OverviewKootenay Crag is a wonderful, little crag that overlooks the west arm of Kootenay Lake just outside of Nelson, British Columbia. For those who have never been to Nelson, BC; take a trip, it’s one of the coolest little towns you’ll ever visit. It has a huge cultural scene, fantastic scenery, world-class mountain biking and skiing, beautiful beaches, and the highest number of restaurants per capita of any other town/city in BC.
Having lived (and climbed) in this area for over a decade, Kootenay Crag is my favourite crag in the West Kootenays. The climbs there are all steep and challenging, the walk along the lake is always nice, the views and ambiance at the cliff is excellent, and on the walk back, we always stop at the nude beach for a swim. The routes are shaded by tall Douglas-fir trees and allow climbing there even on the hottest days (but come early). The crag gets afternoon sun and morning shade.
The climbing here is mainly bolt protected, but there are a number of climbs that require additional gear to supplement the fixed protection. There are a couple of routes (rarely climbed though), that take only gear.
Getting ThereFirst of all get yourself to Nelson, B.C. via Highway 3A or Highway 6. Nelson is located in southern BC less 70 kilometres from the Washington State border.
Once in Nelson, continue on Highway 3A as if you are heading north to Kaslo – this highway winds its way through Nelson, eventually heading across a large orange bridge that spans Kootenay Lake. A few blocks before you’re about to cross the bridge, turn right on Kokanee Avenue (it’s just past a Dairy Queen). Head up Kokanee Avenue for 2 blocks and turn left on 4th Street. Drive down 4th street for two blocks until you hit Gordon Street – turn right here. Travel a few blocks on Gordon Street and you will start to climb up a big hill – just as you’re going up the hill turn left on 8th Street (which then turns into Bealby Point Road). Continue to drive down Bealby Point Road staying right at an intersection that turns left across the tracks. About ¾ of a kilometre past this intersection, you’ll cross the tracks again – park somewhere along the road here. At this point it’s time to walk – you will be walking north down the tracks.
Follow the railway tracks for 20-25 minutes (keep track of this time) until you come to a large talus slope on your right hand side (there is a minor talus slope just before the large one, so make sure you’re at the right one). There is normally a cairn marking the location of the trail at the bottom right hand corner of the talus slope. Pick you way up through the talus until you top out on an old railway bed (it’s about 100 metres from the railway track). Walk back down the old railway bed for about 50 metres until you see the well used trail up to Kootenay Crag (you will also be able to see the crag). The first climbs start 20 metres up the trail.
I have rated the quality of the climb using a star system. Admittedly, this is a subjective system. I have climbed (numerous times) all but one of the climbs here, and have a good sense of what’s good, what’s popular, and what’s not. If you’re at Kootenay Crag for only a short time, it’s nice to have some sort of guide around which are the quality climbs. Here’s a rough guide to my star system:
No stars – A route that rarely gets down – not worth doing if you are only here for a limited amount of time.
One star – A route that gets some traffic from time to time, but is the kind of route that you maybe climb once, but don’t come back to it again.
Two stars – A moderately popular route that gets a fair amount of traffic. Worth doing more than once.
Three stars – The very popular routes that are regularly climbed and among the best the crag has to offer. Fun moves on good clean rock.
Four stars – These are the absolute classics for the crag and even for the West Kootenay area. They are very popular, get lots of traffic, and you want to climb them again and again.
I have drawn a topo to help with route identification. The climbs are basically listed from left to right (except for “At Least it Goes to the Top” which is listed last):
1. Czechmate 5.11+*** – This is the first climb that you encounter on the approach trail. It climbs a broken corner feature up to a big ledge (under a very big roof). You need to protect the move after the first bolt with a cam (there is a bomber placement) – this bottom section is a lot harder than it looks. You also need a larger sized cam to protect the move getting to the bolt that protects the roof. The roof is probably the crux – heel hook like crazy and don’t pull a hamstring (I’ve seen it happen here). (M. Hladik 93).
2. Local Motive 5.11a*** – A great climb up the gently overhang wall immediately to the right of “Czechmate” and shares its anchors. You generally climb on the right side of the bolts (especially the 2nd and 3rd bolts) and then traverse into the roof. The crux is very well protected and is pulling the last overhanging/roofy section. Some slab moves to the top. This is a good warm-up for some of the harder routes. (B. Cusack 93).
3. Banana Split 5.10b/c* – A short, steep, but slightly awkward climb, to the right of “Local Motive”. (S. Grady 98)
4. Banana Peel 5.10a/b* – Another short steep climb – similar in nature to “Banana Split” but slightly easier. (S. Grady 98)
5.Elegantly Wasted 5.11+*** – This climb is located right of “Banana Peel”. It ascends a series of sharp flakes, and has a very sequential crux. A fun powerful climb. (A. Jones, M. Hladik 98)
6. Nelson Ale 5.12d*** – One of the hardest climbs in the West Kootenays – it ascends the overhanging wall to the right of “Elegantly Wasted”. After you clip the first bolt, it’s all technical, crimpy moves right to the top. Very good route.
7. Unknown 5.11b* – I’m not sure of the name of the bolted climb to the right of “Nelson Ale”. It involves a couple of very hard moves to the left.
8. Skinny Dip 5.11c* – This is a mixed routes that tackles an initial steep section (protected by bolts) and then ascends a large right facing corner (protected by gear). The technical crux is down low, but there is another hard move waiting for you at the top (bolt protected). This climb used to get climbed more, but has now started to moss over – likely not as popular because of the required use of gear. A shame. (A. Jones, M. Hladik 94)
9. Hemp Seed Protein 5.12b*** – A great route up an imposing line. It starts with a couple of hard moves getting established; once on the climb, you make another hard move back to the right and then up. There’s one good rest half way up (enjoy it) and then more hard technical moves at the top. (M. Hladik, A. Jones 94)
10. Crowbar 5.10d**** – One of the classic climbs in the West Kootenays. Start out on some overhanging sloping ledges (protected by 3 bolts) and then get established in the corner crack. The corner turns into a flake crack and then disappears. There are some broken corners that are followed to the top. There is good pro on this climb, but it’s a bit fiddly in spots (especially near the top). The crux is near the top and harder if you’re under 5’4” (roughly). Another great warm up route. (B. Cusack 92).
11. Trainspotting 5.11c*** – This is another awesome route with cool interesting moves the whole way up. The technical crux is at the bottom (getting past the 2nd bolt), but the pump builds all the way to the top, making some of the later moves feel harder. (A. Jones, M. Hladik 97)
Trainspotting Extension 5.12b*** – a two bolt extension to the original climb was added a number of years ago, creating a much harder ending. Try it if you dare.
12. Venus 5.12b** – This is an interesting climb, with the technical crux coming right at the top. The climbing at the bottom is varied and challenging, with a middle crux coming on a sloping ramp with moves to the right. Harder if you’re short (or weak). (A. Jones, M. Hladik 95)
13. Just Do It 5.9 – This is a gear route that follows a left leaning weakness in the Crag near its far right side. It is two pitches in length, with a tree belays at the top of each pitch. The route is a bit dirty, but could be a nice route with more use (and cleaning). (1st Pitch M. Hladik, D. Lutz 93, 2nd Pitch A. Jones, M. Hladik 94 ).
14. Head Games 5.11b – A rarely (if ever) climbed leaning crack on a separate small crag near the top right corner of Kootenay Crag. (B. Cusack 93)
15. At Least It Goes to the Top 5.10a – The name says it all. The route suffers from moss, which grows back if the climb isn’t climbed enough (which it’s not). It’s an adventure, and it does go to the top. (D. Mack, T. Thruston 97)