Mountain guide David Lussier has spent more time in Valhalla Provincial Park than any other rock climber. Now he’s working on an alpine rock guidebook for the area. MCG chats with him about the project.
David Lussier is a study in contradiction. He’s a soft-spoken guy with a gentle demeanour who absolutely crushes it in the mountains. Originally hailing from Sherbrooke, Quebec, he moved west to play in terrain taller than the Appalachians and now works in the mountains as an ACMG guide and owner of Summit Mountain Guides.
His home base is Nelson, British Columbia, but during the winter months he works everywhere from Europe and Japan to Western Canada. In the summer, though, he prefers to spend his time in the Valhalla range, located between Arrow and Slocan Lakes in south-central BC. It could be argued that no other rock climber has spent more time in Valhalla Provincial Park. He’s done upwards of 25 alpine rock route first ascents there over the past 20 years, including the first free ascent of the North face of Mt Dag in 2002. He also rode a bicycle the 85 kilometres from Nelson to the Park, climbed Gimli and rode home in under 24 hours. (For that full story, click here.)
Now David is working on an alpine rock guidebook for the area. (It’s his second written project after he published the Whitewater Rock Guide last year.) We sat down with him to find out more about what he’s been up to in the Valhallas.
Hey David. When did your relationship with the Valhallas begin?
I first became attracted to the Valhallas in 1995. That was when I first climbed the south ridge of Gimli Peak. I was always attracted to the potential for recreation in the area but that definitely applied to Gimli because it’s such an amazing piece of rock. I wasn’t a guide then but later I came to realize there was a lot of value in taking clients to the Valhallas. I became an ACMG guide in 2000 and started guiding there in the early 2000s.
What else have you done in the Valhallas besides climb?
I did the Valhalla traverse on skis in 1998. Since then I’ve done plenty of climbing, hiking and skiing trips in there, especially around the Mulvey Group and the Devil’s Range in the southern half. I haven’t done as much in the northern end.
What keeps you going back?
The draw is that it’s not as well known. I’ve always been attracted to lesser known areas. I’m not really into just bagging the classics. I like exploring less known areas with potential for adventurous climbs. It’s also very close to where I live. It’s only an hour-and-a-half drive from Nelson. That said, it requires dedication to get in and climb some of the routes beyond Gimli. And while it’s close, there’s still an element of adventure. It’s not like the renowned Bugaboos (in the East Kootenays) or Chamonix. There’s just no comparison. It’s more like the Wind River range in Wyoming but in a protected wilderness area that’s much less travelled.
How often do you guide clients in the Valhallas every year?
Upwards of a dozen days.
And how many days would you say you spend in total there?
You’re working on an alpine rock guidebook for the area, correct?
The idea of a comprehensive guidebook seems a natural step because of all my experiences in there and mostly because it’s hard to find good, modern resources. There is a lot of disjointed information available online or in various publications, however, there is a need for a comprehensive guidebook with modern photos and user-friendly information all in one. So Cam Shute and I have started working on one. But it’s a slow process for various reasons – mainly because of how busy I am as a guide running Summit Mountain Guides.
How far along are you?
There’s quite a bit of work and research done. Lots of documentation has been generated. Field visits have been a priority over the last couple of summers and I’m planning on another intensive summer in there this year. My hope is to finish it in a year from now.
Is the guidebook going to include everything in the Valhallas?
It’ll include everything that’s inside the park. In the summer, my focus has been more on the areas with good alpine rock climbing such as the Mulvey Group, the Devil’s Range and the Nemo Creek area. Everything else with the potential for scrambles and shorter routes will be included, however, those three areas are the ones the guidebook will mainly focus on.
Aside from the guidebook, what other projects do you have on the go?
I’m learning how to high-line right now, which is a lot of fun. But honestly, guiding and the guidebook are my main focuses, apart from being a dad. This project has made me discover areas of the Valhallas that I might not have explored otherwise. I’m really excited to continue going in there and climbing new routes. There’s so much potential in there and so few people doing it!
Below are a selection of photos taken over the years by David during his forays into the Valhalla mountains.