Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I’m almost 20 meters up on a gneiss crag and my right arm is getting a little pumped; I’m out of shape. “There’s a bomber jug up to your left,” my belayer shouts. With my left hand awkwardly by my side clutching a peanut-sized crimper, I edge my right big toe ominously onto a half-inch hold. Inverting my knee inward to give myself that extra leg room, I shift my body onto that half inch of rock, squishing my toe uncomfortably as I push myself upward and flail my right arm above my head toward the left. Securing a comfortable grasp on the hold pointed out from below, I find myself triumphantly at the top. Grinning, “ready to lower,” I yell. “Lowering,” responds my belayer.

Sometimes I catch myself describing a “bomber jug” and can’t help but laugh inside at the hippy lingo characteristically used in rock climbing. Just like any other sport, climbing has its own vernacular and slang. Gneiss (pronounced niece) is a type of rock found often in BC’s Okanogan and a crag is simply a rock face used for climbing. Your arm may become pumped when the forearm starts getting tight and isn’t getting enough blood from being held above your head for too long. A bomber jug is an awesome hold and conversely a crimper is a tiny hold. A belayer is the person standing at the base of the climbing route picking up slack in the rope as the climber moves up. The belayer is also ready to catch a fall by holding the rope tight.

This particular crag was a twenty minute hike into Cougar Canyon, home to at least 183 routes on 21 different walls. The hiking trail begins in Kalamalka Lake Park, just south of Vernon. Locally known as “Kal Lake” and also as the “lake of many colours”; it certainly lives up to its name. The view of the lake was almost completely unobstructed during our hike, and its pure light blue colour was piercing. According to the park’s official website, Kalamalka Lake protected area became part of Kalamalka Lake park in 2008, encompassing 4209 hectares. The lake is now managed along with the park.

The climbing walls in this stunning park are likewise some of the best kept routes in the province. Most of the 21 walls have wooden boards at the base providing maps and levels of each route. This is more then even local guide books offer for most locations. We stopped at Vernon’s locally adored climbing store and they supplied us with hand-drawn photocopied maps to the hiking areas and recommendations for some good leisurely climbs. Needless to say, whether visiting Kal Lake Park as a climber or hiker there is no shortage of advice either online or from local residents.

It’s a fair day’s drive from Vancouver city, yet the park environment feels a world away. It’s aptly stated that in Cougar Canyon, our climbing area in Kal Lake Park, mountain lions are often enough spotted to advise visitors to exercise caution and bring some bear spray.

Vancouver is a beautiful city in a fittingly beautiful province, which happens to be somewhat of a climbing mecca. Though, those who aren’t partial to heights can still appreciate the beautiful and unique scenery in each of British Columbia’s diverse parks.

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