Outdoor rock climbing has already begun this year in Castlegar. Because of the many south-facing cliffs in the area, snow has melted in the lower elevations and people have been enjoying the sport since the beginning of March. That’s even earlier than the popular Skaha climbing destination in the Okanagan!
Castlegar is one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to rock climbing in British Columbia but the word is slowly starting to get out. Not only does it have one of the longest seasons in the province (March to November), it also boasts a dozen areas with over 300 routes that are all easy to access.
For example, there are many walls located on Broadwater Road near Robson, which is only a five-minute drive from downtown Castlegar. They include the famous Pub Wall, Canada’s only bar and restaurant with a natural rock climbing wall in its backyard. (See our article about the Pub Wall here.)
Of all the many routes in the area, we’ve chosen three of our favourites to share here. For specific details about these routes and how to access others around them, you can purchase the West Kootenay Rock Guide at the Castlegar Visitors Centre.
Yellow Sling, Kinnaird Bluffs
Type: 5.10b trad
Where: Yellow Sling Wall, Kinnaird Bluffs
Directions: From Hwy 3 in downtown Castlegar turn south onto Columbia Ave. and drive for 3.8km. Turn right onto 37th St. and head uphill for 1 km. The cliffs will appear on your rigtht. Drive to the end of 37th and park in the pullout on the right off Sorensen Rd. Take the trail on your right to the base of the wall then follow the trail right (west) 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.
No Dogs Allowed, Waterline Wall
Type: 5.12a sport
Where: The Valhalla Wall, Waterline
Directions: Drive west from Castlegar on Hwy 3 towards Grand Forks. Near the top of the hill out of town, turn left on 14th Ave. Drive past the cemetery and when the road veers left at the baseball field continue straight on the dirt road. Park near the gate (but don’t block it). Walk by the gate along the trail and in a few minutes you’ll spot a cliff on your left. Continue past this long cliff and the next one on your left. The third cliff is the one you want and No Dogs Allowed follows the line of bolts in the middle of it.
Details: No other single-pitch route in Castlegar gives you as much bang for your buck as this one. The 28-metre-long “No Dogs Allowed” starts with 5.10 warm-up moves, which lead into a 5.11 face. From there the climbing gets delicate and a lot of finesse is required until the final show-stopper crux which entails a lateral dyno, unless you know the secret beta.
Megawatts, Brilliant Bluffs
Type: Nine pitches. 5.8 sport
Where: Brilliant Bluffs
Directions: Take Hwy 3a east out of Castlegar. Just past the airport, turn right onto Ootischenia Rd. Drive about 800 metres then turn left onto Columbia Rd and left again onto Aairon Rd. Set your odometer to zero. Go up Aaron Rd. For 600m then turn right on a dirt road where the Skattebo Reach access trail sign is. Follow this well-groomed dirt road, making sure to stay left near the 2.6km mark, until you reach the Brilliant Substation and the parking area. From here walk north along the east side of the substation fence. Near the end of the fence, turn right and follow a narrow dirt road up the hill to a junction under the power lines. Turn left and walk under the power line on a narrow road for a few hundred metres to a large turnaround area beside power poles. Go right (towards the cliff) and find a faint trail marked with orange flagging tape. Follow this through the forest to a large talus slope. Follow more flagging tape to the base of the route. It’s about a 15-minute walk from the parking lot.
Details: Although the rock isn’t as good as other areas in Castlegar, this climb deserves to be in the top three simply because of its positioning. The views from the route of the Columbia River, Arrow Lake and Castlegar are stunning. And the climbing is a lot of fun. For your first foray, plan on taking at least a half day and enjoy the leisurely walk-off down the Brilliant Overlook hiking trail. This climb gets full sun and so is excellent in the shoulder seasons but best to be avoided in the afternoon heat of the summer.