Kinnaird is a unique chunk of rock. Located on the southern perimeter of the city of Castlegar, the white and ruby-coloured cliff band is composed of 110 million year-old gneiss and granite formed during a mountain building episode associated with plate collision on the coast. According to geologist Leslie Anderton, “Melting of crustal rock formed the granite with its random texture of light and dark minerals, which gives the rock a speckled appearance. Later shearing and fault movement caused the granitic rock to be transformed into the typical alternating light bands of feldspar and quartz and dark bands of hornblende and biotite that give the Kinnaird gneiss its distinctive banded appearance.”
In more recent times, Kinnaird Bluffs have been a playground for mountaineers and rock climbers. In fact, people have been playing on it for over half a century, making it one of the oldest climbing areas in British Columbia. It’s also the only piece of property in the province that’s owned by a non-profit rock climbing society.
In November 2015 the 17-acre lot where the cliffs are poised was put on the market by then-owner Patricia Dreyfus and in an advertisement she alluded to the potential of quarrying the rock there. That spurred local rock climbers and recreational enthusiasts to action and within the year the title for the land had transferred to The Association of West Kootenay Rock Climbers, thanks in large part to private donations.
Today there are over 70 rock climbing routes located at the area and they range from very easy to some of the hardest in the West Kootenay. Here we list five of the best climbs located there. To access the bluffs, drive south on Columbia Ave. from downtown and turn right onto 37th St. Park on Sorensen Road and the trail to all the cliffs crosses a small bridge over a seasonal stream and takes you to the base of Open Book Wall, where the first climb listed here is found.
For information about all the climbs at Kinnaird, drop into the Castlegar Visitor’s Centre and purchase the West Kootenay Rock Climbing Guide.
Type: 5.8 trad
Where: Open Book Wall
Directions: This crack can easily be seen from the access trail. Simply hike up to the first wall and the crack will be about three metres on your left.
Details: This is one of the best routes of its grade in the Kootenays. That said, it’s an old-school grade and some people claim it should be rated 5.9 but there’s no denying it’s a high-quality climb. It’s history is unknown but given the fact it’s easy to access and mountaineers trained here from the 1950s onward, it’s safe to say this crack was climbed four decades ago if not earlier. Back then people would climb to the top and walk off but now there’s an updated anchor at the 30-metre mark so you can lower off. You’ll need a full rack for this one and a #4 cam gives you extra piece of mind if you’re new to trad.
Type: 5.10b trad
Where: Yellow Sling Wall
Directions: Follow the access trail to the base of Open Book Wall then follow the trail right (south-east) for about 400 metres until you reach the base of a white-coloured, south-facing wall. Yellow Sling follows the vertical hand crack in the middle of the wall that ends in a roof.
Details: Established in 1967 by the Offermann brothers, this 25-metre crack route was one of the hardest in the province at the time. And it’s still one of the best in British Columbia. Because the wall enjoys excellent southern exposure, people have been known to climb here as early as February. For those who prefer a little more spice, there is a 15-metre 5.11d extension to “Yellow Sling” called “Impetus” that was established in the 1980s by Canadian rock climbing legend Peter Croft.
Type: 5.11c sport
Where: Yellow Sling Wall
Directions: It’s located immediately to the looker’s right of Yellow Sling Crack.
Details: This is a relatively new and very welcome addition to Kinnaird. It was put up by local guide Stephen Senecal a few years ago and although some lamented the fact he used a lot of bolts, this 30-metre climb is spicy enough you’ll be thankful for all the hardware. Step delicately, keep your balance and don’t let your guard down at the top.
Type: 5.10c sport
Where: Squeeze Chimney Wall
Directions: Follow the access as for Yellow Sling but when you come to the first scree pile, veer left and walk up the slope. You’ll see a short overhanging wall on the right with a crack on its left side. This is Rattlesnake.
Details: Although this climb looks straightforward from the base, the moment you pass the halfway mark the holds become shallower, the gear gets trickier and you’re forearms start to feel the burn. This was a test piece back when it was put up in the 1970s and if you were able to do this route, then you were one of the strongest climbers around.
Type: 5.8 trad
Where: Hail Mary Wall
Directions: Although it’s enticing to park on the road and cut across private property, this is a good way to get climbing in this area shut down. Please follow the access trail as for Yellow Sling and then continue along the base of the crag and over the scree field. This climb starts left of the obvious, large roof.
Details: This is an area classic and excellent testing grounds for bigger rock in the alpine. P1: Climb the left-facing corner. Step right to gain a vertical crack to the first belay. (5.8 20m) P2: Follow the obvious broken corner up steep, sustained climbing. (5.8 30m) P3: Stay in the corner to the top over easy terrain. (5.6 30m).