getting tired of the bad news barrage and we were only one week into the global shut-down due to Covid-19. So I decided to turn the tables and dedicate all the Kootenay Mountain Culture and Coast Mountain Culture social media channels to good news. It was therapeutic and inspiring. This is how I started off the blog that tracked all the good news items:

Hello beautiful readers. By now many of us have undergone a barrage of recent news and social media posts that are doomy and gloomy. So we’ve decided to change the channel. For the foreseeable future we’ve dedicating all our social media posts to sharing the good news happening locally, as well as all the good local businesses out there and how we can continue to support them to help them stay afloat. We’ve also decided to collect them here so we have one resource for all the goodness out there.

Remember, we are all neighbours. We are all each other’s support network. We are all locals. #localsforlocals

To see all the good news items, visit mountainculturegroup.com.

Meet Her Highness Mia Noblet – The World’s Best Highliner

From Brazil to China to Norway, British Columbia highliner Mia Noblet has spent this past year walking her way into the record books.

“I never really cared much about records,” says Mia Noblet who, despite her nonchalance, has had an epic year highlining around the world. In April 2018, she set a new female world record, with a 614-metre-long highline walk in Brazil. The next month, she walked a highline in China in high heels. And in August, she set another female highlining record in Norway: she walked a full kilometre in the sky.

So begins a story I did about Mia Noblet for Kootenay Mountain Culture magazine that appeared in the summer 2019 issue. Mia has always fascinated me because of her humble beginnings, her calm personality and, above all, her skill. I can barely hold my composure on a slackline that’s a foot off the ground never mind commit to walking a strip of webbing between two mountain peaks. The amount of strength, balance, and mental serenity required is staggering (excuse the pun).

UPDATE: I had the good fortune to see Mia in action in July 2020 while on a canoe excursion with my son and father on Cottonwood Lake, a regional park near Mia’s hometown of Nelson, BC, that’s threatened by logging. I took the above photo and video of her while there and after she walked the line without incident she told me it was one of the harder ones she’d done because there wasn’t a safety line, which typically helps stabilize things.

To read the KMC story about Mia in its entirety, visit mountainculturegroup.com.

Canada’s Only Rock Climbing Pub

The Lion’s Head Smoke and Brew Pub has a special place in my heart…and belly. Not only does it have dozens of amazing brew pub beers on tap, it also serves delicious BBQ and smoked food. And it’s located close to rock climbs. Really close! In fact, it’s the only pub in Canada with rock climbing in its backyard.

I recently did a story for Destinations Castlegar about the the Lion’s Head that involved a really fun photo and video shoot with Castlegar photographer Lee Orr. The pub is located on Broadwater Road about a five-minute drive from downtown Castlegar, and “is a decades-old, tudor-style institution that’s renowned for it’s craft beer offerings,” I wrote in the piece. “The business was established in 1986 and Troy Pyett and Carly Hadfield purchased it in 2009. It wasn’t long after that local rock climbers approached them for permission to establish new, bolted, sport climbing routes on the impressive rock face located in the bar’s backyard.”

To read the story in its entirety, log on to www.destinationcastlegar.com/2017/06/20/only-rock-climbing-pub-in-canada.

For a topo of the routes, visit the Pub Wall updates page on this site.

Chasing Avalanches

A friend of mine was caught in an avalanche three days ago but luckily managed to escape it by grabbing onto a tree. Another friend avoided being launched off a cliff a few months ago during an avalanche. He also grabbed onto a tree and saved himself. This seems to be happening with more frequency lately and I don’t know if it’s because more of us are getting into the backcountry or if we’re taking greater chances. What I do know is a lot of us aren’t qualified to be back there.

The story I did for Mountain Culture Group about my AST 2 course at the Lequereux Outpost in the Valhallas taught me that the majority of people in the backcountry don’t have their AST 2 training. Essentially they know how to use their beacon, shovel and probe and that’s it.

This is how my story starts:

WHEN I SAW THE CRACK splinter out from the tip of my ski like a bolt of grey lightning ripping through a perfect white canvas, I was elated. I had trained the past five days for this moment and now, finally, I had caused an avalanche.

Conditions were ripe. It had snowed about a half metre in the past week and the temperature had suddenly warmed from a constant -15°C to near zero overnight. We were being cautious but my classmate and I still wanted to see what it was like to kick off a surface slab layer. We chose a 30-metre-high steep convex roll with a well-defined escape route and a wide runout path that was clear of any trees or obstacles. I made sure he had his eyes on me and then dropped in, ski cutting the top of the slope. Within seconds a 20-centimetre-deep slab sheared off under my downhill ski and shot left while I escaped right to safe terrain. The crown made a perfect heart-shaped pattern down and around an exposed rock for 20 metres and the debris ran for 25 metres. I turned back from the safe zone to look at my handiwork and then whooped with happiness.

In most backcountry scenarios, causing an avalanche is something you want to avoid. In this case, however, I was nearing the end of an Avalanche Skills Training Level Two course and, because we were filled with knowledge and had monitored the conditions religiously, we wanted to experience practical application of the lessons we had learned.

To read the article in its entirety, and see the corresponding photos and video, visit: mountainculturegroup.com/avalanche-skills-training-2-backcountry-hut.

Kootenay Inspired Book Launches

Paul Saso’s new book Kootenay Inspired – Stories and Photos of Extraordinary Kootenay Lives will be launched tomorrow in Nelson at Touchstones. I sat down with the author to learn about the impetus for this book and what inspires him.

Most people who know Paul Saso appreciate he’s a storied character who deserves to have a book written about his life. Instead, Paul has written one about others. December 7 marks the official launch of “Kootenay Inspired,” a 192-page, full-colour book in which are tales, photos and insights from 12 remarkable individuals who call the Kootenay region of British Columbia home. They include such people as organic farmer and ski lodge owner Brian Cross (seen above), Oso Negro Café founder Jon Meyer, actor Lucas Meyers, nursing instructor and activist Mary Ann Morris and photographer Ricardo Hubbs.

This has been a passion project for Paul over the past eight years in between his regular work in Nelson as an environmental consultant and shiatsu massage therapist. I caught up with him to learn more about his life, his book and what inspires him and published the interview on Mountain Culture Group. You can read the entire transcript here: mountainculturegroup.com/kootenay-inspired-book-launches-tomorrow.

Castlegar Man Catches the World’s Largest Kokanee…and Eats it

In the summer 2017 issue of Kootenay Mountain Culture magazine I wrote about the strange story of Castlegar, British Columbia, angler Denis Woodcox who landed a huge salmon on Lower Arrow Lake. He promptly ate the fish and then realized he might have just consumed the world’s largest Kokanee salmon. He took the carcass to the government for DNA testing and the results came in a month after the story ran. You won’t believe the results. Here’s the tale.

The staff at Mountain Culture Group just heard from fish biologist Matt Neufeld of BC’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations regarding the DNA test of a fish that was landed on Lower Arrow Lakes. The results confirmed that the fish in question was indeed a Kokanee salmon. Other testing revealed the Kokanee was seven years old and weighed 12.1 pounds (5.4 kg). That’s almost three pounds bigger than the Kokanee caught by Ron Campbell of Pendleton, Oregon, on Wallowa Lake in 2010, which is the official world record according to the International Game Fish Association.

Despite the DNA confirmation, Denis will never be awarded with an official designation because, well, he ate the results. To read the story in its entirety, visit: mountainculturegroup.com/castlegar-man-catches-the-worlds-largest-kokanee-and-eats-it.

A Review of The New Kokanee Mountain Zipline

“As a rock climber I spend a lot of time dangling on ropes and enjoying scenery from up high so I have to admit I didn’t think the new Kokanee Mountain Zipline near Nelson, BC, was going to be that exciting. I was wrong.

No matter what thrilling endeavour you’ve done in the Kootenays, nothing totally prepares you for the “wow” factor that is ziplining 90 metres above Kokanee Creek. The views alone are worth the $89 price of admission: the rocky creek far below snakes it’s way through an old growth fir forest while rays of sunlight pierce the clouds and illuminate the west arm of Kootenay Lake so it glows a silvery blue, a perfect contrast to the green mountains above.”

So begins my article for the Kootenay Mountain Culture Group website about the new Kokanee Mountain Zipline tourist attraction located 20 minutes from my home in Nelson, BC. To read the story in its entirety and to find out what its like to careen down a 760-metre long steel cable at 90-kilometres an hour, log on to the Mountain Culture Group website.