Standing underneath a huge granite wall in Powell River’s backcountry, rock climber Travis Foster said he had never felt so much self-doubt and inferiority.
“We didn’t know if we could do it,” said Foster. “It was so big. But we did, and I’ll hold that forever.”
Within the climbing community, the rock face in the Daniels Valley, located at the top of Powell Lake, had been whispered about for decades, according to local rock climber Kevan Robitaille.
On Thursday, July 6, Foster and Drew Leiterman started to climb the wall in Powell River’s backcountry.
They took nine days to get to the top and then another two days to rappel down. Foster and Leiterman completed their more than 1,500-metre ascent of Red Alert Wall on Friday, July 14, the first climbers to do so to anyone’s knowledge.
Robitaille said there are not many places left on the map with unclimbed walls such as those in the Daniels Valley.
“People go to Baffin Island for this type of climbing,” said Robitaille. “They are massive walls and it is a big deal. Someone’s done it. It can be done.”
The Eldred Valley is the most accessible destination for the biggest and best climbing in the region. Getting there is not as easy as a drive from the Lower Mainland to the Stawamus Chief in Squamish, where it has become overrun with rock climbers.
“I was familiar with the Eldred Valley,” said Foster. “It’s why I started looking further because I figured there just couldn’t only be the Eldred. I just had this feeling that there’d be larger walls.”
The Daniels cliffs dwarf the Eldred and the Chief, but are so remote that most climbers can’t afford the expedition time that it takes to get there, according to Robitaille.
The name Red Alert Wall stems from an old Canadian Alpine Journal article written by John Clark.
“He gave a call out, ‘Red alert. Red alert, rock climbers. There’s a big wall in the Daniels upper valley. This is not a drill. Go do it,”’ said Foster. And they did.
A few climbers tried in the 1990s and 2000s, but the granite cliffs of the remote Daniels remained unassailable until Foster and Leiterman.
Red Alert Wall is the biggest rock climbing route in the Daniels and it is considered gargantuan in the world of climbers.
“It’s just incredible,” said Foster. “The Daniels Valley still holds two more unclimbed walls that are over 4,000 feet.”
Evan Guilbault, who Foster said has climbed the Eldreds more than anyone else he knows, set out last Friday, August 4, to climb the second biggest wall in the Daniels, an expedition he has been planning for more than a year.
“It’s jaw-dropping grandeur of the earth,” said Guilbault. “The Daniels really is a special place.”
Comprehending the size of the Daniels walls is difficult, even when compared to some of the more famous climbs like El Capitan in Yosemite National Park or the Chief in Squamish.
“Picture the Chief nearly doubled,” said Foster. “That’s the size of Red Alert Wall.”
Guilbault, who has spent 10 days in the Daniels before, described it as Himalayan in size.
“There’s not many places that 5,000-foot rock cliffs exist. Powell River is one of those places,” said Guilbault. “They are almost twice the size of El Capitan, which is the world’s hallmark rock cliff.”
Now that Red Alert Wall has been climbed by Foster and Leiterman, the secret of the Daniels is out and the Eldred Valley’s reputation grows each year among climbers.
Rock climbers are looking beyond Squamish and the Chief because it is overdeveloped and almost impossible to find a noteworthy route, according to Foster.
“I honestly feel that it’s only a matter of time before that starts spilling over into other areas,” said Foster. “Powell River seems so close; it just feels like the wheels are in motion. There’s a palpable momentum, for sure.”
Sunshine Coast Tourism executive director Paul Kamon said the organization promotes rock climbing on the upper Sunshine Coast.
“Powell River is definitely where it’s at,” said Kamon.
Guilbault, who has created his own map of where the Eldred and Daniels are, said Tourism Powell River does not have enough information on climbing. According to Robitaille, a big opportunity is being missed because of the lack of climbing promotion.
“It would be nice to see them marketing it more,” said Robitaille.
Kamon said he doesn’t dispute that, but tourism office staff are not experts in rock climbing.
“Somebody has to step up and provide us the information,” said Kamon, “and we’ll happily share it.”
Rock climbing in Powell River is still picking up, said Guilbault, and for it to catch up to other places the local community is going to have to be more open about what is in the backcountry for climbers.
“We’re going to have to actually shift the culture a bit and invite people,” said Guilbault, “and expose it, not keep it secret.”