Sunday, June 28, 2015

Boulderfields! (Part 1)

Many years ago, when I lived in Northern British Columbia, I picked up a copy of Lyle Knight's guide to the rock climbs of interior BC.  Intriguingly, one of the areas in Southern BC was named 'The Boulderfields', and the guide described the dozens of sport climbs at the area. 

"What an unfortunate name for a sport climbing area," I would think. "It's too bad that it isn't actually a bouldering area."

How things have changed in the last 20 years!

Today, the number of cleaned and climbed problems is rapidly growing, and the vast maze of gneiss blocks that is the Boulderfields is emerging as one of Canada's most important bouldering areas.  Due to the dedicated efforts of climbers such as Andy White and Jason Duris, there are over 800 problems in the Boulderfields, with potential for thousands more.  For the last two years I have heard a lot about the quality of the rock and the problems in the Boulderfields Basin, and the 2015 Rock the Blocs Festival provided the perfect excuse for me to pack up the van and head west to check it out!

The Rock the Blocs Festival is organised by Andy White, with input from several other climbers in the Kelowna area.  It is a two-day bouldering festival; the first day is dedicated to an outdoor climbing competition, and the second day to clinics.  Kyle and I organise a similar (though smaller) festival in Frank Slide (the Tour de Frank), and we were curious to see how Andy managed the RtB.

I have never felt that two days is sufficient to sample the problems at a new area, so Kyle and I planned to stay at the Boulderfields for about a week (with six days of climbing if everything worked out).  We left Lethbridge in mid-morning, armed with coffee and snacks for the long drive.  I really wanted to check out the Cathedral Ledges Boulders on the way through Yoho National Park, so we stopped briefly for a bit of a recon mission through the blocks there. 

A few of the blocks of the Cathedral Ledges Area in Yoho.  I think I should pay them a more serious visit!

Finally we arrived in Kelowna, and began the long and steep drive up a logging road to the Boulderfields.  Although the road is rough, I managed it just fine in my surprisingly trusty minivan.  After scouting about for suitable camping spots, we pitched our tents and went to sleep, psyched for the following days of climbing.

The Boulderfields basin!  Almost a square km of thousands of boulders...

Unlike most other climbing areas in North America, the Boulderfields are neither a talus slope nor eroded batholith.  From what I gather, the Boulderfields basin is essentially a huge collapsed basin resulting from subterranean erosion.  As such, it looks like a huge (about 700 x 700 m) shallow sinkhole.  Because the blocks didn't tumble, they neither broke up nor settled; the boulders are uniformly large-ish (perfect for climbing on) and often overhanging (also perfect for climbing).  I don't think I've been to area with so much steep climbing (much of it undeveloped).  In our first day of climbing, Kyle and I sampled many of the area's classic lines, such as The Chipper (V1), Ladybug Strikes Back (V2), and Surf's Up (V6).  Eventually we ended up at the Dark Prince Boulder, where I was happy to flash Dark Prince (V5), and eventually (with a lot of effort!) climb Dark Prince Ultra Right (V7).  A great first day!

Kyle on one of the four problems on the Ladybug boulder.  Big juggy slopers = fun!

Sloping holds are relatively rare at the Boulderfields, with most problems featuring a combination of incut edges and pinches.  The technically-demanding problems of Frank Slide really prepared me well for the problems of Kelowna; the movement is somewhat similar at the two areas, but the smoother holds of Frank demand better lower-body movement and body tension.  There are a lot of very sculpted holds at the 'Fields, and many problems feature funky pockets, rounded blobs, and incut flakes in addition to edges and pinches.  Steep faces + cool holds + great movement = amazing climbing!

Kyle and I were soon joined by several other climbers from Alberta.  Kyle's good friend Evan was combining his bachelor party with a climbing trip, and was accompanied by several of his climbing friends from Calgary and Edmonton, including Josh, Reg, Adam, and Ernie (all very fun guys!).  They rolled into the parking lot of the 'Fields in the late evening, and after getting Josh's jeep stuck (then trying to get it unstuck, then ultimately giving up), they unpacked their tents and went to sleep.

The following morning (Thursday) we headed down into the Fields.  With so much untouched rock, I was keen to scrub some new lines during my stay.  While the Alberta crew warmed up, I checked out the potential.  Very close to the Surf Boulder I had spied an untouched boulder right beside the trail, which formed a bit of an alcove where it lay against other blocks.  Checking it out, I found that the backside of the boulder had a great-looking arete; a start on a sloping rail led to a big jug notched right into the arete, a then a big pull to the lip wrapped up with a fun mantle.  Breaking out the brushes, I scrubbed the line nicely, and sent it quickly, calling it The Bachelor.  Initially I thought it was V1ish, but when Kyle and Evan repeated it they felt like V2 was more appropriate. I also quickly scrubbed a fun mantle problem to the right, calling it Exit the Pool (V1).

Me, Evan, and Kyle on the crux of Surf Arete (V8ish).  Kyle and Evan opted for the 'lockoff to a crimp' beta, I managed to use the arete itself, luckily...

By the time I had sent Exit the Pool, Evan and Kyle were trying Surf Arete (V8).  I had tried it briefly the previous day, without any luck.  The typical beta for the line involved long pulls on good holds through a roof, then a cruxy long reach to an edge.  However, I was curious if I could instead employ a balancy arete move to climb through the crux.  After playing with the moves a bit, I decided that the arete beta would work, and I sent the problem in a few more tries.

The most prominent feature of the 'Fields is the Nerf Roof Boulder.  It sits right above the main trail that descends into the basin, and features a HUGE nicely featured roof that has never been climbed.  Below the roof, however, are a number of fantastic holds that are rarely, if ever, used.  It seemed like a shame to me, so I scrubbed (with a LOT of effort!) and climbed a line that started directly below the roof, but traversed up and right to escape through the right edge of the roof.  It is a funky line with a cool cross-off-a-handjam crux, and since it is the smaller, less committing version of the king line on the roof I named it Nerfling (V3ish).

Many of the large boulders are marked with signs at the Boulderfields.  Without them, it would be easy to get lost!

After two days of climbing, our fingers (and knees!) were feeling a little thrashed, and since we wanted to be rested for Rock the Blocs, we decided to take a rest day on Friday.  We headed down to Kelowna (down the logging road!), and spent the day browsing in shops, slacklining in the park, and swimming in the lake.  It certainly felt great to wash off two days of sweat, dust, and boulder-cleaning-debris!  Suitably refreshed, we headed back to the Boulderfields.  For the first three nights of our trip, we essentially had the 'Fields parking lot (and camping) to ourselves.  Now, however, the parking lot (and all the available camping spots) was filling up.  The 2015 Rock the Blocs was going to be fun!

Me on the classic Tie My Rope (V1).  High, steep, and juggy!

Next Post: The 2015 RtB, and how I both succeeded and failed on my trip!

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