The Sea Flea

Ad­ven­tures on the Howe Sound

Gripped - - OFF THE WALL - BP

No­body knows how many climbers visit Squamish every year, but one thing is cer­tain, they all look across the Howe Sound and won­der what those cliffs would be like to climb. Well, I can tell you, they’re worth the trip.

I was just like those hordes of ne­ver­been-on-the-sound dirt­bags, al­ways climb­ing east-fac­ing walls close to the Sea to Sky High­way. I won­dered if any­one had spent time de­vel­op­ing the small and big gran­ite faces across the wa­ter.

Then on one fate­ful day, I got a text from Son­nie Trot­ter ask­ing if I and Gaby James would like to visit those small walls. Trot­ter said that lo­cal bad boy Chris Wel­don had a boat called the Sea Flea and that he of­ten climbed on the off-the-grid and above-thePa­cific crags. Who would say no?

I met Chris, the brother of Vikki, Stacey and Mike Wel­don (all crush­ers i n their own right) a decade ear­lier in Al­berta. We gath­ered at the boat ramp and helped to get Sea Flea into the salt wa­ter where so many lo­cals spend their af­ter­noons kite surf­ing. It was a windy and cold Fe­bru­ary day, but the sun was warm­ing us and the rock, but not the wa­ter.

We started out on the 10- minute jour­ney across the wa­ter and headed di­rectly to the most ob­vi­ous of the small coast­line cliffs. The closer we got, the bet­ter the rock looked. It was low tide, so when we pulled up, we had to leave enough rope on the tether that we clipped to a cam that we would tip the front. The rock close to the wa­ter was grimy and slick with sea­weed. But above the wa­ter line, the crys­tals were dry and solid.

The rock had been weath­ered for who knows how long and was some of the best stone in the area. Trot­ter led up from the boat, which was now bob­bing and bump­ing into the rocks. The wind was com­ing from the northwest and the sun from the south. Trot­ter climbed the 5.10d like he’d done it one hun­dred times be­fore, even though he’d never been there.

Wel­don told us that he, An­drew Boyd, Jimmy Martinello and oth­ers had been de­vel­op­ing climbs above the wa­ter for years. The first bolted route was Re­venge of the Sea Flea, bolted in about 2010. Al­most all of the routes can be climbed from the boat or off a stand-up pad­dle board. Chris said that they were just look­ing for some deep wa­ter solo­ing ar­eas but the po­ten­tial was too good.

Chris said all of the routes were done on rap­pel be­cause drop­ping a rock onto a boat could sink it. The weather can change in min­utes and you have to be pre­pared. Peo­ple have died in the Howe Sound and it’s im­por­tant to be care­ful. The tides can rise and fall about three me­tres which can swamp your setup and dam­age your boat. Chris said Sea Flea’s bot­tom was dinged and beaten and had needed patches. He said a lit­tle alu­minum or zo­diac would work the best.

Chris said there’s no real topo to the area, but you just have to ask for some info. There’s about 12 routes on The Yacht Club wall near the Squamish River up to 5.12. Chris said that there should be a guide­book out in the fu­ture to the crags.

As we fin­ished chat­ting about the area, a cold wind blew up and James handed out jack­ets. I climbed up and took some photos of Trot­ter with Squamish be­hind. From there, we took the boat to an­other crag and climbed a 5.11 arete un­til the sun went down. At that point, the tem­per­a­tures dipped to near zero and we sped back for beers and to warm up.

A few days later, I trav­elled to Sut­ton Pass near Tofino on Van­cou­ver Is­land. I met my friend Danny O’Far­rell and we bolted a num­ber of new routes. They took some clean­ing but I un­earthed one climb that re­minded me of the ones above the Howe Sounds. I called it The Sea Flea and graded it 5.9.—

Right: Son­nie Trot­ter lead­ing above the Howe Sounds as Gaby James and Chris Wel­don chill and be­lay in the Sea Flea. Squamish and The Chief are be­hind.

Left: Son­nie Trot­ter and Chris Wel­don in the Sea Flea

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