Grand Forks, British Columbia, isn’t well known for its rock climbing but local Bill Sperling is changing that with his new guidebook. Just don’t call it a guidebook.
The first thing you notice when you scroll through the 24-page “Grand Forks Climbing” document is the qualifier on the cover that reads “not a guidebook!” Author and local route developer Bill Sperling put it there to clarify that this is a “compilation of existing crag beta made over the years. The only guarantee is that it is full of inaccuracies.” Despite this warning, he’s done a damn good guidebook…uh…not guide. People have been climbing around GF since the ’70s but Sperling’s effort is the first time anyone has tried to write it all down. It’s also the first time anyone’s really committed themselves to intensive route developing in the West Kootenay city: if the guide is to be believed, Sperling is responsible for the majority of the routes there. We caught up with him to ask about the scene in GF and why there are so many routes on old bridges.
Hey Bill. Congrats on the not-guidebook. How long have you been living in Grand Forks?
I moved here in 2017 from Nelson. Before that I was I was bouncing around the interior for a few years.
What was the state of the climbing scene there when you arrived?
There were only a few local climbers and many of the climbing areas had disappeared into the lichen and moss. The majority of the existing climbs were old school, scary, dirty, mixed-pro adventure climbs. There were very few safe, low commitment cragging routes that you could do after work.
What have you done since?
Myself and a few others added a bunch of new routes and a few new crags with a focus on safe, easily accessible cragging routes. Since we don’t have a climbing gym we needed lots of routes to climb after work with short approaches that could get us pumped out of our minds in a few hours.
What’s your favourite wall/route?
Oryx and Crake at Cascade Gorge is probably my favourite route in the area. I just wish it were longer! Its a short but quite overhanging jug haul.
What’s your least favourite?
That depends on the day. Sometimes a dirty, scary, character building beat down is exactly what you need. Luckily there are plenty of them to chose from.
What’s with the bolted bridges and structures?
They’re stacked granite blocks, so they actually climb quite well! The Granby Dam and the Cascade Gorge bridge had a few older bolted routes on them when I moved here. I was skeptical at first but they’re a lot of fun in an odd, thin, techy style like nothing else. Try them and you’ll be converted!
What do you predict for the future of climbing in Grand Forks?
There’s a wild amount of potential in GF for new routes. The increased popularity of climbing had mainly missed GF because it had so few low-commitment climbs and sport crags in particular. In this day and age people don’t seem as interested in scruffy adventure climbs. I’m hoping that having a lot of moderate, user friendly crags will increase the number of climbers. I’m not worried at all about Grand Forks climbing getting too crowded because there is so much untapped potential that it would take dozens of climbers decades to put up just the low-hanging fruit.
How did the season in GF play out this year given the border closure and various other restrictions?