Over the past two months, a number of pictures have surfaced showing a lot of people climbing on the sea cliffs of Howe Sound. Climbing off the water looks amazing but it also comes with a lot of risk so we thought we would check in with Chris Weldon, who has been developing these cliffs along with Andrew Boyd and Jim Martinello (just to name a few!).
Here is what Chris had to say.
Hey Chris, thanks for chatting with us. So, looks like you guys have a few sea cliffs on the go in the sound. Can you tell us a bit about it?
About 5 years ago Andrew Boyd and myself bought a beater of a boat, fixed it up so it wouldn’t sink, dubbed her “The Sea Flea” and started exploring the sound. We bolted our first route out there 3 or 4 years ago, “Revenge of the Sea Flea”. But it wasn’t until this winter that things really started taking off. We spent a lot of time cruising the sound and looking at different pieces of rock. It’s quite a bit different to develop routes with a boat rather than hiking to the crag. You have the whole ocean element to deal with. Tides, waves, wind, and rocks that want to sink your boat. So it’s taken us some time to get comfortable out there. But now we’re really starting to make some progress.
From the pictures, it looks like you are climbing right out the boat?
Yes, all of the routes that we’ve been focusing on are right out of the boat. There is definitely more rock out there, but we’re happy to stick with the ones where you belay from the boat. There’s something special about it. We have a few other lines eyed up on dry land, but those will have to wait.
How did you find the cliff?
When we first got the boat, I just wanted something to be able to get out and enjoy the ocean. I’d heard that there had been some DWS happening and a bit of new routing going on. A few other Squamish locals have been out there doing some pretty cool stuff over the years. “The Yacht Club” crag, which hosts the majority of the routes, has seen a few ascents before we got there and it was always an obvious objective. But it is also at the windiest part of the sound and your time there can be quite limited before the winds become too much. However, this winter was exceptionally dry and calm, so we took full advantage and got to work. The other crags came from hours and hours of slowly cruising the shoreline and getting our eyes trained. Things look quite small sometimes, but then you hike to the top and rap down and realize you’ve got a 35 meter pitch under you. Some routes we’ve cruised past numerous times without ever noticing have proved to have some exceptional climbing. For the most part, the rock on the ocean is some of the best I’ve seen in Squamish.
Dan Smith getting groovy at The Yacht Club. Photo courtesy of Chris Weldon ©
Is the cleaning of a cliff like this much more involved?
For starters, you don’t want your boat under you when you’re cleaning. A phonebook sized rock from 30 meters would sink you for sure. So everything we’ve done out there has been rappelled and cleaned with the boat somewhere else. Sometimes we are able to tie it up or drop anchor and leave it, other times someone stays in the boat and drops off a person. Getting to the tops of some of the cliffs can be quite challenging as well, so you really have to pick your battles.
For those out there who see these pics, what can you tell them about getting there and some of the safety concerns that come with climbing out of the water?
People have died in Howe Sound, people just out boating or fishing. Now add climbing to the equation. The ocean, and especially Howe Sound, can be a very volatile place. On warm blue bird days, the winds often become very strong and the swell can swamp a small boat. It has taken us years to become comfortable out there. The tides have to be watched too as they fluctuate almost 15 feet. Another issue people may not realize is that not any boat can tie up to the cliffs to climb. I wouldn’t want to be taking a $20,000 ski boat out there and tying it up to the rocks. If you saw the bottom of our boat, you’d understand. It is covered in scratches, dents and numerous patches. But it was cheap and that’s why we bought it. That being said, I’d love to see more people out there. It is a truly beautiful and unique climbing experience. A zodiac or an aluminum boat would be the best contenders for these crags, or a small fiberglass boat you don’t mind banging it up. But be careful and watch the winds. It can go from dead calm to white caps in 10 minutes.
Another bit of info
We don’t currently have a topo or a guide for the stuff on the water as we are still trying to collect information about routes that were put up previous to our development and a bunch of the cliffs are still works in progress. However, if anybody is inclined to go and check it out, I’d suggest The Yacht Club, at the mouth of the Squamish River. You can’t miss it. It hosts around 10 routes now, bolted, trad and mixed. Almost all of the routes have good bolted anchors that you can see from the water and are between mid 5.10 and 11+ or maybe 12-. All of the information will be in the new comprehensive guide book that is being authored by Kevin McLean and Andrew Boyd and will be out sometime this summer.
One bit of etiquette that we’re trying to suggest is that no bolts be placed for the purpose of tying up your boat. The cliffs are littered with cracks for natural protection and with 15 foot tidal fluctuations, fixed bolts just wouldn’t make sense.
Thanks Chris, for your time and the heads up!
Chris Weldon lives in Squamish when he is not crushing the north.
Wiener roast post climbing. Photo courtesy of Chris Weldon ©