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Bella Coola Valley - Slab Climbing Heaven

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So the Queen Bess trip was called in the face of a washed out bridge 10km from the start of the bushwacking, a bad weather forecast and a horsecock deficiency (only 12 landjaegers for 2 people for 6 days). Our #1 Backup Plan, an "obvious" unclimbed couloir, was also bailed on in the face of the Subaru overheating trying to drive in to it. So Backup plan B was unveiled and we drove to Bella Coola.


There is more granite in that valley than in the whole of Squamish and Powell River put together. Most of it is in the form of huge slabs. We decided to do "Snootley Express" a 15 pitch 5.10 rated route put up in 1993. The route is super-briefly described in Lyle's Central Bc rock book but I had seen a story of the first ascent, with a few more vague details, written up in the 1993 VOC Journal by Mike Surface, who was the belayer on that ascent.


Anyways Brent and I got up late, fouight of fmosquitoes, and went slab climbing. Super cool 1 hour approach up thick moss carpets following bear trails in part. About as much of a hike as Sunblessed, maybe a bit longer.


The route start was pretty obvious where the trail hit the rock. We started climbing. The first two pitches were 5.7/8 (2 bolts - 50m) and 5.6 (0 bolts - 50m). A little bit sketchy cause of grit and lichen on the slabs you had to stop and wipe the soles of your shoes on your hand you couldnt just smear nonstop. The stations had chains, webbing and rusty shackles. Ok so we could bail if necessary!!


Pitch 3 was 5.9 stemming up a blank corner and about 30m. the wall got steeper here. two bolts in the first 15m then run it thru the crux to the anchor looking at factor 1 fall. thats pretty tame for this route as it turns out - just a wake up.


Pitch 4 was hard to find at first. some bolts out right on another route are a station and not the 4th pitch. p4 moves left from the p3 station and climbs the right edge of a hanging slab over some detached blocks to a ledge. 40m 5.8, 2 bolts and gear behind detached block.


P.5 heads up into a huge tree island ledge which is reached at the end of the pitch. about 5.8. somewhat mossy but you get 3 whole bolts on this 5.8 50m pitch!!!


it was hard to find p. 6 because no bolts are visible from the top of tree island. we searched for an hour and ended up climbing 2 pitches up flakes on the right side (3rd class & 5.8) to gain the next tree ledge above on its right side. turns out the route climbs 2 pitches slabs (5.7? trad pro behind a flake, 50m & 5.8/9? 1 bolt, 40m) to the left end of the same ledge.


the next two pitches were some of the best slabs ive ever climbed. huge sheets of glacial polish with holes in it. climbing on the edges of the holes. sort of like climbing plates of desert varnish. absolutely no pro except belays- 5.7 and 5.8 - both about 40m.


we somehow linked the next two pitches with some simulclimbing thru missing one of the belays (it was on a ledge out left and we went right at first) - there were a few trad placements on these slabs. two more pitches of 5.8/9.


the next two pitches were the crux pitches. i led off on the first of these (12th pitch in total) taking a few cams for some pods i saw along the way. as it turned out the cams were too small for the pods so I ran it out hoping for something better. instead i got a set of 10a moves to a blank groove filled with moss. sketched up it somehow with much crying, wailing for mommy, swearing, tears, stained shorts etc. 10a 40m no pro!!! (a #3 Camalot would have reduced this to a manageable [Roll Eyes] factor 1 fall potential!!!)

Brent led the nexdt pitch which had a short vertical section up edges with a bolt. he actually FELL OFF on this luckily after clipping the bolt. then sent it next go. route continued up a deep polished runnel chimney with a crack in the left wall for pro. 10b 45m.


from this point, there are 2-3 pitches of reportedly 5.5 (4th class it looked like) to the top of the wall, but it started to rain so we rapped from here. we climbed 13 pitches in 4 hrs due to not having to stop and place gear. raps took 2 hrs then off to the Bentnick Arms in Hagensborg for beers and burgers.


This is a super sweet route - one of best slabs ive ever climbed. gear - take 6-8 slings and a small set of cams. no need for a rack of nuts but you need HUGE GREY SQUIRREL BALLS to deal with the runouts. be prepared for swarms of blood thirsty insects if the breeze ever stops or when it clouds up.

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Thanks, Dru. I was very impressed with all that beautiful granite in the BellaCoola valley and the iceman at the local grocery in Hagensborg told us there had been some climbing activity and that something had appeared in the central BC guide. I was wondering.




[ 08-06-2002, 10:30 AM: Message edited by: mattp ]

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yes, behind the chopper there in the photo is the so called "Airport wall" with routes up to 10 pitchers and 5.11+, reportedly. and that was c. 1996, who knows what there is now. we found evidence of more recent lines than Snootli Exprerss on Snootli in the form of recent Fixe ring stations when we got offroute looking for the express above the tree ledge. i heard guys from Whistler have been doing lots of secret/unreported new routing up there.


Most dont seem to scrub the cracks just climb them mossy.....

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