Sean James climbed the bouldering wall at the College of the Rockies on Friday for the Rock Climbing competition. Alexandra Heck/The Free Press

Sean James climbed the bouldering wall at the College of the Rockies on Friday for the Rock Climbing competition. Alexandra Heck/The Free Press

Rock Climbing gains traction in Fernie

It’s a sport that’s gaining a foothold in Fernie.

The College of the Rockies hosted a bouldering competition on their rock wall over the weekend, where climbers came out in droves for the opportunity to try their hand at the course.

From experienced climbers, to first time visitors; everyone had the chance to test out a series of routes up the wall, called problems.

“We saw a lot of excitement,” said James Boldt, organizer of the event, which was a partnership between College of the Rockies and the Fernie Rock Climbing Club. “We had quite a few beginner climbers.”

Volunteers set up a number of routes, varying in degrees of difficulty.

The wall inside the college is small enough for the event to be considered bouldering, meaning climbers relied on mats to break their fall, instead of using ropes and harnesses.

Christopher McKim took the winning title for the men, and Kelly Mills was the highest scoring female.

“The referees were really helpful,” said Kristy Bishop, a first time climber who is visiting Fernie from Australia.

She and her friend Keleen van den Niewenhof decided to give it a try after hearing that it was open to beginners as well.

While rock climbing may not have the popularity that mountain biking and skiing do in the Rockies, local climbers like Ryan Kikauka say that the sport is gaining some traction among residents.

“It’s developing. It’s happening gradually,” he said, while waiting in line to give the wall a try. “Events like this help me meet other climbers.”

He said that climbing isn’t a solo sport. Out in the mountains, climbers need partners to spot and help out for safety’s sake.

In Fernie, and across the Rockies, Kikauka says that the rock is not ideal for climbing.

“The quality of rock is poor,” he said, explaining that the climbing term for the crumbly rock is chossy, and it’s difficult to drill the necessary steel bolts into the mountain side in order to establish climbing routes.

“Very chossy in the Rockies,” he said.

Regardless, he says that a dozen or so climbers in the area are bolting and establishing routes in the best parts of stone that they can find.

“We might have to go higher into the mountains to find better quality rock,” he said. “Keep an eye out in the next five years, there’s lots more coming.”