Steep but easily accessible cliffs that rise on the west and north sides of 60-acre (24-hectare) Murrin Provincial Park make it a popular destination for novice rock climbers who wish to work on their technique. Climbing trails branch off from the main trail to Petgill Lake (see Hiking in the Sea to Sky Corridor), located north of Murrin’s parking lot.
At last count there were 180 routes to climb on Stawamus Chief Mountain (see Hiking link above) in Squamish, all of which begin from the base of one the largest free-standing granite monoliths in the world. Estimated to be 93 million years old, the Chief is one of the senior members of the local landscape, parts of which were laid down as lava a scant 12,000 years ago. Advanced and novice climbers alike look for appropriate routes on ‘The Chief,’ ‘The Squaw,’ and ‘The Apron,’ which together form the main climbing area. The best barometer of the Chief’s international reputation is to check the wide range of licence plates on the cars parked in the climbers’ lot at the base of the mountain, and to eavesdrop on the languages being spoken here in the staging area, where as many as 25,000 climbers gather annually. The climber’s parking lot in Stawamus Chief Provincial Park is located on the east side of Hwy 99 at its junction with the Stawamus River Forest Rd, just north of the Stawamus Chief roadside viewpoint. The new park has 40 walkin-campsites and 12 drive-in sites; though a great base camp for climbers, these sites are not well-suited to RV travellers. For those who prefer to experience The Chief without rock-climbing gear, the Blackside Trail is a hiking route up the back of the monolith. But don’t be fooled, it’s steep and strenuous. If you simply want to watch others climb, there is a rest stop with picnic tables just off Hwy 99.
As you travel north of Stawamus Chief Mountain into Squamish, keep your eyes on the bare-faced bluffs that rise above the Mamquam Blind Channel on the east side of the highway. These are the Smoke Bluffs, a novice and intermediate climbers’ delight. The bluffs get their name from the mist that rises from them when lit by morning sunlight. Not nearly as imposing as the Chief, the Smoke Bluffs receive more direct sunlight than their renowned neighbour, and thus routes here, although shorter, dry much faster. There are two approaches to the Smoke Bluffs. The easiest one to find is on Loggers Lane. Turn right off Hwy 99 onto Loggers Lane at the Cleveland Avenue stoplights, across from a string of fast-food franchises. Drive a short distance to the top of the Mamquam Blind Channel. There’s plenty of parking in a clearing here that is often occupied by pieces of heavy equipment.
The north end of the Smoke Bluffs Trail begins along a gated service road. An alternative approach begins from the traffic lights just north of the Stawamus Chief. Turn right at the lights, then left, and drive past the hospital to the top of Vista Crescent. A map posted in the parking lot here details the various approaches to the bluffs and shows the locations of several good viewpoints. The solid granite on both the Chief and the Smoke Bluffs is prized by climbers; at present, there are about 200 climbing routes from which to choose.
The trail north around the base of the Smoke Bluffs descends onto an open plateau and below to the bank of the Mamquam Blind Channel. Wood and rock staircases lead up to one section called the Octopus’s Garden. Farther along, the loop trail narrows as it curves between two granite walls. Watch for wooden stairs leading down to Pixie Corner. This 2-mile (3-km) loop trail brings you out at the notice board near Vista Crescent. Even if you don’t come to climb, a walk around the Smoke Bluffs will provide plenty of inspiration.
The limestone walls of Marble Canyon northeast of Lillooet are easily reached from Hwy 99. Dozens of routes have been opened by Lower Mainland climbers over the past decade in this area, which has come to be known as the ‘Cinderella of BC rock,’ because of its still relatively undiscovered beauty. A maze of canyons runs off on both sides of the main canyon, through which the highway makes its way as it passes beside the brilliantly hued Turquoise, Crown, and Pavilion Lakes.
Chimney Rock (known as Coyote Rock by members of the Fountain Band First Nation) dominates the crenellated skyline. The best description of routes such as the Headwall and the Great Gully are found in Central B.C. Rock by Lyle Knight, a comprehensive climbing guide to routes in the Lillooet region north through the Central Interior and east through the Okanagan and West Kootenays.
According to that rare breed of mountain cat – the ice climber – Lillooet is the centre for ice climbing in British Columbia, and Marble Canyon Provincial Park has one of the best and most easily accessed icefalls in the region. Good ice is also found in several places beside the D’Arcy-Anderson Lake Road.
Owing to the ease with which nearby glaciers can be reached, the Joffre Glacier Group in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park has been visited by novice and expert ice climbers alike for decades and its popularity continues to grow. Beware exploring the glacier. Even knowledgeable climbers run the risk of falling into a crevasse.