Monday, October 31, 2011

New Developments

I managed to get back to Hasler Flats this weekend in an effort to do a little climbing and some exploring. This time I went with two solid members of Grande Prairie's climbing community, Steven and Renee (please forgive me if I have spelled incorrectly). Steven rappelled off into the canyon right above the steepest wall in order to get a toprope on it. The steepest part of the wall is steeper than I thought, and his rope was probably 6 or 8 meters from the base. This wall is steep! It is certainly one of the steepest walls I've ever been on the Canadian Rockies, but well-featured with aretes, slots, jugs, and edges. I think the steepest part of the wall may actually have a couple of 5.11+ routes, but we'll see. The left side of the wall is slightly less steep, but is less heavily featured, and will yield harder routes. That's fine by me - the routes on the left will also be a lot shorter, which will suit my spectacular lack of endurance.

The tallest, steepest part of the wall has a huge horn/ledge about 1/3 of the way up, which will also reduce the difficulty of some routes as it will provide a completely no-hands rest (maybe even a sit-down-and-have-lunch rest). Still, the wall is so spectacularly steep it won't really affect anything. It's going to be a lot of fun! The rock is a bit dirty, and there is some loose rock, but nothing that will impede development in any serious way.

We also spent some time cleaning some problems on one of the boulders in the canyon. We cleaned off 4 problems - two really quality aretes, and two easier lines. The two aretes are probably V0+ and V3, and really showcase the rock there nicely. I think I will call the V3 arete 'Fossil' (there are some very cool trace fossils on top of the boulder). Renee made quick work of all the problems (doing them a lot more easily than I did), and was the only one able to get off the ground on a sit-down / direct start into Fossil (which felt like it was about V7).

The future? Time to load up on bolts, and charge my drill. Some knifeblade pitons would come in handy, too, for directionals while bolting. I can't WAIT to see a row of quickdraws swinging on the steepest part of the Project Wall. There should be room for about 15 routes on the Project Wall from 5.11 to 5.13+ (I wouldn't be shocked if there was a 5.14 there too). It's going to be fun!

No photos this time (I forgot my camera). Steven and I hope to get back this fall to get some bolts in before the snow flies. We'll see!

I would also like to give a huge shout out to Chris Small, a longtime climbing friend, who pointed me in the direction of the Canyon at Hasler Flats. Thanks CS!



Friday, October 28, 2011

Back to Chetwynd this weekend.

With a little luck, I'll be heading out to Chetwynd this weekend with a handful of other climbers from Grande Prairie and Dawson Creek to check out Hasler Bluffs, put up some new boulder problems, and hopefully put a couple of topropes on some projects in the canyon. We're just heading out for one day, but with a little energy (and some wire brushes and rope) we should get a lot done.

Here's another teaser photo showing some of the rock in the Canyon. The photo shows what I'm already calling The Project Wall.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Today I had the second session on my garage wall. It's getting a little cold now, and its a little hard to warm up, but still it is nice to have a wall close at hand. Generally, I set several hard problems (projects), but then as I complete them I add them to my circuit. It's a fun - and challenging - way to have a lot of fun on a small wall. I do need more holds, though, to increase the number of problems I can have going at once. Right now, the wall looks a little thin. As my friend Lloyd says, "the way to get strong is volume, volume, and more volume. Then repeat."

I'm hoping to get out to Hasler Flats one more time before the snow flies. The weather in October has, so far, been almost perfect for bouldering - sunny and cool. It's supposed to hold for another week or so. If it does, another trip to Chetwynd (or maybe even Tumbler Ridge and the Boulder Gardens of Mount Babcock) will be in order. It would be nice to get a bunch of problems cleaned in the canyon, and to get a toprope on some of those stellar-looking lines.

If I do make it out to Hasler, I'll be sure to get a report posted.

I'd like to through a question out into the blogosphere. Does anyone know of the potential for climbing (sport routes and bouldering) in the Grande Cache region? I've seen several pictures of decent-looking rock in that area, but have never heard of any climbing development. I would be very interested to hear if anyone has seen (or heard) of any route development out that way.



Friday, October 7, 2011

Bouldering iPhone App

My friend Enid passed this along - an app that makes your iphone into a universal bouldering guide. You can check out the Bouldr iPhone app at

It seems like a good idea, but it will obviously rely on enormous amounts of input from users to build the database. I suppose that over time, this kind of app may largely replace guidebooks, although that would be a shame. Guidebooks are sources of more than problem names, grades, and locations. They are valuable sources of local history, accurate descriptions of access and camping locations, photos of climbers on local problems. Best of all, they are universally available (i.e. the don't rely on your iPhone being able to get a signal from the nearest tower. In some parts of the world (e.g. France) this might not be an issue, but in Canada, many bouldering areas do not have good (or any) phone access. You can lend a real guidebook to a friend, throw it into your backpack, paw at it with chalky hands without worrying about ruining it - all advantages of the paper guidebook.

Check it out, though! If anyone actually uses it, let me know how it works!



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Goal in Mind.

Like most people, I am motivated by clearly-defined goals. Without them, my approach to things (climbing-related and otherwise) is a little aimless, and not particularly intense. My trip to Hasler Flats was intended to provide me with a clearly-defined goal, something to get me training hard through the long, dark Canadian winter.

My expectations were exceeded; I came away not with one goal, but several. Clearly framed in my mind now are six projects. Three are unbolted lines on three different walls in the Hasler Flats area; all of these are hard, steep, aesthetic lines on bullet-hard sandstone and conglomerate. Two more are hard crack lines, one of which has never seen an ascent. The last is a hard boulder problem, on the Boxcar Boulder that lies at the base of the talus beneath Hasler Bluffs.

The last objective is, for me, a familiar one. For the last 12 years my focus has been on bouldering, and I'm sure I will be able to train for and send the problem. However, the rest of the lines will be tougher. I have never climbed a hard crack (I think my hardest crack routes have been 5.10s), but the two hard splitter cracks at Hasler are so clean, so intriguing that I will enjoy training for them. The three sport routes are more familiar territory. Toprope the lines, figure out the best possible sequences and clipping holds, determine bolt placements, put the bolts in, then begin the long process of getting to know the route, and slowly putting the moves together in order to send. I love that process, that feeling of turning an unknown puzzle into something I can understand and accomplish. I'm psyched!

I had the first session on my garage bouldering wall last night, with my daughter Aya. My wife has dubbed it The Mancave, which I find both apt and hilarious. I hope I can find a way to keep the space warm, so I can get in as much training this winter as my body will allow. I've already got my first projects on the wall, so it's going to be fun time!

I put together three photos to make a montage of one of the projects in the canyon. The picture is taken from straight-on, though, so it doesn't look as steep as it is. A blunt arete, probably 20m high, three crux sections. Hopefully it's not any harder than .13a or b, or it might be out of my reach. Enjoy!

One more thing before I sign off. Lately I have enjoyed my friend Owen's blog that describes the bouldering (and the hunt for boulders) in the Lake Tahoe area. Great writing, great pictures, and a whole lot of excitement! Check it out at


One of the 'super-projects'. 20m of hard, steep climbing on a blunt arete. It's going to be fun!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Another injury, and a trip to Hasler Flats!

I seem to have acquired another climbing injury. They seem to be coming fast and furious these days, without even a break between them. A week ago, I was climbing at the climbing gym in Grande Prairie (a nice gym, smallish but with a very nice hold selection), when I reinjured my right knee while heel-hooking on a large sidepull. Years of bouldering in Squamish (with it's ubiquitous heel-hooks on flat ledges) caused me to get "heel-hook knee" fairly badly (and often) in my right knee, and it still has a tendency return easily. This time, I was aggressively pulling on my right leg when "pop" - I could feel something happen in the back of my knee. It didn't hurt at all (not right away, anyway), but I knew something unpleasant had happened. Sure enough, the next morning (and several mornings since then) it was very sore and stiff. Walking hurt it, kneeling hurt it, pretty much doing anything hurt it. What is "heel hook knee", anyways? I need to visit a physiotherapist to find out, but I suspect it's a partial tear in the hamstring tendon (or tendon sheath) in the back of the knee. It's getting better, but slowly. I am getting old...

But, more importantly, I finally (!) managed a day trip this past weekend to Hasler Bluffs, just west of Chetwynd BC. It's a 2.5 hour drive from Beaverlodge, but I was itching to get out there and check it out. Saturday morning, bright and early, Lupin (the dog) and I packed up the van and headed out. I had been to Hasler bluffs before, years ago, but since then a lot of route development has occurred at the main cliff. The cliff has a fairly traditional ethic (not surprisingly, since there are many cracks and slots), and has 40+ routes on excellent sandstone and conglomerate. The crag has many advantages - it faces south, and thus enjoys a great sunny/dry microclimate. The rock is well-featured, and the cliff features several splitter cracks. Furthermore, there is a nice little climber's campground (i.e. free) near the crag. All in all, it's a great mini-destination. Downsides? No readily available guidebook, although there is an online version that contains most of the routes.

I went to Hasler to do more than look at the rock, however. I was going to Hasler to check out the climbing potential in a nearby canyon. My friend Chris Small had suggested that I check it out for bouldering potential, since I am always on the lookout for new boulders. Parking the van, I quickly marched into the area. The approach walk in was short, and I found a trail down into the canyon. As soon as I was standing down in the canyon, my jaw hit the ground. While I did see several very nice boulders, what blew me away were the cliffs! Most of the cliffs were overhanging, and very well featured! Beautifully colored and streaked, this canyon is the place every climber dreams of finding. The rock is very coarse (being formed from Cadomin Conglomerate, it is about as coarse as rough Squamish granite), but it seems to have a lot of climbable features (ledges, slots, aretes). Like a kid in a candy shop, I ran from wall to wall to wall, getting more and more excited! Lots of training this winter, for sure, to prepare myself for next summer's projects! Time to stock up on bolts... there is room for probably 50+ routes here.

SUPER steep wall! Probably 25m high, overhangs about 6m. 5.13 land!

Another stellar-looking wall in the Canyon. Lake Louise-like features.

After my hike through the canyon, I headed to Hasler for some bouldering. There are several boulders there, so I hiked in with a mat, shoes, and chalk. To warm up, I walked along the base of the crag (which is 600m long) to look at the existing routes and scope out new projects. I did see some great-looking lines, including a super-steep, beautifully featured arete (another potential project!). I took a lot of photos, so I've included some here.

What I was surprised to find - disturbingly so - was that the Dept. of Transportation is quarrying the broken rock and gravel from the base of the cliff! In several places it has come dangerously close to the trail, and only about 8 m from the base of the cliff! Perhaps they don't know there is a popular climbing area here. I will contact the BC Access Society to find out what they know.

Not having a belayer, I headed for the few problems at the area. I worked and climbed three great problems there (two were repeats, I'm sure, though one was an FA). Once you get used to the aggressive texture, the rock is lots of fun, and has really nice features. The FA was a nice short problem starting in a little cave. It has a couple of very sloping pinches, which were surprisingly easy to hold on to due to the highly-textured rock. I'll be back with a wire brush to open several more problems there. I can't wait for my next visit to the area!

More soon! I am almost finished my new garage bouldering wall... just in time for winter. Hopefully I can find a good way to heat the space!



Bouldering at Hasler. My new problem (V4?) is in the little cave at the end.

Project arete! A great-looking line!

Great-looking Hasler sandstone. Lots of mixed (bolts + gear) at Hasler Bluffs, so be prepared!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pine Valley Bouldering Potential

I had planned to head up to the Boulder Gardens on Mount Babcock to do some bouldering this past weekend, and try to get a good sense of how extensive the area was, and how many hard lines there might be. Unfortunately, I found out that of the 150 km between my house and the BG, about half of that is on gravel roads. Not being that keen to drive that much gravel for just a day of bouldering, I instead drove to check out another area I've been curious about - the Pine Creek Canyon north of Dawson Creek.

On Google Maps, it looked like a canyon holding numerous big boulders. This didn't really jive with what I know of the geology of the area - generally the underlying bedrock is a soft sandstone, which doesn't form large blocks. So with Lupin (the dog) in tow, I went off for a day of hiking and exploring (with my shoes and chalk as well, of course).

Parking at the bridge, I walked about 1.5 km down the mostly dry riverbed (with the occasional bushwhack) before I made it to the upper canyon. Here, as shown on the satellite images, there were large boulders scattered along 200 m of canyon. The mystery was solved - the boulders were indeed a soft sandstone, and had calved off the canyon walls, but the force of the flow was insufficient to move them any distance. The resulting boulders are pretty big - as much as 4 m tall - and while somewhat soft, could yield some brilliant problems. The season might be quite short, especially in wet years when the canyon holds lots of water. Also, attempting really hard problems might be dangerous, and small holds might snap off regularly because the sandstone is fairly soft. Still, for 'squeezy-slopey' problems, the area holds a fair amount of potential, especially in the dry autumn. Possibly as many as 200 problems? I did do three problems, although they were all easy (no mat, no spotter, a mile from anywhere, bad ankle...). Two of them were on the 'Anomaly' Boulder - a beautiful block of sandstone with a sculpted top.

I kept walking downstream, hoping to get to the lower canyon which (on the satellite images) held many more boulders (along about 500 m of canyon), but was nearly stopped by an enormous area of slope-failure (looked like it was bombed), and then was stopped by a cliff/waterfall at the head of the lower canyon. I would like to get down there someday, but since its a slog, I doubt it would ever be a worthwhile climbing ares (maybe some ice, though?).

Evaluation? A nice adventure bouldering area, but probably will never be a destination of any kind due to the approach and soft nature of the rock. The lines themselves look brilliant, though! I'll be back there once I'm in better shape!

What's next? The gritstone boulders of the Tumbler Ridge area, including Mount Babcock (the Boulder Gardens). More reports soon!

[1] a view of the lower canyon from above the waterfall
[2] the Anomaly Boulder - there is a brilliant V3ish problem that starts in a 2-handed pod pocket on the right hand arete; the boulder is probably 2 m tall.
[3] the upper canyon
[4] big block in the lower canyon. The desperately sloping lip is probably 2 - 2.5 up. There are four brilliant lines side by side on this boulder, arete squeezing and pockets.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Beaverlodge, Alberta!

We've completed our move to Beaverlodge, Alberta. Whereas Christchurch (New Zealand) was near one of the greatest bouldering areas on earth (the Castle Hill Basin), Beaverlodge isn't really close to any climbing, as far as I can tell. It isn't bereft of climbing opportunity, though. I've compiled a list of all the climbing (both real and artificial) in the area.

1) The Boulder Gardens (Near Tumbler Ridge). Years ago, Shelley, Curtis S., and I were among the first to put up problems here. The BG is about a 1.5 hour drive from Beaverlodge, and holds potential for hundreds of problems on coarse-to-fine grained sandstone in an awesome alpine setting. One of the best moderate problems I've ever done is there (Sen-Sen, V4). Downsides? 10 km up a gravel road and a short season (probably June to October).

2) Hasler Bluffs (near Chetwynd). This is by far the biggest climbing area in the Peace Country, and holds dozens of routes on bullet-proof sandstone. Lots of room for development, both in terms of sport routes and moderate gear lines. It's also a sun trap, so the season is surprisingly long. Camping is close and free. Downsides? A long drive (2.5 hours) and ants (apparently).

3) Jasper National Park. TONS of sport routes, up to .13+. Downside? Its far away - probably a 4 hour drive.

4) The GPRC Climbing gym. This is a surprisingly good gym, but seems to be pretty sleepy. I hope that it gets busier when the school year starts and the students start back.

5) My Garage. OK, this isn't a reality yet, but I've drawn up plans for a decent wall in my garage. I'm hoping its not TOO cold to climb on it in the winter. I have to start collecting holds, though - it's going to be a real task to get enough holds to make the climbing interesting.

I'm hoping to get to the Boulder Gardens (Mount Babcock) this weekend. If I do, expect more pictures soon!

(A) The GPRC climbing gym. This picture was copied off their website.

(B) The Boulder Gardens near Tumbler Ridge (again, not my photo...)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Castle Hill Winter

We went to Castle Hill on the weekend, for what may be the last time before we leave NZ. It was an amazing day - brilliant blue skies, with snow covering all the mountains surrounding the basin. It was probably only 14C out, but the sun was SO warm everyone was in their tshirts. Truly stellar bouldering weather, crisp and dry!

I am, unfortuately, still recovering from my badly sprained ankle. It feels OK to walk around on it, but it is really inflexible, especially in frontal flexion. Needless to say, this makes climbing at Castle Hill really hard, as you need to drop your heels and smear a LOT. All I could really do was frontpoint, but I did manage to get up a few great problems. I also didn't want to fall very far, which also limited what I could climb. Still, the day was perfect and I had a lot of fun!

I climbed Timeless (V2), which is a really cool arete problem with a key mono pocket. I then managed to climb the V4 to the left, which is a cool line that climbs through a little bulge on 1 and 2-finger pockets. I really wanted to climb a few slabs as well, but was disappointed that my ankle couldn't flex enough. Rowan and Aya did a bunch of little problems too - they had a great deal of fun at Castle Hill.

At the end of the day, Shelley and I discussed how Castle Hill ranked with respect to the other world-class areas we've been to (principally Squamish, the Buttermilks, and the Bishop Tablelands). We discussed the pros and cons of the areas; the rock, the quality of the problems, the holds, the landings, the scenery, etc. Shelley thinks that Castle Hill is best of the big areas she's been to, and I more-or-less agree. What makes Castle Hill special is that a high proportion of the problems are really good, especially in the low grades. Squamish is awesome, but really is only great in the V6 - V10 range. Of course, I will likely think that the next area I visit is the 'best' area I've ever climbed at!

Here are some photos of our day.

Kia Ora!


Monday, June 13, 2011


Living - and climbing - in Christchurch in these earthquake-prone days is a bit uncertain. I feel a bit nervous climbing in the Port Hills, given that every month or so there's a tremor large enough to cause rock fall. Fortunately, climbing in the Castle Hill Basin has been largely unaffected, although with the onset of winter, snow at Castle Hill becomes more and more likely.

Discussions of these realities have become a bit academic to me in the last couple of weeks, as I am on the 'non-climbing' list for the time being. I was in a bouldering competition at The Roxx (the largest gym in Christchurch, and one of the largest in NZ), and I fell from the final hold of a problem only to have my foot slip in between two mats and smash, anklefirst, onto the hard floor beneath. From the instantaneous explosion of pain, I knew something had gone terribly off the rails in my ankle. It turns out I had badly sprained my ankle. After a couple of weeks, I can walk on it, but not much else.

The incident at the Roxx really sucks for two reasons. First, I was doing pretty well, actually - better than I had expected. The competition was the NZ equivalent of a Tour de Bloc, and I was climbing a lot of the mid-range to hard problems, and having a good time. To get injured in that type of situation always sucks, especially since now I'm back on the non-climbing list. Second, the injury was largely due to poor setting and poor mat placement. It turned out the problem had not been forerun and no one in the comp had done the problem. If it had been fore-run properly, they would have realised that the last (matching hold) was almost impossible to hold because it was too slopey, and that the fall off this hold had the climber spinning as they fell (hence the sprained ankle - I couldn't spot my landing as I fell). Still, it was a really fun competition, and the setting was otherwise really spot-on.

Hopefully I can heal quickly enough that I can get up to Castle Hill some more before I go back to Canada. I STILL haven't been to Flock Hill, which bums me out a bit.

Hope the climbing weather improves in Canada! I've heard its been grim!



(the photo of the Roxx is taken from their website.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 22, 2011

Castle Hill! Truly one of the greatest bouldering areas on earth! I've really only been to Quantum Field and Spittle Hill, and even there, I've really only scratched the surface. I'm really hoping to get to Flock Hill (supposedly one of the greatest single collection of boulders on earth, with more climbable features than Quantum and Spittle) and to Prebble Hill. Perhaps one day soon...

On Good Friday we went to Castle Hill with our good friends Rocio and Christian (and their little girl Violeta) to hide easter eggs amongst the boulders for Aya, Rowan, and Violeta to find. It was perfect climbing (and easter egg hunting) weather - sunny, a bit windy, and probably 18C. Christian and I had a great time doing easy highballs around the Perfume Bottle. The features on the problems on Spittle Hill are AMAZING. AMAAZZZZINNG. Rocio and Christian headed home around 2:30, so S,A,R, and I headed over to a cluster of boulders near the car park, where the well-known V6 Tricky is located. There were a handful of friendly Australians there, and one of them was trying Tricky. He asked if I wanted a spot, so on went the shoes... I'd tried Tricky before, but couldn't do the crux move. I tried it a few times, but failed again. They wanted to try some of the other problems on the boulder, notably Halloween (V6). It's a blunt arete that climbs entirely on pockets that range from sloping 4 fingers dishes to deep monos. I managed it after a few tries. Such an amazing line! The rock in Castle Hill is so aesthetic, both to look at and to climb. They wanted to try Horror Show, another brilliant V4 pocket problem on the boulder. I managed to get up that without too much problem, despite the slightly spooky topout.

The Aussies were from Melbourne, and were super-friendly. I felt really blessed to have run into them, and to share some of the greatest problems anywhere with them. One of them was named Trent, as well. We agreed that Trents are really solid people. ;)

Anyways, here's a picture (taken earlier in the year, as evidenced by the green - rather than brown - grass) of Aya and I looking over the backside of the Tricky Boulder.

It's a little frustrating to be SO out of shape when I climb at Castle Hill. Its such as technical area, I think I could climb to V10 or so without too much problem here if I was in good shape. As it is, I feel lucky to climb V6 here! It doesn't really matter how hard you climb at Castle Hill, though - the problems of all grades are amazing.

More later! Take Care!