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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.

Rock Guide Updates for Pulpit Rock in Nelson, BC

Pulpit Rock is an iconic feature in Nelson, British Columbia, and also the most popular hike in the city. Dozens of people a day tackle the three-kilometre trail to the lookout at the top of the bluff to enjoy one of the best views around. However, a lot of people don’t know there are rock climbing routes up the face of Pulpit. “The Date” was the first to be developed there in 2008 and is so named because the first ascensionist, David Lussier, thought it was a great, casual outing for Nelson couples. It’s a three-pitch 5.10a that is described on page 89 of the West Kootenay Rock Guide. Seven years later Nelson local Vince Hempsall developed another three-pitch route on Pulpit to celebrate the engagement to his wife, thus the name “The Engagement.” Dave and Vince then joined forces in 2016 to create “The Fling,” a two-pitch route that requires you to fling your body around an arête to gain a crack system near the mid-point of the second pitch. And last year, Vince again returned to project the show-stopper slab half way up the Pulpit face. Many people have top-roped that section of smooth granite but it didn’t go free until the key hold was unlocked: a mono on a crystal that looks like a diamond poking out of the granite slab. Naturally, the name of the route had to be “The Diamond.” Finally, this year visiting Australian Bokkie Hairsine and Nelson local Craig Stowell set to work to scrub a line on the other side of the gully. The result is the aptly named “Four On The Side” and, for good measure, Bokkie put a new pitch up beside the “The Fling.” Below are descriptions of the routes that have been developed on Pulpit Rock since the establishment of “The Date” in 2008. For full access details, see page 89 in the West Kootenay Rock Guide.

Gear: All routes are sport and a 60m rope and 14 quickdraws are adequate, including two long slings.

Access: See page 89 of the West Kootenay Rock Guide.

David Lussier on the first ascent of “The Fling.”

The Date 5.10a SPORT
P1: Start up the left hand (south-facing) slab and veer right continuing over blocks to a traverse. Finish below the dark slab at a station. (25m 5.7) P2:  To avoid rope drag, use long slings on the first 2 bolts of this pitch. Step right into the dirty gully and then back left onto thearête. After three bolts the route splits – go right for the 5.6 variation or left for the 5.10a. Finish at ta station above a short slab. (25m 5.6 or 5.10a) P: Step left and then back right up to a roof and pull through this using a giant hand hold (crux). Continue to the chains. (26m, 5.10a) (D Lussier, M Terlingen 08)

The Engagement 5.10b SPORT
Starts as for “The Date”. P1: Follow the first four bolts of “The Date” and then at the open-book corner, step left and finesse your way up the slab past 4 bolts to the large ledge and an anchor. (26m 5.10b) P2: Climb towards the roof, step right onto the face and continue up the easy slab to the anchor. (22m 5.10b) P3: Continue up and left, through the two roofs, then veer left to another roof. Step right and follow easy terrain to the final anchors. (26m 5.10b) (V Hempsall 15)

The Fling 5.11a SPORT
From the belay platform at the base of Pulpit Rock start on the right hand (west-facing) wall. P1: Follow the bolts to a bulge and pull the move up and to the left. Finish at the same chains as the first pitch of “The Date.” (22m 5.9) P2: Step left and down from the anchor to a small bush. High step onto a ledge and, using the arête, gently pull onto the slab. (This is the crux move of the pitch, aside from the thin crack. See video above for beta as to how to pull the move.) Follow the arête to a good rest then gently fling your body around the left side of the arête and into a corner. Climb the thin finger crack clipping the bolts on the right then step back right onto the face. Continue up easier terrain to the anchor. (20m 5.11a) P3: Finish on either the third pitch of “The Date” or “The Engagement.” (V Hempsall, D Lussier 16)

The Diamond 5.12a SPORT
This one-pitch climb is located to the right of the second pitch of “The Fling” and on the steepest part of the slab. To access it, climb either the first pitch of “The Date” or “The Fling.” From the anchors, step directly up onto the slab, then balance and finesse past the first two bolts. Trend right past the key crystal (the “diamond”) to a good finger ledge. Continue up to the open book corner and muscle your way to the top of it before stepping left onto easier ground that leads to the anchor up and right. Finish on either the third pitch of “The Engagement” or “The Date.” (V Hempsall 17)

We Met On Vernon Street 5.10a SPORT
This one-pitch climb starts 5 metres right of the platform at the base of “The Fling” at a horn of rock atop a large boulder. (There are bolts for the belayer.) Follow the bolts onto the slab and through a steep corner. (If you’re so inclined, take a .75 cam to protect the move.) Pass 3 more bolts to the anchors atop the first pitch of “The Date.” Continue on “The Fling,” “The Date,” or “The Diamond.” (P “Bokkie” Hairsine 18)

Craig Stowell navigates the spectacular crux move of the 3rd pitch on “Four On The Side.”

Four On The Side 5.10c SPORT
A four-pitch climb that follows the right side of the gully that splits the Pulpit face. The first two pitches are an example of adventure climbing in the city but the third boasts a spectacular move through an exposed roof. You can access this pitch by traversing right from the first anchors on “The Date,” across the gully, past the ring bolts to the two-bolt anchor below the obvious corner.  The access for the bottom pitches of this route are different than the rest on Pulpit as it starts lower on the face. Follow the regular approach onto the talus slop and look for the first rough track on your right. Follow this for 20 metres, past a small, mossy cliff, to the base of the gully and a belay bolt. P1: Traverse up and left through the lichen and dirt. (27m 5.9) P2: Side pull off the belay to reach the large detached flake. Continue up through progressively cleaner rock. Ignore the first ring bolts you see and traverse 5 metres right of them over easy slab to the two-bolt anchor below the corner. (28m 5.10a) P3: As mentioned above, you can skip the first two pitches and access this one by traversing to it from the first anchor of “The Date.” Climb up the corner to the diving board and then through the roof (crux). Continue up the corner and over the low-angle rock to the anchor. (28m 5.10c) P4: Follow the ramps up and right to the roof. Use the finger crack to power through it then continue on easy terrain to the top anchor. (28m 5.10a) (P “Bokkie” Hairsine, C. Stowell 18)

For more written descriptions and updates of other areas in the West Kootenays, download the West Kootenay Rock Guide updates.

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.

Wapiti Wall Rock Guide Updates

For further descriptions about climbs in the Arrow Lakes area near the community of Castlegar in south-central British Columbia, Canada, refer to page 19 of the West Kootenay Rock Guide. Access: This wall has, arguably, the easiest access in the Kootenays. (The name comes from the Cree word for “elk.”) It is located 650m south of Scottie’s Marina. You can’t miss it as you drive towards Scottie’s because the wall is so close to the road it’s practically on it. For parking, the best option is to do a U-Turn at Scottie’s, drive back to the wall and use the narrow pullout on the lake side of the road. There are three separate walls here with 14 climbs on them. Please note, Parting Gift has been overrun with poison ivy lately. Directors of TAWKROC will be dealing with it soon but in the meantime, please avoid any plants with “leaves of three.”

The Wapiti Wall Rock Guide Updates: This is the tenth in a regular series showcasing the new rock climbing routes in the West Kootenay Region of south-central British Columbia. For written descriptions of these and other routes, download the West Kootenay Rock Guide updates.

Epic Bobsled Crash…and Recovery

The videos below show our bobsled team from Nelson, British Columbia, wiping out and then recovering at the Rossland Winter Carnival on Jan 31, 2015. Some footage was taken by Rossland mountain guide and our buddy Bob Sawyer and others were random folks who shared their vids with us after the festival.

My fiancé Marley and I, as well as our friends Sarah Stephenson and Steven Thompson are getting married this year and so we decided to do this race in wedding attire. And of course, to make it more fun, we went in drag. So in this video Steve and I are wearing the dresses and at the start of the race were the ones running to get the sled moving. Marley and Sarah are in the sled steering and operating the brakes. But because of the icy course, it was next to impossible to steer easily and so at the 2nd corner of our first lap (out of two) there was an over-correction that sent us into the right bank and so close to bystanders! Steve and I flew off the back of the sled and went sliding down the course.

Thankfully Sarah got the sled under control just as we finished our wipeouts. I jumped up and without really thinking ran and hopped back on the sled again. The same thing happened to Steve further down the course.

We definitely didn’t make the fastest time that day but I’d argue we had the most spectacular bobsled crash!

Thanks to all those who filmed this experience and thanks also to our buddies Joe and Graham who built the sled. (We promise we’ll fix the broken skis soon guys!)

The Ant Hill Rock Guide Updates

For further descriptions about climbs at the CIC Slabs area in the city of Nelson in south-central British Columbia, Canada, refer to page 61 of the West Kootenay Rock Guide. Access: The Ant Hill is located just below the Sunnyside Crag near the West side of the Svoboda parking lot. (See page 67 of the West Kootenay Rock Guide for a description on how to reach the Sunnyside Crag). This is a good wall to take your young kids to because it’s easy to walk to (it’s only 40 feet away from the parking lot), the anchors are easy to reach from above and it offers the only documented 5.2 in the area.

 

The Ant Hill Rock Guide Updates: This is the ninth in a regular series showcasing the new rock climbing routes in the West Kootenay Region of south-central British Columbia. For written descriptions of these and other routes, download the 2014 West Kootenay Rock Guide updates.

This shows where you can find the Svoboda parking lot in Nelson and where Sunnyside and Ant Hill are located in relation to it.

Rangers, Raptors & Revolvers – Busted in the Bend

A few months ago I wrote a blog about a magical land just over the border from Rossland where you can climb steep, limestone in a solar oven in winter. The area’s called China Bend and it features tufa-pinching classics in a south-facing setting overlooking the Columbia River.

What it also offers is a nesting sanctuary for raptors, which is why the US Park Service closes the cliffs from mid-February to mid-July.

Now, I support birds of prey and their evident need for privacy but I also like mid-winter climbing in a t-shirt, especially when the ski season sucks. And, frankly, when you hear “mid-February” isn’t there a bit of wiggle room there? Like, say, February 14th at midnight to February 16th at midnight? The answer, according to a gun-toting US Park Ranger, is a definitive no.

Five Nelson climbers decided to take advantage of an unseasonably sunny Sunday (February 15) and drive the 40 minutes south of Rossland to enjoy some early-season struggles with the 5.11 warm-ups at China Bend. We completely ignored the official looking sign at the pull out and put up ropes on the classic 5.11a “Pork Sausage” and the fun 5.11c “Where’s My Hero.”

Cam Shute on Pork Sausage – right before the Pigs busted us!

Cam Shute on Pork Sausage – right before the Pigs busted us!

The latter climb is aptly named as 1.5 hours into our fun we were looking for a hero to rescue us from a park ranger packing a handgun, a taser gun and a canister of mace. (Evidently the wildlife are bad-ass in the USA.)

Thankfully ranger Matt Smith was a nice guy and allowed us to take down our ropes before escorting us away from the cliff and back to our car. He decided to forego the $125 fine (each!) we should have received for disobeying the raptor closure but he did run our driver’s licenses through his SUV’s dashboard computer. “Good news – you’re not wanted by Interpol,” he later told us. (We never did learn if he was joking or not.)

Interestingly, when we asked what raptors nested in the area, Matt had no idea. I guess they’re not wanted by Interpol either.

So let this be a lesson to all those Canuck climbers wanting to visit China Bend – the raptor closure is, definitely, Feb 15 to July 15 and there are Park Rangers there to enforce it.

If you’re looking for some alternative Washington areas that aren’t far from the border, consider Metaline Falls and Marcus (both featured in Marty Bland’s Inland Northwest Rockclimbs guide) or Onion Creek, which is featured on this site. The latter tends to be more shady and damp than the others though so it’s probably not a great mid-winter destination.

For more information about China Bend, pick up a copy of Marty’s guidebook mentioned above or check out November’s blog post.

US Park Ranger Matt Smith escorts us away from China Bend.

US Park Ranger Matt Smith escorts us away from China Bend.

Rotten Dreads – An Extra Foods Memorial

Two places in Nelson have a special place in my heart – or, more accurately, my stomach. First there’s the Kootenay Co-op grocery store where you’ll find healthy dreadlocked hippies crammed into tiny aisles filled with chaste consumables and $5 carrots.

And then there was the former Extra Foods store, a vast warehouse where you’d find hippies with rotten dreads purchasing $1 cans of carrots with day-glo yellow labels.

“Rotten dreads,” you say? “Isn’t that a bit harsh!” Well, hear me out. When I first moved to Nelson eight years ago, I went to Extra Foods and stood in line behind a guy with 16-inch-long dirty blond dreadlocks spraying out from underneath his knitted Rasta toque. I didn’t really pay much attention to him or his hair until he grabbed his grocery bag and as he turned to leave, one tendril of dread literally fell off his head and onto the check-out’s conveyor belt.

Amazingly, the hippie didn’t even notice part of his head had just fallen off. He just ambled out the door while the sales clerk and I stood there in disgust. Eventually, she took a piece of paper towel, picked up the dread and looked at me for a second, almost as if she was pleading for advice or, worse, wanting to know if I was interested in keeping it. Finally she dumped it into the garbage can.

Then she disinfected the shit out of that conveyor belt.

Today I watched as the old Extra Foods building was demolished, making way for the  Nelson Commons and the new home of the Kootenay Food Co-op. Part of me mourns the loss of Extra Foods but, like a scraggly, unwashed chunk of hair, I believe the time has come to sweep it aside and make way for more wholesome groceries.

Why You Should Love the Shoulder Season (and its dog turds)

The south-central BC weathermen are calling for flurries tonight and snow is forecasted to settle in the valley bottoms. This means we should wake up tomorrow to a beautiful world of grey skies and white and black streets bordered by brown yards pebbled with dog turds.

On second thought, that doesn’t sound so beautiful. In fact, it’s just a typical shoulder season scene in which the browns and blacks have yet to be buried under fields of virgin white. Rain interspersed with snow whips up brownie batter in the alleys and gutters and we’re left pining for real snow – the kind that allows you to ski the streets to work in the morning.

Do we really need that snow to see the beauty though?

Consider the chapter featuring JP Auclair in 2012′s All I Can film. It takes an overcast, dirty, rusty grey street scene and turns it into a joyous, yellow romp through the yards and alleys of two BC mountain towns: Trail and Nelson. (Was anyone else choked that Nelson didn’t get its due in the Chapter opener?)

It took director Dave Mossop of the Sherpas 14 days to film in the two cities (located about 70 kms apart) and in that time he said he shovelled almost as much dog poop as snow. He said that the grey skies were important for continuity and so it was probably the first time in history two skiers actually prayed for continuous rain clouds and not snow.

It was also one of the first times that a shoulder season shot usurped any footage of epic mountain powder turns. (When the Sherpas first posted Auclair’s street segment it hit 124,000 views on its first day and tipped the one million mark after a week.)

So while many of us stare out at the muddy landscape that is the typical shoulder season scene, remember there’s beauty to be found in the brown: get out there, pile up some poop, smear it with snow, and practice 360s over your neighbour’s laundry line. And rest assured in the knowledge that soon enough the world will once again go white.

JP Auclair Street Segment (from All.I.Can.) from Sherpas Cinema on Vimeo.

Hall Siding Rock Guide Updates

For further descriptions about the climbs at Hall Siding between Nelson and Salmo, British Columbia, refer to page 76 of the West Kootenay Rock Guide. Access: Hall Siding is located 20km south of Nelson towards Salmo. (Note: The WKRG erroneously stated the crag’s position in relation to Hall Siding Road – it is, in fact, 1.5km south of the road.)

Hall Siding Rock Guide Updates: This is the sixth in a regular series showcasing the new rock climbing routes in the West Kootenay Region of south-central British Columbia. For written descriptions of these and other routes, download the 2014 West Kootenay Rock Guide updates.