Rock climbing in Canada: British Columbia's wild side

March 22, 2021

‍Sometimes it can be hard to get to the bottom of what makes an area special, especially when talking about the more well-known climbing destinations. This isn’t the case with British Columbia.

Sometimes it can be hard to get to the bottom of what makes an area special, especially when talking about the more well-known climbing destinations. This isn’t the case with British Columbia. Yes, the area boasts a lifetime worth of world-class quality climbing – sport, trad, ocean walls, bouldering – you name it. But what’s really striking is that despite its popularity, there still remains a plethora of opportunities to get off-the-beaten-track, and by that we mean really off-the-beaten-track.

From the hard-to-reach granite overhangs of Anvil Island to the mystical Nairn Falls, be prepared to travel to some truly otherworldly places. Of course, if getting a bunch of quality sport climbing in a convenient location is more your thing, we’ve still got you covered. You can climb here all year round, but to avoid the crowds while getting the best weather we recommend you go in spring. 

Trevor McDonald climbing the goods on Anvil Island paradise © Jimmy Martinello



The Howe Sound is the Southernmost Fjord in North America, boasting some of the world’s  best open water routes. The climbing is approached by the water, no easy feat given the high winds and strong tides of the Howe Sound basin. At the mouth of the  Squamish River, you’ll find the Yacht Club crag, offering a good number of single-pitch trad routes, including the fantastic Whale Vein (6c). This is the windiest part of the Sound so check the forecast before heading out! About 1km on, a 200m high granite cliff rises out the ocean: Ocean’s Wall, boasting stunning trad multi-pitch climbs from 5a to 7a+. The Spawning Ground, to the left, offers some good single pitch sport routes. 


Head out to Anvil Island if you’re feeling particularly adventurous. You may recognize the name from the Apnea film. In addition to this 8b+, the granite amphitheater contains 6 bolted routes 6c and up, and there’s some unrecorded deep water solo in the area. The biggest challenge is getting there: the island is 10km from the nearest place where you can put out into the water, so you can choose between a 3.5 hour paddle or 40-minute boat ride. Either way, the sense of being alone on the water, opportunity to see sea lions up close and views out over the mountains are worth the trip.  

"Developing the climbing on Anvil with Jimmy martinello and Trevor McDonald is already a very memorable phase of my life. It’s true adventure and creates a strong connection between those that venture out there"
- Tim Emmett

Trevor McDonald new routing on Anvil Island  © Jimmy Martinello


Returning to dry land, one is immediately struck by the Stawamus Chief. This huge granite monolith towers over Squamish and the Howe Sound, offering hundreds of quality routes – sport, trad, single and multi-pitch – at all levels. The area can get very busy over the holidays, so hike up to the back walls for a quieter experience. There’s also a good number of boulders to get stuck into.

If you’re an avid sport climber, Cheakamus Canyon is the area to visit. You’ll be astonished by the high concentration of quality routes here, ranging from easy to some of the hardest in the country. The granite is smooth with small features, well bolted, and easily accessed. The Chek sector holds the majority of the routes, including many in the 6th and 7th grade, and is home to the Main Event crag which stays dry in the rain.

If you want to escape the crowds around Squamish, head north to Pemberton. The Green River Bastion is best known for its bouldering: you’ll find over 100 fine-grain granite blocs scattered throughout the serene pine forest, with soft landings and slopers galore. We also recommend crossing the river to Suicide Bluffs, a large granite bluff accessed by tyrolean cable offering some fine steep routes.

Johnathan Siegrest going for it on the second ascent Suicide Bluffs, Pemberton © Jimmy Martinello

If you fancy going somewhere really out-of-this-world, head to Nairn Falls where you’ll find some beautiful trad routes and boulders right by the cascade. This area is hard to access, but climbing here enveloped by the forest and roar of the waterfall is a truly magical experience. For more information speak to Tim Emmett, a professional climber, mountaineer, TV presenter and author based in British Columbia. He has a remarkable set of achievements under his belt, including establishing the hardest rock climbs in Cuba, Mongolia and Wales, completing the world’s hardest ice climb at Helmcken Falls, and, of course, making the first ascent of Apnea on Anvil Island. 

Leslie shaking out as she goes for it on Into the Mystic Pemberton © Jimmy Martinello


Finally, head South to Vancouver Island for anything from sport routes to alpine faces. In Strathcona Park at the center of the island, you’ll find a huge number of crags amidst beautiful natural surroundings. Crest Creek Crags is the largest area with over 175 mixed routes, mostly 4c to 6a. For those climbing 6c up, Horn Lake near the mainland is the place to go. Climbing in this limestone cave, you’ll be transported to Europe: steep routes, jugs, kneebars, tufas in abundance. The view, however, out over the lake and onto the Georgia straits and mountains beyond, is something you’ll only find in this part of the world. 


Words by Faustine Wheeler

A huge thank you to Jimmy Martinello and Tim Emmett, for providing us all these useful informations and his photos.

You can have a look to Jimmy's work on his official website.

Tim Emmett is a professional extreme sports athlete and TV presenter who has appeared on numerous BBC programs. He works closely with Mountain Hardwear design team and in 2012 climbed the first ascent of Helmcken Falls, Canada – perhaps the most famous Ice Climb in the World. He has also established some of the hardest rock climbs in Cuba, Mongolia and Wales. An Author, Speaker and former Wingsuit B.A.S.E. jumper, Tim continues to push the boundaries of physical and mental performance. You can see more on his official website or his official Instagram account.


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