As the season winds down, I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on the Okanagan bouldering scene lately. For years, a small group of local developers thought to ourselves, “Man, we’re sure lucky to climb in all these amazing spots around the valley. They’re great, and they sure seem to be world-class, but I wonder what others will think?” Well, in the last number of years, it seems as though the increasing popularity of the region’s bouldering and reviews from world-class climbers confirm that we do, in fact, have the luxury of enjoying world-class bouldering in our back yard. The last couple seasons, and this season in particular, have been game changers for the Okanagan’s bouldering timeline. People are starting to flock to the region in all seasons to sample the rock, local developers are still scrubbing new lines at an amazing pace, and visits from some very strong traveling boulderers as well as the efforts of some of the areas strongest climbers have resulted in the establishment of the hardest lines in Okanagan bouldering history. So, in my reflections lately, I seem to be consistently coming to the conclusion that this is no longer a “future destination,” or “potential, world-class destination.” It seems as though “destination” status has already been realized.
So what is/ where is Okanagan bouldering?
The Okanagan Valley is located in the interior of British Columbia, about 4-5 hours east of Vancouver. It is defined by the basin of a series of lakes, with the largest being Okanagan Lake. The region is roughly 250km long and the climates range from desert in the south to rainforest in the north. There are several cities in the Okanagan with Vernon, Penticton and Kelowna (the largest) being the biggest in the valley. Currently, there are over 20 bouldering areas in the Okanagan and easily well above 1500 established lines. All areas of the valley have terrific bouldering zones spread throughout, but these are typically not of a huge concentration. However, The Boulderfields, just south of Kelowna has a massive concentration of quality problems from V0-VReally-Hard. To date, there are well over 1000 lines in The Fields alone. It’s not hard to see why this area has quickly become the “big show” of bouldering in the Okanagan Valley.
So, here’s a bit of Boulderfields/ Kelowna Beta
What is it?- The Boulderfields is aptly named as it’s a massive, ancient geologic collapse that’s left a playground of boulders piled upon each other. The size of The Fields is roughly just over a square kilometer of rock, and current development isn’t even close to being finished. Problem concentration is very high and increases by the day. Just as an example, many people barely have enough time to sample select lines from 3 or 4 areas on a weekend trip. Right now, there are at least 50 bouldering areas in The Fields alone!
Guidebook - The Boulderfields: A Bouldering Guide by Andy White. This book is 3 years old and only includes about 400 problems (most of what was established back then), but will get people to tons of great lines.
Not included in the guidebook is this topo of the Driven area of the Boulderfeilds.
How to get there- Full directions are in the guidebook, but essentially you drive south through The Mission region of Kelowna, onto the south slopes above town and follow a gravel road for about 11km (at times a bit rough) uphill, along the Kettle Valley Railway, and down a final spur road.
Where to stay- Camping is free right at The Boulderfields parking area and all along Gillard FSR and the historic Kettle Valley Railway. Kelowna is a large city by BC standards, so pretty much any type of accommodation can be found.
When to come - The Boulderfields is at about 4000 feet in elevation, so it sees a good amount of snow throughout the winter. Subsequently, the access roads are impassable during that season. Typically, The Fields season runs from about April to early November (when the snow melts until it flies again) with spring and fall being cooler and summer being hot. Summers in the Okanagan can get roasting hot, and historically, traveling climbers have avoided the region at that time of year. However, surprisingly, The Boulderfields’ higher altitude keeps it cooler and the chaotic nature of the talus field makes it so many overhangs, caves, and walls are always shaded and never get above 20 degrees or so. In fact, many of the hardest lines in The Fields have been sent in the summer over the years.
Supplies - There is a toilet at the camping/ parking area for The Boulderfields, but no running water. It’s always best to bring in as many supplies as possible/ necessary so you can avoid too many trips back down the bumpy road into town, and to stay and enjoy the bouldering longer.
Pads/ Landings - The landings in The Fields run the gamut from no pad required, safe, lowballs to bring all your friends (or more specifically their pads), scary, highballs/ bad landings. All that said, most locals find 2 pads to be fine for many of the lines. As the area gets more popular, it’s becoming much easier to find others to climb with and share pads as well. There is also talk of the local gear shop (True Outdoors) possibly renting pads in the near future.
Getting Around - The nature of The Boulderfields makes it a bit of work to get around. In the upper areas, there is less talus and trails are well-defined. Getting around in these spots is relatively simple. However, as you move further into the talus of The Boulderfields, it gets more difficult to navigate and boulder hopping is common. Still, people routinely come to the area just to hike and make their way around with no real problems. The regularly posted signs in bouldering areas help a great deal in navigating such an immense space, especially in talus areas.
Food - Kelowna is a large city and as a result, it has a lot of great options for food. There is a good mix of cultural foods, groceries, fast food, and specialty food stores. However, Kelowna isn’t exactly noted for its cheap food. Still, a few spots well worth a visit are, Mad Mango Café (good, cheap breakfast and ethnic foods), Bohemian Café, RauDZ, Urban Fare (specialty foods and daily buffet), and The Minstrel Café (at the bottom of the Lakeshore Rd. Hill). A drive down Pandosy St (south of the highway) or Bernard Ave (downtown) is worthwhile to have a look at a ton of great food options with lots of ethnic flavor mixed in. And, if you want to ritz it up, make the trip to one of the many wineries that are accompanied by restaurants. As the Okanagan is Canada’s wine production capital, chances are, you won’t be disappointed.
Rest Activities - The Okanagan is one of Canada’s main tourist destinations. With beautiful weather, lakes, wineries, and tons of recreation, it’s pretty tough to run out of things to do. Just a few of the many things to do are, hit the beach and swim in Okanagan Lake, check out one of the area’s many wineries, take a walk downtown (Bernard Ave) to the lake and check out the boardwalk, kayak, canoe, SUP, ride the Kettle Valley Railway and Myra Canyon Trestles, pick some fruit (The Okanagan is one of the largest fruit producing regions in the country), and of course, explore The Boulderfields.
Some of the Other “Stuff” - Showers are pretty easy to find at the Parkinson Rec Center, H2O Center, and YMCA. The cost varies from pretty reasonable to a costly day use fees. Wifi is becoming much easier to find these days, but there are a couple Starbucks on Lakeshore Rd. that tend to be used by climbers. And, laundry can be done at a variety of laundromats throughout Kelowna, but Spin City Laundromat and Cullen’s Cleaning are somewhat close to The Fields.
Well, there you have it. No longer is Okanagan bouldering a thing of the future. It’s in full effect these days, and doesn’t show signs of slowing down. While The Boulderfields houses the largest amount of rock in the valley, don’t be too shy to have a look around at some of the other gems. From Vernon to Okanagan Falls, this place is filled with incredible lines that will keep you coming back for more!