Rising above a remnant old growth forest, Bella Coola is a great multi pitch challenge. This route follows vertical corner systems paralleling the well known Feather route on the Klootch Buttress. Bella Coola is a very direct line that takes in the hardest sections of climbing on the wall, featuring strenuous and technically challenging cruxes with clean climbing throughout. The route is well protected and has comfortable belay ledges and stances. Onsighting any of the three crux pitches would be impressive.
Approach: From the Squaw (Slhanay) parking. Take the standard approach making sure to take a left fork as you near the base of the wall. The start is identified by the bolted first pitch which is a few meters left of a prominent 4 inch corner/flake.
This route was established during Robin Barley’s 2008 assault on this section of cliff.
This area, particularly the Feather, stood out as very obvious and alluring with many new route objectives. Recon’s to the base of the cliff would confound and frustrate any would be glory seekers. They would quickly be disoriented, staring up into a vertical jungle with nary a hint of clean upper dihedrals and crack systems so visible from the valley.
Opening the sector took the “roll up your sleeves and get to work” industriousness of Barley, he knew what needed to be done to get to the goods. Unlike many past endeavours, Robin didn’t have to face the drudgery alone, he had been grooming an apprentice…Harry Young.
Harry came into climbing later in life, wiry and wild Harry came from blue collar roots and wasn’t afraid of hard work, this was coupled with a rare natural talent for climbing- Robin had found the perfect partner. In this season the pair established The Feather, The Dean Channel, and Bella Coola. All three routes went largely free but required varying amounts of aid. To his credit Harry pulled off some inspired and difficult leads, the crux of the Dean Channel standing out as standard, sandbag “Harry Young 5.11”. Bella Coola still required numerous points of aid and remained far from free.
After snagging the FFA of the Feather, Craig McGee and myself put some effort into freeing Bella Coola. We were quickly rebuffed by the innocent looking flare crux and moved on.
In 2013 Robin Barley published a small guidebook “The Squamassif- A Scrubbers Tale” written under the pen name Splodge – Robin’s dog. The book has proven to be a cult classic, and will likely sit as a favoured tome on the Squamish climbing geek’s bookshelf. Although peppered with some inaccuracies Robin did a fine job with this book, taking the piss out of friends at the same time doling out compliments to sworn adversaries, Robin seemed to maintain some sort of personal code of journalistic ethics. He has also liberally distributed these books- free to take (leave a donation that will go to Squamish SAR) in waterproof containers throughout the entire “Squamassif”creating his own version of open source journalism.
One inaccuracy of the book was that he gave Craig and I the FFA ascent credit for Bella Coola giving the grade of 5.11+. Knowing neither of us had come remotely close to freeing the thing I resolved to return. Over several years I had a frustrating relationship with the crux of this route, descending my fixed lines and working the route on mini traxion. I would feel like I had it wired only to return and get totally schooled. Finally in 2017 I was lucky to have an unusual peak of fitness, and to have just purchased a stealth rubber knee bar pad. It was now or never. I recruited my perpetually psyched friend Tom Wright to help me out with the big day. I flubbed the first crux 5.11d (a brand new pitch I had prepped), handing the rope over to Tom who promptly flashed it. Below the crux 5.12c, I cranked up my new “cheat pad” and had the very pleasant experience of floating the crux. Tom hung in there flashing this pitch on second which was very inspiring but also a little annoying knowing how many hours i had put in trying to master the thing. The final pitch was a question mark, i had made some short attempts at freeing it but had focused most of my effort below. We surmised that this innocuous looking corner couldn’t possibly be unclimbable. Taking turns attempting to “crack the code” turned out to be the most memorable part of the day. We both eventually settled on our own bizarre beta and tamed the final crux with sequences that only a granite aficionado could appreciate.
Pitch by Pitch:
1. Vertical face climbing. The crux is encountered passing the first bolt getting established in a faint groove, continuous cranking above leads to nice belay ledge. Fully bolted. 5.11a.
2. Move left into right facing corner, pumpy, vertical layback to where the corner arches into overhang which is overcome via a bouldery sequence utilizing face holds and sloping arete slaps, a final difficult sequence guards the belay. 5.11d.
3. Pull right into 5.10 corner system of the Feather. Enjoyable, chunky stemming and liebacking rapidly gains elevation to a spacious belay ledge replete with a cedar belay seat. 5.10b.
4. Climb into right facing corner, energetic 5.10 jamming and wriggling leads to a respite stance below the crux flare. Deceptively difficult, thin fingers/tips in the back of a shallow flare succumbs to difficult liebacking with right kneebar assist. Reminiscent of Index’s classic “Stern Farmer”. The crux protects well with small cams (000-0 c3’s or equivalent). Fun, varied finger cracks and face climbing leads to an anchor on the right. 5.12c. (note don’t get sucked left by the bolts of Dean Channel)
5. Powerful liebacks up the left facing corner. The leaning corner slams shut just as it forms a minor roof/lip. Concoct some form of beta fusing stemming/mantling/slapping/chimneying/crimping into two moves to overcome the lip. Trundle up comparatively easy climbing, underclinging left to the spacious summit ledge. 5.12b.
Single set of cams from 0.3″ – 3″ . 2x 0.3″- 0.75″ Wires. Quickdraws. All belays are bolted.
Five rappels, with judiciousness the line can be rapped with one 60m. Rapping with a single 70m is easy and highly recommended.