Why is Castlegar the perfect place for rock climbing in British Columbia? These experts explain.

Jayme Moye knows a thing or two about good rock climbing areas. The adventure journalist joined forces with American rock climbing legend Hans Florine in the big wall mecca of Yosemite National Park as research for the book they authored together called “On the Nose: A Lifelong Obsession with Yosemite’s Most Iconic Climb.” Just after the book was released in 2016, she moved from Colorado to the West Kootenay region of British Columbia and climbed in Castlegar for the first time. “I was blown away by the high-quality of the rock here,” she says. “It’s so good but you just don’t hear about it. Everyone knows about Squamish and Skaha (near Penticton), but the climbing in Castlegar is also fun, easily accessible, and super-high quality.”

David Lussier agrees. He is an ACMG-certified mountain guide and owner of Summit Mountain Guides who has been living in the Kootenays since 1993 and offering one-on-one and group guiding and rock climbing instruction experiences on the gneiss cliffs in and around Castlegar for over two decades. “I’ve climbed all over the world but Castlegar is unique because of the long season, the variety of crags and options, and the feeling of exclusivity,” he says. “There’s just not that many people relative to the number of crags around, which means it never gets as busy as other areas in the province.”

There are two dozen rock climbing and bouldering areas within a 25-kilometre radius of Castlegar including two sanctioned ones within city limits, making it the only city in British Columbia aside from Squamish, that has natural rock climbing walls within its boundaries.

All photos courtesy of David Lussier, owner of Summit Mountain Guides (summitmountainguides.com)

One area, called Kinnaird Bluffs, boasts an extensive climbing history as people have been training here for alpine routes since the 1950s. Today it offers everything from sport climbing to multi-pitch trad. The second set of sanctioned cliffs in the city are the Waterline Walls, which were purchased by The Association of West Kootenay Rock Climbers (TAWKROC) in 2020, saving it from development and ensuring people can recreate on the six walls and 70 routes in perpetuity.

“We’re so fortunate to live here,” says TAWKROC president Ian McDonald. “It says a lot about the amazing people in our region: even though we’re smaller in terms of population, we were able to come together and secure these crags.”

Castlegar climbers are also fortunate because they enjoy a longer season than most other places in the province. In fact, Allen Rollin, the author of West Kootenay Bouldering says he’s been bouldering on the sunny rocks off Broadwater Rd in Robson as early as January. And roped climbing has also been done as early as February at such south-facing cliffs as Zebra Wall and Pub Wall, also in Robson. Not only does Pub Wall offer early-season sport routes, it is also the only natural rock climbing wall in North America that backs onto a pub. See our story “Canada’s only rock climbing pub” for more info.

There are hundreds of rock climbing routes in Castlegar ranging from 5.4 to 5.13 as well as perfect places for families and for those learning the sport, says David Lussier. For example, he offers group training courses at the easily-accessible Kinnaird Bluffs as well as one-on-one multi-pitch guiding experiences there and on the nine-pitch route called Megawatts, which is located on the large cliff on the east side of the Kootenay River. “Megawatts is the only big, multi-pitch climb in the region that’s not in the mountains so it’s good for beginners to test their multi-pitch skills,” he says. “It’s also great for doing courses to prepare people for climbing in the alpine environment.”

Whether you prefer big walls or bouldering, sport or trad, Castlegar is the perfect rock climbing destination in British Columbia that you may never have heard of.