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Grand Forks Rock Climbing

Grand Forks, British Columbia, isn’t well known for its rock climbing but local Bill Sperling is changing that with his new guidebook. Just don’t call it a guidebook.

The first thing you notice when you scroll through the 24-page “Grand Forks Rock Climbing” document is the qualifier on the cover that reads “not a guidebook!” Author and local route developer Bill Sperling put it there to clarify that this is a “compilation of existing crag beta made over the years. The only guarantee is that it is full of inaccuracies.” Despite this warning, he’s done a damn good guidebook…uh…not guide. Grand Forks rock climbing has been happening since the ’70s but Bill’s effort is the first time anyone has tried to write it all down. It’s also the first time anyone’s really committed themselves to intensive route developing in the West Kootenay city: if the guide is to be believed, Bill is responsible for the majority of the routes there.

I caught up with Bill to ask about Grand Forks rock climbing, the scene, and what the routes on the old bridge pillars are like. You can find that interview at mountainculturegroup.com

Download the full Grand Forks rock climbing guidebook (which isn’t a guidebook) here: Grand-Forks-Climbing-Guide-2020.

Also, it’s awesome to hear GF is getting its own indoor gym this fall.  The Fresh Tracks Outdoors Club bouldering wall is opening on November 1, 2020.

Castlegar’s Newest Climbing Area is One Of The Best For Families

It’s hard to say what the best part about Castlegar’s latest rock climbing destination is. It could be the outstanding views of the valley that take in the mighty Columbia and Kootenay river. Or maybe it’s the fun, moderate routes that can all be ticked in an afternoon. Perhaps it’s the fact the area was developed as part of a new routing clinic offered by The Association of West Kootenay Rock Climbers and taught by David Lussier of Summit Mountain Guides during the annual Kootenay Climbing Festival. Or maybe it’s the fact the approach is relatively easy and there’s a huge meadow near the base of the wall where kids and families can hang out, enjoy the views, and play. Yes, definitely that last one. Aside from Waterline Walls and Pub Wall, the newly developed Grad Wall is one of the best in the city for families. There are nine moderate routes ranging from 5.8 mixed to 5.10b sport and it’s easy to access the top of the crag in order to set up top ropes. (There are multiple anchors from which to rappel in order to access the tops of the routes, most of which end three-quarters of the way up the cliff face.)

The following information was provided by David Lussier and the original route developers.

Access

From Castlegar, drive north on Highway 3A. After the Brilliant Bridge over the Kootenay River, turn right on the Robson Access Road. If coming from Nelson on Highway 3A south, turn right on the Robson Access Road just before the Brilliant Bridge. At 1.2kms, turn right onto Terrace Road (Verigin Tomb Road). Park about 300m up the road on a wide shoulder. From the parking area, walk a steep, faint trail up the middle of a bowl-shaped grassy slope. Once the trail levels out, continue directly towards the walls. You will cross a deep ditch and soon find yourself on a gas line. Walk west on the gas line for about 50m then follow a faint trail up the hill toward the rock walls. After about five more minutes you’ll arrive at a beautiful open grassy bench below the Grad Wall. The total approach takes about 15 minutes.

Even on a cloudy day the view from Grad Wall is excellent.

Route Descriptions

New School (5.8 mixed 23m small gear and 2 bolts). The dihedral on the far right side of the wall. Make your way up to a bolt, then layback and stem your way up a crack that protects well with small cams and nuts. Arrive at a leftwards sloping ramp, clip another bolt and head up to the anchor. FA D. Raber and K. Story

Pump & Circumstance (5.10b 25m 8 bolts). Follow the flake on the right side of the wall up to the second bolt, then move onto the face for some fun, steep climbing. Shared anchor with New School. FA D. Lussier

Pass or Flail (5.9 21m 7 bolts). Start on the right side of a solid flake. Follow the flake to the second bolt, then move left and head up for a steep crux. FA D. Lussier and D. Raber

Career Path (5.8 50m 2 pitches). A pleasant two pitch climb that starts on the large boulder in the middle of the wall.P1:(30m 9 bolts) Clip the first bolt on top of the boulder, then take an airy step onto the face. Move up the face, then traverse right under a bulge, move up through a groove, then traverse left to a slabby finish. P2:(19m 7 bolts) From the belay, climb up to the roof. One tricky but well protected move gets you over the roof. Follow a blocky ladder up to a flake. Finish at a two bolt anchor on the top corner of the wall. Descent:Two rappels or turn right from the top and enjoy a bushy walk off. FA K. Lessard, D. Lussier, D. Raber C. Stowell, and Y. Troutet

Graduation (5.10 28m 8 bolts). Start just left of Career Path.A tricky opening slab move followed by fun, steep climbing in a great plumbline. FA D. Lussier

Prom Date (5.7 50m 2 pitches). A beginner friendly lead that starts just right of the graffiti. Steep for the grade. P1:(30m 10 bolts) Enjoy fun three dimensional climbing with lots of options for hand and footholds. About 2/3rds of the way up, take an awkward step left onto a sloping ramp and traverse upwards to an anchor on a large ledge. P2:(20m 6 bolts) Trend up and right on easy climbing towards a steeper finish. Descent:Two rappels or turn right from the top and enjoy a bushy walk off. FA J. Brooks, N. Coates, D. Raber, and Y. Troutet

Overhead Projector (5.10b 30m 9 bolts). This route climbs up past the graffiti and through the middle of the obvious roof. Start on easy slab that gets harder as you approach the roof. After you pull the roof, enjoy face climbing to the ledge finish. FA D. Lussier

Grade Inflation (5.10a 25m 9 bolts). Technical face climbing brings you to an undercling, then a ledge. Enjoy a layback off the ledge and a few more moves to the mantle finish. FA D. Lussier

Friends & Colleagues (5.10a 25m 8 bolts). This route follows the pillar left of the alcove. A slab start brings you to some steep moves on the face of the pillar. Finish on jugs and some blocky moves. FA D. Raber

The new routing course participants about to set their tools to work on Grad Wall for the first time in September 2019. Photo by David Lussier of Summit Mountain Guides.

New 5.7 Route On Natural Rock Arch In Purcells

Jasmin Caton prepares gear for the first ascent of the route that leads up and over the arch feature in the background. Vince Hempsall photo.

Last July professional photographer Steve Ogle, ACMG guide and Patagonia athlete Jasmin Caton, and I climbed a new route up a beautiful natural rock arch feature in the middle of the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy.

The entire adventure is detailed in my article coming out in the Canadian Alpine Journal this Spring but below you’ll find the description of the new seven-pitch route we put up on the arch called “Grizzly Groove.” The name is to honour the Ktunaxa nation that refers to this Jumbo-Toby Creek watershed area as Qat’muk, a sacred place where the Grizzly Bear Spirit is born, where it celebrates in ceremonial dances, and where it eventually dies. If you’re visiting this incredible piece of rock, please be respectful of the importance of this area, both culturally and environmentally, and leave no trace.

Steve Ogle photographs Jasmin Caton on the 5th pitch of the Grizzly Groove. Vince Hempsall photo.

ACCESS

From the parking lot of the popular Monica Meadows camping spot in the West Kootenay, hike the trail for about 45 minutes until it flattens out and you come to a camping area. Head through this and make your way down the hill in a south-east direction over bogs and streams aiming for a talus field. Follow the talus heading north-east. There will be a notch on the north-east side of the talus that looks quite steep, but as you come around the corner there’s a lower-angle couloir that you can go up to access the next drainage. From the top you’ll see the arch and the lake at the base of it and it’s an easy hike through meadows to reach it. All told it was a surprisingly easy three-hour hike. From the lake closest to the arch, hike up the talus and, depending on the time of year, the snow slope, make the awkward move past the bollard and cautiously step through loose gravel and stones to reach the main corner that leads to the arch. The rock in the corner is too chossy to climb but there’s good quality rock on the slab about five metres to climber’s left. Start there.

Grizzly Groove topo. Wonow Media copyright. All rights reserved.

SUMMARY

Grizzly Groove, AD, 5.7, 300m (7 pitches), gear to 3”. FA: J. Caton, S. Ogle, V. Hempsall, July 26, 2017

Gear: 1 full set of Black Diamond camalots from 0.2” to 3” plus doubles of a #1 and #2. Gear belays. Two 60-metre ropes and webbing necessary for rappels.

P1. 5.7, 45m: There are many loose rocks at the base of the route as well as spread throughout different sections so tread lightly and be aware of your rope. Start 4 metres to the left of the main corner and climb the low-angle slab to a large ledge.

P2: 5.5, 60m: Continue up the slab, placing small pieces in discontinuous cracks to a small stance.

P3: 5.5, 60m: Same as above.

P4: 5.7, 60m: The wall steepens slightly here. Continue up and then veer right to a stance about 20m under the south side of the arch.

P5: 5.7, 20m: Move up through the large loose blocks to a stance beside a triangle-shaped horn on the north side of the arch.

P6: 5.7, 60m: Step right, then down climb three metres before traversing right and into a dihedral. Place gear then continue up and right to another fist-sized corner crack. Follow this to its termination then step left into easy terrain to the top. The quality of rock on this pitch is spectacular and the jamming is excellent.

P7: If you’re so inclined, climb onto the top of the arch. From a spot about 10m down the east side of the main ridge make an awkward move over a chasm onto the arch proper and climb the easy terrain (5.7) making sure to go over the large boulder feature rather than around it. Descend the way you came to the main ridge.

Steve Ogle leads the 6th pitch of Grizzle Groove. Vince Hempsall photo.

DESCENT

There’s a small tree one metre below the main ridge that’s northwest of the north side of the arch. Using two 60m ropes, lower off that to another larger tree about 38 metres directly below. From there do another ~35m rappel, trending skier’s right, to a slung horn. From that station keep lowering skier’s right for about 55m to a large group of trees. The next rap is a full 60m and deposits you on the large ledge where your first anchor was located. There’s a two-nut anchor there and another 55m rap takes you to near the base of the route. (Be careful of loose rock.) One more 20m rap off an anchor left behind made of two stoppers and a #1 cam leaves you at the top of the snow field. (We rappelled off a snow bollard at the peak of the snow field to avoid hiking down the slippery slope. A 60m rap landed us about 20m above the rock talus.)

Review of The North Face Alpine Project Jacket

“Breathe!” my belayer yells up at me. I’m climbing a 5.12 sport route that’s so overhung the rain can’t reach me…until I get to the top out. Despite his reminders, I’m holding my breath and straining over the roof on soaked rock. I may not be breathing, but my jacket certainly is. I’m wearing the Alpine Project shell, part of The North Face’s Summit Series Collection, which is made from the new, three-layer GORE-TEX Active Shell fabric. The company claims it’s one of the most technical membranes they offer and I can certainly attest to its breathability: despite the humidity and the fact I’m nervous as Hell on this climb, I’m dry. There are some other attributes of the Alpine Project that I’m enjoying, but there are a few things I’d change as well.

Read the entire review on Backcountry Skiing Canada.

Review of the Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 50 OutDry Pack

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.

Pub Wall Rock Guide Updates

The Lion’s Head Smoke and Brew Pub in Robson, near Castlegar is a special place. Not only does it have an amazing selection of good beer on tap, it’s also Canada’s only rock climbing pub. Forty feet away from the back patio is the Pub Wall natural rock climbing cliff that boasts 11 quality routes. The owners of the Lion’s Head graciously allow us to climb here so we ask that you are respectful: don’t yell, swear or bring other beer onto the property. The bonus of this cliff is it sees early season sunshine. To access it follow the directions on page 19 of the West Kootenay Rock Guide then drive into the back parking lot of the Lion’s Head Pub. You can practically belay from your car here. It should be noted that another site published a topo for this wall but the information shared is inaccurate. There are no access issues for the three climbs around the right corner of the cliff (on the south-facing wall). However, further back and to the right are other cliffs that are on someone else’s property and the land owners there do not want people climbing on them. Here are the Pub Wall routes listed left to right:

Pub Fight 5.10d SPORT
The farthest route on the left. Climb the ramp to the steep face. There’s a definitive crux at the 2nd bolt. (A Kristiansen 11)

Pub Crawl 5.10b SPORT
This climb can be done in one 38m pitch or two pitches. Starts right of a shallow seam on the left side of the wall. P1: Climb off the boulder pedestal onto sustained face climbing with good rests. (5.10b) P2: From the first anchors follow the corner weakness up and right. Watch for a large loose block between the third and fourth bolt. (5.9) (P1: A Kristiansen, B Buten 10. P2: R Logtenberg, S Podstawskyj 11)

Walk it Off 5.9 SPORT
Starts 1.5m right of Pub Crawl. A long, fun route travelling over slabs and ledges. It can be done in 1 or 2 pitches. You can walk off or lower in 2 raps. 14 bolts. 38m. (R Logtenberg, S Podstawskyj 11)

Bender 5.10a SPORT
Start 5m right of Pub Crawl. Follow the crescent of rock up and to the right past 3 bolts. Then go straight and end at the ledge halfway up the wall. (Or continue on the upper half of Walk It Off.) 9 bolts. 20m (R Logtenberg, S Podstawskyj 11)

In Like a Lion 5.10d SPORT
As the name suggests, the route begins like a lion and goes out like a lamb. The crux is at the 3rd bolt – be aware of the ledge below you. 20m. (P Markin, K Robine 11)

Theodore Donald Karabotsos Memorial Route 5.10d SPORT
Named for one of the pub owner’s favourite movies and the “Big Lebowski” painting over the bar. This route tackles one of the steepest sections of the wall. Take small cams for the run-out through the easy terrain if you’re a nervous leader. (N Hadikin, B McIntosh, M Senyk 15)

Bar Star 5.10d SPORT
Start up the steep, right-facing feature and follow the obvious line of weakness over steep rock.
Pumpy below, balancy above, sustained throughout. (A Kristiansen 11)

Deep Fried Pickles 5.9 TRAD
A short finger crack on the right side of the main wall. (JT Croston, A Kristiansen 11)

The next three routes are located around the right-hand corner on the south-facing wall. This area doesn’t get as much sunshine and routes take longer here to dry out.

Maple Stout 5.10b TRAD
The obvious overhanging crack beside the tree. A #5 cam is useful. (B Winter, H Mutch 11)

Cheers 5.8 SPORT
Start at the short corner/break in the main face. P1: Climb the short corner, up easy slabs to a steeper section that ends at a belay ledge. 9 bolts. P2: Traverse right into the crack then up the face/slab to the top. 9 bolts. Descent: 2 raps or use the trail to the right. (B Winter, H Mutch 11)

Salut 5.8 TRAD
From the top of the first pitch of Cheers follow the twin cracks above. (B Winter, H Mutch 11)

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

Champion Crag Rock Guide Updates

The trail-side boulder that marks where to turn right to access the cliff.

The trail-side boulder that marks where to turn right to access the cliff.

Champion crag is located high on the east rim of the Columbia River valley south of Castlegar. The cliff can be seen from the highway (near Genelle) as a band of dark rock surrounded by lighter coloured rock on all sides. There is also a large, left-leaning crack near the center of the cliff. Access: This crag is one of the longer approaches in the area: it’s a 40-minute walk or 15-minute mountain bike ride along the well-maintained Mel Deanna trail. From Castlegar drive Hwy 3 towards the Bombi summit and Salmo for 5km and then turn right into the viewpoint/rest area. Park here and follow the trail past the viewpoint and through the gate. Walk or mountain bike along the trail making sure to stay right at the first A-frame shelter. Just past interpretive trail marker #6 you’ll come to a large trailside boulder and 40m past that you’ll branch right onto a smaller trail marked with rock cairns. Follow these for 5 mins to the top of the crag where the trail angles back and down to the right and then ends at a 5m drop to a large ledge. There is a rebar ladder here you can use to descend to the ledge where the climbs start.  A 60-metre rope is required. For written descriptions of these and other routes, download the West Kootenay Rock Guide updates.

This is the first climb you reach after descending the rebar ladder.

This is the first climb you reach after descending the rebar ladder.

Champion Crag Rock Guide Updates: This is the 11th 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.

What’s It Like Helibiking Revelstoke, BC?

“Leonardo da Vinci sketched the first helicopter design in the late 1400s. Three hundred years later Comte Mede de Sivrac of France invented the celerifere, the precursor to the modern-day bicycle. Then, in July 2015, a Revelstoke-based company threw the two vehicles together and brought heli-biking to the masses.

Selkirk-Tangiers has spent almost 40 years taking people heli-skiing and boarding in the West Kootenay but this month marks its first foray into summer offerings: from July to September the company has access to a 50,000-acre tenure (its winter tenure is over 500,000) in which to guide its new heli-biking excursions.

Granted, air-lifting bicycles to the top of a mountain via helicopter is an activity that’s been around for years but it usually involves tossing bikes into a heap, lashing them together and then long-lining them to the summit. After reaching the top, you then replace all the bike parts that broke mid-flight.”

So begins my article for the Kootenay Mountain Culture Group website about the new tourist attraction that’s being offered by Selkirk-Tangiers: helibiking Revelstoke, specifically 2,600-metre-high Mount Cartier, located just outside of town. 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.

I Saw a Dinosaur Then Wrote This Story

“Big fish do weird things to people. And by big fish I mean really big fish. They affect some part of our limbic brain and account for the bordering on manic popularity of Shark Week, River Monsters and Jaws(not so sure about this one, how about how people google giant catfish wrangling (magazines or movies?). This prehistoric connection overrides rational thought and amps up our cortisol levels

I’ve never given a second thought to swimming in Kootenay Lake (unless it’s February) but when Nelson-based fish biologist Sarah Stephenson showed me a photo of the dinosaur she hauled up from the depths last April near Creston, I froze: ‘That monster lives in the lake?’ She told me not to worry, as it was harmless to humans. But this fish was important – in fact, it could impact the future of its species.”

So begins my article for the Summer 2015 issue of Kootenay Mountain Culture magazine about the struggles of a unique fish species. To read the story in its entirety and see a map of where “Big Bertha” travelled last year, check out the Mountain Culture Group website.