Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Lake Bluffs: Powell River's Trad Climbing Area Revival

Over the last few days the left side of The Lake Bluffs, the Sunny Side Bench Area and Crack the Whip Area have seen some serious scrubbing.

Dylan Merrick spent 3 days cleaning Dunamis (5.11b), which is now a contender for one of my favourite routes in town. I've never seen a route cleaned so thoroughly, mad props to Dylan for the quality of work.

 To get there, you simply take a left when you reach the top of the approach trail. You can't miss it.
The first time I went to check this area out, many years ago, I noticed a few of the completely over grown/unclimbeable routes and basically passed the whole area off. That was also back when I hadn't spent so much time trad climbing in Squamish, so those kind of routes didn't really stand out to me, and I was too used to bullet clean granite.

Every route there is great, with lines to rival any 4 star route at The Smoke Bluffs. I never thought I'd be saying that, but, I guess I just did. That being said, remember, this definitely isn't Sqamish. Expect some scruff, a few sand bagged grades, and routes with no anchors (Adds to the adventure).

Dylan Merrick cruising through the crux of Southern Exposure (5.9) *** Photo  © Christie Dionne 2014

There is still lots of cleaning to be done, and even a new route being worked out by one of the areas long time cleaning-veterans.

Scan of the 2002 guide book Sunnyside Bench Area topo

Below are excerpts from the old guide book of the area, some of which I have changed entirely to add more detail.

Sunny Side Bench Area + South Face

Southern Exposure (5.9)*** 
 Not in the 2002 guide book. Around the corner/up the trail from Barad-Dur. There is a rocky plateau at the  base of this route. Fun face and crack climbing, and your choice of which crux to tackle.
 There is new webbing and a rap ring on the tree above this route, safe to use as an anchor and to rap from.  A 60m rope will reach the ground for TR/rap from here. Single rack.

Barad-Dur (5.9) ***
 This route starts just to the left of a small plateau marked by a small rock bench at the far left of the crag. Starts out as blocky face climbing leading into the crack which offers good pro and excellent climbing with solid rests between moves.
 Fixed static line anchor shared with Dunamis. 60m just reaches ground for TR from anchor.

Dunamis (5.11b)****  
 To the right of Barad-Dur, at the base of a right facing corner/column. Step into the column from around the corner on higher ground (starting from the very base is out of reach of the first hold). Minimal/no gear down low means climbing to the one and only bolt several meters off the ground. Follow the obvious, stunning finger crack to the top. Bold and very reachy.
 Currently the anchor is fixed static line with two old biners on it. You can rap from this anchor to the ground as well as TR, tie knots as rope just barely reaches ground. Small gear.

 "I (Chris Amrstrong, author of the original guidebook) took a 35-foot upside down whipper attempting the first ascent of the direct variation, pulling 3 pieces of gear in the upper crux. So while the direct variation (starting as described above) hasn't been (lead)climbed yet keep in mind that the gear isn't as good up high. I had dizzy spells for months from post-whiplash effects. Definitely height dependent, bring your longest set of arms for the crux, and a helmet." - From the description in the 2002 guide book from the author and route developer.

Khazad-Dum (5.9) **
The series of broken cracks between Dunamis and Crack of Doom. Seeps down low, so wait for a few days of continuous sun. Good gear, with many possible variation. Great upper section. Scramble up to the top of the crag and build a tree anchor, belay from above for TR.

Crack of Doom (5.9 PG13) ***  [Original book says 5.8+....definitely at least a 5.9 though]
Dihedral to the right of khazad dum, joins it near the top. Follow the obvious inside corner/face holds into a scary and fun exposed block section. This climb has face climbing, hands, lay backing, and even two short chimneys up top. After the blocks, step left onto a ledge and a hidden crack provides safe gear and easier climbing. However, a fall could still mean hitting the shelf below so place your gear well.  Double rack ideal, though can be climbed with a single rack if you are into very long run outs. Big gear needed in the last several meters.
 *Roughly 45m long, and like all other routes in the area there is NO bolted  anchor. Be sure to know how to build an anchor from a tree a few meters back and belay from up top!

Crack the Whip Area

Suspended Animation (5.10 PG13)***
 Sustained climbing and small gear.

*next two climbs listed in scanned pages above

 It's very important to know that there are NO bolted anchors in the sunny side area. I found this out the hard way after on-sighting Crack of Doom (which is now one of my favourite climbs in town). I ended up half free soloing it due to the length and lack of gear I brought, and wasted a lot of time building a frankenstein anchor with what little webbing I had left off of a small tree. Not ideal at all. You may be able to build gear anchors on one or two of the routes, but I'm not sure, and given the length of some of them you'd likely be out of pieces by time you need to build an anchor either way.

Other than the fixed static rope on Dunamis and webbing on a tree above Southern Exposure, you must build your own anchors off trees.

  You either need to know how to build an anchor using your rope or lead with / haul up very long webbing or static line, which wouldn't be very practical. So learn how to build your anchor properly, and be safe. It also means that on routes such as Crack of Doom, once you get to the top, where you would expect to find anchors/rap rings, you actually have to scramble up through the moss/brush above your last piece of gear unless you bring a few #4s - so be careful. (It's easy class 4 scrambling.)  It's something you'll want to be prepared for.

The style is good traditional ethics, and something you don't see as often making it unique.  For people used to climbing in Squamish or Skaha, this may be off-putting, but the climbing is worth it.  Plus, if you're into trad climbing, the more anchor building experience you can get the better....right? (Starting to learn this for myself...)

Don't leave your pils on the ground, the slugs here move fast.