The following was written by Hamish Mutch, a longtime B.C. climber who was on the first ascent of University Wall in Squamish with Tim Auger, Glenn Woodsworth and Dan Tate in the early 1960s. Consider donating to The Association of West Kootenay Rock Climbers to help maintain access here.
Following a decade or more in the doldrums, route development in the West Kootenays (WK) has experienced a renaissance, starting in 2007. Since then some 300 new lines have been added, and there are now approximately 600 routes at 35 different crags, some of which are featured in this article.
From bouldering at Grohmann and cragging at Slocan Bluffs to the iconic south ridge of Mount Gimli, in nearby Valhalla Provincial Park, we have the size range fully covered. If you like good rock, in-cut holds, sunshine, easy access, and no crowds, then check us out. Planning to stay long enough to earn a rest day or two? Bring your mountain bike for the trails at Rossland and Nelson, your hiking boots for our many fine hikes, your Explorer 200 for a leisurely float down the Slocan River, or your paddle board for a fun time on Kootenay Lake. You’re now ready for a WK “all inclusive.”
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Have you been to Slocan Bluffs? Lakeside climbing with a short and flat approach, and incut holds! Sounds pretty good… . Thanks for sharing this shot with us @vvalchev! . “I don’t go to crags very often, but out of the 5 that I’ve been to, Slocan Bluffs takes the crown 👑 There is an incredible variety and quantity of routes including trad, it is not at all crowded and you get an amazing view of the lake which is literally two steps back from the wall. I’ll be back ✌️ May 20, 2018 📷@thebeanzz” . Tomorrow’s the last day to submit photos for our May #alpineclubofcanada contest – don’t forget to use that hashtag for a chance to win a PhD Ultra Light Jacket from @smartwool! . . . #dailyinspiration #weekendvibes #outdoorslife #adventure_culture #explorepage #livetheadventure #mountainscape #wildernessculture #nature_lovers #bevisuallyinspired #getoutdoors #adventuregram #slocanbluffs #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #rockclimbing
The first new crag to be developed was Waterline, spotted from the air by an aviation student at Selkirk College. He passed his beta on to local climber Aaron Kristiansen, and in no time new climbs began to appear. As the number of locals owning drills increased, the pace of new routes increased accordingly. When Waterline was almost drilled out, Aaron turned his attention to the lower part of Arrow Lake, and found a series of promising crags there as well, many with easy access to both climbing and swimming.
After the discovery of two new cliffs above Kinnaird, and the bolting of several smaller cliffs close to Nelson and Ymir, the number of new routes has risen to around 300, and counting. A large portion of these new lines are of moderate difficulty, defined here as up to 5.10b. This article briefly profiles both older and newer areas, with the emphasis placed on moderate routes. The selection of photos shows local climbers on some of the more popular and photogenic of these. Let the pictures speak for themselves.
Castlegar has always been the centre of WK climbing, with 10 great areas within a few minutes’ drive of downtown. Driving directions and route descriptions are in the local guidebook or the on-line updates, which are described later in the text. A simple map (not to scale) also accompanies this article.
Kinnaird is where climbing in the WK began, sometime in the mid-1960s. As the number of routes grew, the size of the subdivision at the base grew even faster. With about 65 routes, most established prior to 2000, you will enjoy a definite “old school” experience here. Don’t miss Sunshine Crack, a great gear line. Popular moderate lines are also found at Yellow Sling Wall and Transgression Wall. Here old and bold routes combine with intimate views of the many backyards.
Where once there was conflict between climbers and home owners, access issues, and a ban on climbing which lasted for several years, there is now an unusual ambience, and a mutual co-existence. The approach to all of these climbs starts on the far-left side of the crag. Cross a small creek on a small bridge, and scramble up a short boulder field to reach the Open Book Wall, in five to 10 minutes. Turn right to reach the other cliffs in another 10 minutes. Welcome to the past, and to the future. Retro clothing optional.
Whirlwind Wall and Polished Wall, adjoining satellite crags, were developed in 2010 and 2011, although there had been some top-roping activity there in earlier times. With 10 moderate routes at each cliff, including 10 gear lines, there is plenty to keep everyone happy and busy. Located above the original Kinnaird area, and out of sight of the subdivision, you follow the trail across the boulderfield to the Open Book Wall, turn left and continue gently uphill for five minutes to reach Polished, and five minutes more to Whirlwind.
The Kinnaird area, including Whirlwind and Polished, was recently put up for sale, and was purchased by The Association of West Kootenay Rock Climbers (TAWKROC), a local non-profit climbers’ organization, through donations from local climbers and other concerned groups. Their objective is to preserve this area for future generations.
Waterline (aka The Line) is currently closed. The 70 routes are spread over six separate cliffs, four of which offer a good selection of moderate climbing. This area was first explored by climbers many years ago. They climbed the few obvious crack systems. There’s no record of the climbers or dates who first climbed them. The occasional fixed pin, painted arrow or cut-off branch are they only way we know the routes were climbed.
Two of the old gear lines have been renamed as Pilot’s Crack, to commemorate the re-discovery of the crag, and The Big Corner (just ‘cos). Both make packing the rack worthwhile. There’s lots of excellent sport routes of all grades to choose from too. Many visitors (and locals) warm up on the right side of Ravens’ Wall (aka The Asian Wall), the first crag you reach. Access is along a popular hiking, biking and dog walking trail in 5 to 10 minutes.
Like Kinnaird, this area was also put up for sale recently, and was purchased through the foresight and generosity of two local climbers. Their intention is to subdivide off the climbing area, and keep the remaining property for themselves. Once again, TAWKROC is heading up a fundraising campaign to acquire the sub divided climbing area, to ensure continued access for climbers. The amount of $75,000 is required to purchase the property, and pay for survey costs and subdivision fees. The ultimate goal is to transfer ownership of both Kinnaird and Waterline to the City of Castlegar, to be maintained as city parks, similar to the Smoke Bluffs at Squamish. This second fundraising campaign has yet to reach its target, and is still ongoing.
Pub Wall, as you might expect, is located behind the parking lot at the Lion’s Head Pub. More of a steep slab than a wall, permission to climb here was only granted by the pub owners a few years ago. It offers several long moderates on the front face, with a two-pitch line around the corner to the right. There are also some harder routes on the slabs. Depending on where you park, the approach will take from 5 to 15 seconds. This is a good place to finish your day, even if you don’t plan on climbing here.
There are at least 10 crags along the road beside Arrow Lake, all within a few kilometers of Castlegar. Suggested moderate routes at some of these areas are shown in brackets: Lower Cat Wall (Cat-er-Waul 5.10a, Catatonic 5.10a), Wapiti (Euro-tard 5.9), Jungle Slabs (Badger 5.9, Jane 5.8), Zebra Wall (Missionaries 5.9, Maniacs 5.10a). Upper Cat and Zebra will test the more ambitious as well.
The Slocan Bluffs are located about 50 minutes from either Castlegar or Nelson. Although there are as many as 10 different outcrops, the popular moderates are found on the lower cliff, the one closest to the parking area. The approach is about three minutes along an abandoned highway, and is shared with local dog walkers, so don’t leave your lunch out.
With the climbs on one side of the old road and Slocan Lake on the other, swim suits and lawn chairs are the order of the day. Not surprisingly, this area can be busy on weekends. Come and catch the buzz.
Two fine multi-pitch sport climbs are Megawatts at Brilliant Bluffs and Amazons at KeTaMux Crag, located above Wapiti on the Arrow Lake road. Both are fully bolted, eight pitches long, and rated at 5.8, although most pitches are easier. Take your pick. Fun in the sun. Allow about five hours car to car. An early start should leave you time to visit another crag in the afternoon. Check the map for locations.
Some long trad routes are found on the south side of Mount Gimli. The eight-pitch South Ridge is a popular mega-classic at 5.10a. There are also six or seven other multi-pitch trad routes on the southwest face, varying in difficulty from 5.10c to 5.12a. Driving and approach times will turn all of these into overnight endeavours for most parties.
Harder sport routes
For those looking for a little more challenge, the best choice is still Waterline. The hard routes on CBC Wall, The Corners and the central section of Ravens’ Wall will definitely give you a work-out. Kinnaird also has its share of hard test pieces. Further afield Woodbury has seen some excellent hard lines added recently. It is about two hours each way from Castlegar.
With only a few 5.13s in the WK, there is lots of potential for new routes at the higher grades. Like most climbing areas, we have a “bottom to top” ethic for new routes. Routes traditionally go to the top of the crag or occasionally to a prominent ledge. If you are unable to climb to the top, please leave the line for someone who can.