Rock Climbing


ROCK CLIMBING evolved in BC from its roots in MOUNTAINEERING in the first half of the 20th century to become a popular adventure sport. The most prominent aspect of the sport is freeclimbing, progressing by the use of natural hand- and footholds with ropes and other equipment for safety. Other aspects include aid climbing, which requires the use of direct assistance from devices inserted into the rock on otherwise unclimbable terrain, and bouldering, which is the art of making very short, difficult climbs close to the ground without the use of rope or any equipment. Free and aid climbs in BC typically range from 20 to 600 m in length.

Rock climbing became a practice distinct from mountaineering after completion of the SEA TO SKY HWY to SQUAMISH in 1958 brought the 600-m granite walls of the STAWAMUS CHIEF within easy reach of VANCOUVER. In the 4 decades that followed, over 1,600 individual routes, many of considerable length, were established in the greater Squamish area. Some of the long routes on the Chief, originally climbed with pitons for direct aid, have evolved into freeclimbs that rank among the great rock climbs of the world, including the Baldwin–Cooper Route on the Grand Wall (1961), Freeway (1979), The Northern Lights (1987) and University Wall (1966). Centred on the Stawamus Chief, the entire region from Vancouver to WHISTLER became one of the most important rock climbing destinations in N America and one of the world's foremost granite climbing areas.

The major centre in the BC Interior is Skaha, just south of PENTICTON, a collection of gneiss crags on about 10 sq km of GRASSLAND and scattered woodlands, hosting 600 climbs. With generally short climbs up to 50 m, a warm dry climate and several dozen crags up, Skaha offers a fine complement to Squamish. Climbers were active in the area through the 1980s, but it was not until the mid-1990s, as more climbs were developed and a guidebook published, that Skaha grew into a popular destination. Two climbers have been responsible for a third of all the climbs: Howie Richardson, author of the guidebook Skaha Rockclimbs (1998), and Robin Barley. Hugh Lenney, Dean Hart and other climbers also made significant contributions. Elsewhere in the Interior, rock climbers have been active since the 1960s, although development amounted to scattered climbs on a variety of crags from the KOOTENAY to PRINCE GEORGE and few records were kept. The primary activist developing climbs in the Interior has been Garry Brace of KAMLOOPS. Marble Canyon, a limestone area between LILLOOET and CACHE CREEK, has been the traditional centre of activity, with approximately 100 climbs up to 400 m high. As rock climbing attracted wider interest in the 1990s, crags were developed at several places, notably REVELSTOKE, NELSON and VANCOUVER ISLAND. HORNE LK, 10 km inland from QUALICUM BEACH on Vancouver Island, is a very steep, 120-m-high limestone crag of 50 or so difficult routes. It is the only developed crag in the province that offers rock climbing that can be compared to the major European limestone crags. Development began in the mid-1990s and it holds a significant place in the evolution of the sport in BC.

The growth of interest in rock climbing has roughly paralleled the steady trend toward outdoor adventure activities since the mid-1980s. Indoor climbing gyms have also accelerated interest. The traditional climbing procedure of using temporary devices inserted in the rock began to be supplemented by the growth of sport climbing in the early 1990s. Sport climbing is a new trend in rock climbing styles that evolved from European practice. Such climbs are generously equipped with permanent expansion bolts for protection in the event of a fall, offering easier progress within each grade of difficulty, despite often being on very steep rock. Almost all climbers today regularly practise both sport and gear climbing.
by Kevin McLane
Reading: Lyle Knight, Central BC Rock, 1996; Kevin McLane, The Climber's Guide to Squamish, 1999.