Trip Participants: Julie Morter, Adrian Hilchie, Nicole Morter and Samantha Hoffman. Tobias Link gets an honourable mention for getting to stare at the columns in the rain on Sunday.
I’ve been hearing about the Basalt columns near Vernon for several years now, and this year made the decision to get there come hell or high water. The plan was to go for 4 days over the May long weekend, but excessive rain meant that we were only able to climb there the last day of our trip. We were saved from a completely depressing trip by a solid day of climbing in Revelstoke on Saturday and some good afternoon climbing at Cougar Canyong in Vernon on Sunday. That being said, the crown jewel of the trip was definitely Aberdeen Columns.
Aberdeen Columns is a basalt formation up a logging road approximately 45 minutes outside of Vernon. The basalt columns themselves are very featureless and covered in lichen. The only way up is in the cracks between the columns. If you like crack climbing, Aberdeen columns is a must-do. These aren’t laid-back Squamish cracks with pods and ledges. It’s straight up vertical crack climbing where the only way up is to jam.
The climbs here range from 5.3 to 5.11. The climbs in the middle (5.4-5.9) climb over broken columns and require less crack-climbing technique, but are prone to loose blocks and low quality climbing. The Aberdeen Wall is where all the real climbing is at. However, the presence of the easier climbs allows for top-ropes to be set up on the harder climbs, which is useful for beginners or for climbing the squeeze chimneys on the right side of the columns.
I started off the day climbing up a 5.7 to set a top-rope on a squeeze chimney. I found several terrifyingly large loose blocks on the first climb I attempted, so I had to shift over a climb. The climb I did certainly isn’t worth the effort apart from being a way to get to the top of the climbs. It was dirty and soggy and I think I placed two pieces of gear (for someone who loves to stitch things up this is saying something).
Julie and Adrian started out their day on a 10c crack called Agent Orange. I heard the odd complaint from Julie as she got off the ground but she was up to the top in good time. I followed the route and found it quite difficult. It runs the range from very small (0.75 to small #1) up to larger-than-fist (#4) at the top. As Samantha said, just as you figure out one size, it changes. I found the beginning especially challenging as it was perfectly sized to squeeze my smallest toes and I had to just grit my teeth and push through until it widens. Those folks with larger feet will have an easier time as you will be able to smear/jam the outside of the crack. I went back for a second lap and it went much smoother the second time around! That’s a good tip for anyone trying to up their crack game- If you have the time, do a top-rope lap after you lead something to practice the technique. It’s amazing how much it helps.
Poor Samantha had her first outdoor crack-climbing experience on this climb. She was able to push through the initial reaction of “Oh f** this hurts why would anyone do this!” And plow her way up to the wider section of the crack. For a while, it looked like the fist jam would defeat her but she figure it out and thrashed her way up to the top. Yahoo!
Meanwhile, Julie and Adrian had moved on to the 10d Karma Crack. This was a wide crack all the way up, ranging between cupped hands, super-cupped hands and fists. Julie chugged through the bottom section but struggled when she hit a section that was wider than hands but not quite wide enough for fists. After re-naming the crack “Shit crack” and dropping more than a few f-bombs, she made it to the top. Just to rub her nose in it, Adrian cruised up the crack in no time at all. Hand size matters folks!
I took the opportunity when the rest of the group was trying the squeeze chimney to attempt a 10a (my first 10a trad lead!), called In-decent Basalt. The route description said it was “thrutch fest” and I would agree. I had some great jams, but I also had points where I was placing gear while holding myself up with a shoulder-jam between two columns.
From the bottom the crack had looked very wide, so I lugged up three #4s and a #5. In reality, you could do the climb with nothing bigger than a #3. Oh well- carrying all that gear up gave me the opportunity to build some truly impressive bruises on my legs!
The day ended with Samantha and I top-roping Karma Crack while Julie and Adrian tried a thin 11 stemming climb, appropriately called “Stem Cell”. The whole group also got a chance to try the squeeze chimney. Turns out, butt size is to squeeze chimney like hand size is to hand crack! Some of us had a little more trouble squeezing into the chimney than others!
The climbing was so great we ended a full hour later than planned, leading to a long and exhausting drive back to Calgary and a crack hangover on Wednesday. Given that I’m already thinking of when I could go back, I’d say it was worth it!
You can find pictures and route information at the following page:
All pictures are courtesy of Samantha!