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Climbers rope up at Higgyland

World-class routes wait to be conquered in Powell River’s backyard

By Tara Trigg | Peak Intern

Published in the Powell River Peak: Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Outdoor activities abound in the Powell River area. There is mountain biking and hiking along countless trails, sailing, kayaking, beach volleyball, swimming and rock climbing.

Few may realize that Powell River is home to a great deal of developed and undeveloped climbing areas. For those with the know-how, the doors are wide open to some world-class climbing.

For the uninitiated, climbing may seem like a dangerous sport. Somehow, climbing up a rock face with little more than a thin rope for security has never smacked of safety. However, outdoor rock climbing is as safe as the participant makes it. If all the right steps are followed, there is little chance for disaster.

While rock climbing may not seem like the most common of sports, it has been steadily gaining popularity over the last few decades as safety equipment improves and climbing areas become more developed and accessible.
 “I just sort of thought it would be a cool thing to do,” said climber Kevan Robitaille. “I was looking through a Petzl(r) catalogue and saw photos of the Eldred Valley from Powell River, and got excited.”

Robitaille has now been climbing for about four years and hasn’t looked back. “I try to stay around climbing as much as I can,” he said.

While the climbing in the area has been lightly developed, there is still a lot of work to do to open up even more high-quality routes.

“The Eldred right now is pretty much like Squamish in the 1970s,” said Robitaille. “It had a boom around the late 1980s, early 1990s. Since then it’s been pretty slow.”

Robitaille, while from Powell River initially, is now based out of Victoria, after having lived in the climbing mecca that is the Squamish area.

He was in Powell River for the summer to try and develop climbing. He said, “The Eldred should be a world-class area.”

To put up a new route, the rock must be scrubbed free of moss and dirt. If the route is going to be bolted (metal hangers attached to the rock for sport climbing) then a large number of small holes must be hand-drilled. In the Eldred, there is very little bolting going on, it’s being left clean for trad (traditional) climbing.

There are several different distinct climbing areas in the region. Higgyland, a convenient crag, or area, located near the Shinglemill Pub and Bistro, features top rope and bolted climbing. The routes there are fairly well-travelled and enjoyable. When climbing, the sounds of people swimming in Powell Lake can be heard. With about 40 routes of varied grades in the area, there remains room for more development.

Another area, known as Stillwater, is close enough to town that climbers just have to park and walk for a few minutes to reach the climbing. The area features a great deal of bouldering and top rope routes set in scenic surroundings. The cliffs rise out of the waters of Malaspina Strait, leaving a small platform for belayers to stand on. The climbing routes in this area come in a variety of difficulties.

There are even more crags listed in The Climber’s Guide to Powell River, by Chris Armstrong, the only guide to the area. There are the Lake Bluffs near Saltery Bay, the Dark Pool below the Stillwater Dam offers excellent bouldering over water, and of course, the Eldred Valley features an extensive array of granite big-wall trad routes that are purported to rival those found in Yosemite National Park in California.

Climbing in the Powell River area comes down to access and development.

“[The Eldred’s] got the potential to be a really good area, if it gets the attention, but I don’t see it happening soon,” said Robitaille. “It could all open up and get a lot of people here, or it could just kind of stop.”

Most of the climbing areas in the region are facing access issues, with a potential housing development threatening to crowd Higgyland, and logging in the Eldred Valley. Of course, without the logging in the Eldred, the area would never have been discovered, or the roads put in to access it.

Kevan Robitaille cranks hard on a route called "Skeletons of Society," rated at a burly 5.12a