Picking up Grigore at the airport after bidding his better half farewell, the three of us set out on a much anticipated BC climbing trip. Grigore is one of our very best climbing buddies, and when we learned that he was going to have some free time on his hands after the wedding our plans we hatched – an ambitious route traversing over 1,000 miles 4 climbing areas and 2 provinces.
Entering Canada there were fruit stands EVERYWHERE. Needless to say Robyn and I about shat ourselves with excitement. We pulled into the first one possible and spent our only Canadian money (about $6) and walked away with the motherlode including a bag of ~15 bell peppers for only $2!!!
Enter wine country. The Okanagen Valley is apparently clogged with wineries. Had we known this we might not have stopped at the very first one.. actually .. we still probably would have stopped. Regardless, we ended up at the Burrowing Owl Winery outside of Oliver, BC. Being newbies, we asked politely for pointers and the women behind the tasting room counter was happy to give us a wine tasting 101 course. We had so much fun in fact that she lost count of the four wines we were supposed to taste and started pulling bottles out from all over place. After a quick picture we got the skinny on where to camp and bid our new friend farewell.
Burrowing Owl Winery
Up early the next morning there were deer and ducks in our camp which sat along a river just outside Okanagan Falls. Using an old guidebook we got lost on a beautiful road overlooking Skaha Lake and the city of Penticton. Once in the park the trails and crags were all well marked and we had no problem finding the climbs. The climbing at Skaha was amazing! Dozens of crags speckled an arid hillside among Ponderosa Pines. The rock was wildly variable. One crag would be well over 100ft, consisting of blocky bulges and polished rock. The next would be volcanic feeling with lots of friction flake systems and tiny edges. No matter the style of climbing, it was all phenomenal. A standout climb was the 100ft Wings of Desire (5.11b) which split a beautiful white face top to bottom following a crack system to an alcove before airing it out around the arête before pulling back onto the face to the chains well above the valley floor. An incredible climb whose description in the guidebook was simply “One of the great climbs of The West”. With a description like that how could we not climb it?
On a night out in Penticton we sought out to find Canadian beer. Striking out at The Cannery Brewery, we found Barley Mills Brewery a cool old building 3 stories high with alcoves to sit in, old brew gear to look at and hockey on every television. Unfortunately for us the beer was not up to the decor. We left some tasters standing and hightailed out of there after some pork sliders. Early the next morning we awoke to ducks and geese (which would come to be quite expected) and set back to Skaha for more great climbs. Packing up the suburban we climbed the pass out of the Okanagan and headed East toward Castlegar.
Awesome camp along Skaha Lake
The drive was far from uneventful, meandering through beautiful valleys and small western front mining towns. We stopped in Greenwood at an old fashioned ice cream parlor to pick up some ice cream. As we climbed through the last pass of the day Robyn glanced at the dash “has the check engine light always been on?”she asked. Pulling over, poor Lenny (as he would be named) was running a temperature. Some nice canadians stopped to help and with a quick call to my pops and 2 gallons of water we were back in business. We found out later that Lenny was also 2 quarts low on oil. Full of fluids we pulled into a provincial park enjoyed our bottle of wine from the Burrowing Owl and hit the sack.
Another stunning drive to Castlegar in the morning and we were on the trail to The Waterline, a small set of immaculate white granite. Flying much More under the radar, these cliffs hosted about 30 climbs. Climbing the obligatory Newly Weds (5.10b) as a warmup, we then headed to a tall line cresting the highest point of the cliff As It Happens (5.12b). This was a technical climb on small edges leading to a crazy mantle that neither Grigore nor I could commit to. We retreated on a leaver.
Best camp of the trip.
Tasty beers (from the USA of course)
The woman at the info center suggested we stay in Castlegar rather than leave town for Nelson as planned and man are we glad we listened to her. Our reward was an abandoned provincial park on a crystal clear lake stocked with perfect driftwood for fires, a spot for horseshoes, and glorious weather. We took advantage of the warm weather and had a quick bath in the lake which was not nearly as warm as we would have liked but refreshing nonetheless. Beers and s’mores were flowin and it was hard to leave the fire that night. Certainly the best camp of the trip.
Nelson Brewing Company Sampler
Waking to another beautiful sunny day we headed to our favorite town of the trip Nelson, BC. Nelson is perched above a lake on a steep hillside in the south Kootenays. An eclectic mix of hippies old and new, mountain culture and local sense of pride really set this place above the rest. There is music every night, a cool Saturday market and a local ski hill just 15 minutes from town. The brewery could use some work but that is a common theme in Canada.. That afternoon we made the long push to Revelstoke just as the skies began to darken. We ran into town to pick up the local rock guide and settled in back at our camp. From here the pictures get a bit limited cuz our battery died but Grigore has sweet ones in his facebook album “Canadian Rock”.
Waking to rain we would not be deterred. We headed straight for a large overhanging roof that sheltered a few great climbs. While we were there we actually climbed next to the guidebook author and chatted him up a bit. This days climbs were punctuated by a crazy traverse. After climbing to a ledge via number of different routes, this pitch brings you directly up under the roof and traverses 50ft horizontally over an eerily exposed face to a belay on the far side. A pitch unlike any I have ever done it was one of the most exciting leads I can remember. So great. Unfortunately due to the rain no one brought a camera to capture it.. BUT if you are in Revelstoke , Raindance (5.10a) is a must do.
The rest of the day was spent driving over the unfortunately clouded over Roger’s Pass (an excuse to go back!) all the way to Lake Louise. We considered briefly staying in the lodge ($320!!?!?) and retreated to a lesser costing hotel for a night of seemingly equal luxury. Hot tubs, beer and pizza? Yes please! God that shower felt good. I think we were on day 7 or more by this point.
Waking early to more rain I just couldn’t imagine not trying to climb at the lake. Our optimism paid off and we found 3 dry climbs at the most amazing climbing crag of the trip overlooking the lake. The standout climb here was certainly Wicked Gravity (5.11a). A sustained system of flakes leads you to an intimidating overhanging face where you follow a series of small edges to the chains. Grigore manned up and went first while I hung and got photos from the chains of the previous climb.
After climbing at the lake we headed into Canmore for more awful beer (possibly the worst?) and made more time toward Calgary before stopping off at a small camp just out of Banff. While cracking beers and celebrating our last night together Robyn called out from behind the car “MOOSE!” sure enough a bull moose was crossing a stream headed toward our camp. We snapped photos from a distance and it ambled to within 30ft before we retreated and it crossed another creek grunting it’s way into the alder. What a treat! We loaded another beer and decided to go for a hike. A beautiful stream ran along side our camp. We were enjoying the water when Grigore this time calls out “MOOSE!!” which actually scared the moose as much as it did me. The moose ran several steps in fright before turning to face us at about 80ft and he was not happy. He grunted thrust his antlers in the air and trotted down the path toward us. The rest of this all happened in a matter of moments but the next thing I new I was alone with a moose charging me while a red coat followed by a green coat were bounding through the woods. Confused, I ran to catch my buddies and lost sight of the moose. Something about this bothered me so I called for everyone to stop. We did, and saw now that the moose had gained on us and was currently where we had first saw him and headed our way. FUCK THAT – I thought. “RUN!” Grigore took off like an Olympic 400m champ while Robyn and I darted through the trees behind him in a half laughing have crying daze. We made it successfully back to the protection of Lenny and laughed some more. A crazy end to a crazy trip.
Mick Duff's - Sandpoint
The next morning we dropped Grigore in Calgary and decided to make some miles. Back through Banff and on down through Kootenay National Park we eventually stopped near Canal Flats for some free camping along a. Beautiful river. Pushing again the next day we made it to Sandpoint, ID and right to Mickduff’s Brewery to meet our friend Matt. The rest of the night was filled with refreshingly good USA beer and trivia (third from last), Tawney’s homemade salsa and “the goat” by Adam Sandler… A huge thanks to those guys for showing us a good time, you are the best!
The next morning we made it back to the folks’ place and the best pasta dinner of the year. The whole trip is really starting to set in now. Back here in AK we drove over the pass to see new snow down to the road and reports of people getting their first tracks. This morning the sun was already rising later as we packed up our climbing gear and dug out or skis. I find it hard sometimes to really live in the moment. To be fully aware of how awesome the events are that are happening all around me. I think that is the reason I like chronically my trips in blogs and movies. Revisiting them from time to time stirs up vivid feelings and memories. Often I find myself to caught up in future plans. Sitting here by the wood stove, the smell of a delicious dinner from the kitchen I am uncommonly content. Content to prepare for another 8 months of winter. Here. In Alaska. With my wife.
Can never go wrong here.