OverviewSo you're in Bellingham and you want to rock climb, but where to go? What to expect?
The Bellingham area has some really fun and ever-adventurous climbing. Basically the area can be broken down into 5 main crags:
- Sehome Hill
- The Chuckanuts
- The Bat Caves
- Governor Lister Cliff
- and The Pumphouse Wall + The Shuksan Crag
If you include Squamish the Bellingham Area has every type of climbing, from big wall to deep (shallow) water soloing. Whether you've just got rock shoes or a portaledge there's something within a few hours drive that will suit your fancy.
- Bellingham is located in Northern Washington 1.25hrs South of Vancouver, BC and 1.5hrs North of Seattle.
- To get there just take I-5 and watch for ext 252 "Western Washington University"
- Mt. Baker is an hours drive East on hwy 542
Sehome Hill, The Chuckanuts, and Governor Listor (all the closest crags to B'ham) are sandstone. Huecos, knobs, pockets, and slabs are all common features.
A word of Caution: Sandstone is fun to climb but it can be dangerous when wet. When saturated once good holds can now snap off sending you downwards and perhaps ruining an excellent climb. Stay off sandstone that's wet, be patient, sometimes it takes 2-3 day of continuous sun to dry, besides there's overhanging routes that are dry year round.
There are trad lines on Chuckanut Sandstone, like The Larrabee Dihedral 5.10X, but often the gear is more ornamental than functional. All these routes can also be top-roped, think about taking a lap before you commit.
Don't think sport climbing is adventurous, come to B'ham! There's lots of character building sport routes in the Area. Governor Lister Cliff has the largest collection of bolted lines on Chuckanut Sandstone. The Resistance Route sports a 30' runout in the middle of a dirty slab.
- Top Roping & Bouldering
Gneiss, Metamorphic, and Volcanics:
The Bat Caves and the Pumphouse Wall are composed of a mix of various rock types.
The Pumphouse seems to have shifted overtime to become overhanging, the holds shifted too leaving sweet sloping shelves. There are trad, mixed and sport routes. The landings are too uneven to make this a serious bouldering destination.
The Bat Caves (Oyster Dome) is the biggest wall in the Bellingham Area at close to 300ft and has the largest collection of leadable routes in B'ham. Mostly sport, but the adventurous trad climber can have fun here too. I've snapped many a hold off these walls, don't be deterred but use caution. Lot's of bouldering, the bottom of the cliff is a boulder field. Don't trash the Caves, don't bother the bats.
- Sport: Pumphouse & Batcaves & Shuksan Crag
Trad: Pumphouse & Batcaves
- Squamish: 2hrs ***** Thousands of trad lines on perfect granite adorn the walls of Squamish. If it's raining anywhere in the PNW then it's raining at Squamish. Allow 1.5 days for drying in warmer seasons. A passport is now required to enter Canada!
- Washington Pass: 3hrs ***** If the approach to the Liberty Bell Group was any easier you couldn't call it alpine. Granite Spires galore. One of the most beautiful areas in WA. A strong team can pick off three or four spires in a day
- Mt. Erie: 35min *** Besides Larrabee this is where most B'ham climbers spend their time. It's close, there's lots of routes from bouldering to trad. Springboard is classic! Rosario is just down the road from Erie and offers very Pumphouse-esque climbing.
LinksCheck the Weather
EthicsFollowing "the code" is an important part of keeping access to Bellinghams crags open to the public, please read this section and pass on your thoughts to climbers you see violating proper etiquette.
Top roping is fun and safe but done wrong it can be very damaging. Never top-rope directly around a tree (an example of this tragedy can be found atop the gray wall) it kills trees and ruins ropes.
Never top rope directly through fixed gear! This prematurely wears out anchors (replacement isn't rapid) and endangers other climbers!
Respect lead climbers. If you're with a group of people top-roping and someone wants to lead the route make accomidations for them. Don't immediately lower off, but don't make them wait forever for your entire group to make a lap, watch and learn from elder climbers.
Long anchors: Many of the anchors to top roped climbs are 20 to 30 feet behind the to lip of tbe route. Use long anchors that hang over the lip. Running a loaded rope over an edge while top-roping is damaging and a red flag you don't know what you're doing. If you value your rope and the rock you're climbing on do it right. If you see this problem occuring buck up and say something, keeping people safe and crags healthy is worth it.
Many of the routes in the Chuckanuts were bolted to "build character". Don't place intermediate bolts on a route you feel is too runout, this violates the vision of the first ascensionist and changes the climb forever. If you're not able to climb a route safely just practice and come back later.
Bolt Replacement: Do replace bolts or bolt hangers that are no longer safe. If a bolt hole is not salvagable then pick a new good spot near the old bolt (remember not to change the character of the climb). Remove the old bolt, at least the hanger, as cleanly as you can, if you don't know how to make a clean job of it ask a more experienced climber to help you.
New Routes: many of the bolted routes near B'ham were not legal to bolt, and are not legal to climb. I don't advocate illegal bolting or illegal climbing...but they're a reality here. Never cross through someones yard to get to or from a climb, either make a new path or kiss the route goodbye. Good bolting is an art, poor bolting is a tragedy (much worse than just not bolting)... motivation is not enough. Methodical planning of placement, many practice holes on junk rock, and experience are prerequisite to even consider bolting something. Use only stainless bolts, and stainless hangers that are coated to protect against all the salt in the air.
Don't dry tool anything anyone would ever want to rock climb. On sandstone especially dry tooling leaves lasting irreparable damage. Common sense dictates finding an out of the way rock no one cares about.
Bellingham is a very wet place. Moss, debris, and garbage find there way onto routes and require periodic cleaning. The Pumphouse Wall requires a serious effort each year to reopen moderate routes. The point here is that cleaning is okay and a good thing but care must be taken. If you recklessly shovel at a wall you may damage it, just use common sense and care and you should be fine, and doing us all a favor!
Sandstone is soft and easy to chip. Some excellent hard routes have been ruined by chipping. Never chip for any reason, lowering climbs to your level is tragic for better climbers, don't take the hard routes away! Much of the damage that occurs is not intentional but occurs because people are not patient and climb on wet standstone and break holds. In general just try to leave the rock the way you found it.