Skip the Squamish Swarms: An Overview of the Harrison Bluffs Climbing Area
Nestled between the Harrison Resort Golf Club and the tourist drool of Harrison Hot Springs exists fine-grained granite cliffs once touched by the late and young Marc-Andre LecLerc. In fact, if you blink long enough, you’ll drive right by it (like I did the first time). Despite its demure presence, there isn’t anything lousy about the climbing in Harrison Bluffs. In fact, it’s teeming with splitter cracks, granite pockets, aesthetic aretes, and tenacious slab routes.
But the best part is that you’ll see only a dozen climbers at most on the weekends.
The climbing area is located in the Fraser Valley, a geologically unique area in southern British Columbia that borders the Coast Mountains and the Northern Cascade Mountains. The valley contains a mixture of sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rock, the granite at Harrison Bluffs belonging to the latter. The Pacific coast rainfall makes this area rich in flora and fauna, as well as humidity from the surrounding marshland. Unlike Squamish, Harrison Bluffs still has that “untouched” feel; gates, bridges, dirt roads, frogs that serenade climbers visiting in the spring. In fact, for a while, Harrison Bluffs was relatively untouched.
According to Jasper Fast, a local climber and route developer, Harrison Bluffs saw heavy traffic in the 90s, but as popularity declined, the state of the routes did too. Fast says, “Only 4 or 5 routes had been put up in that zone since the 90s and people rarely climbed them despite being good routes.” The first time I visited, a few years ago, most of the routes were overgrown with moss and shrubbery. The crack routes, especially, required a bit of gardening to protect.
Fast started cleaning the climbing area up in the winter of 2020, saying he was intrigued by what was beneath the moss and bushy jungle that encased the walls. He eventually enlisted the help of his friend Sam Bleakney who had a more efficient way of showing the walls some love: “Sam got a fire hose rigged up in a waterfall and before you know it we had a pressure washer blasting those walls clean.” Together, Fast, Bleakney, and a few other developers not only cleared the routes that already existed, but they established about 40 new routes over the last few years.
Fast describes these efforts as a “rebirth” of Harrison bluffs. Beyond continuing to poke away at new routes or spending his evenings clearing trails and building bridges, Fast joined John Valecko in 2022 to create The Fraser Valley Climbing Guide. The book includes information about other crags in the Fraser Valley area, including Slesse Creek and Elbow Lake. When I asked Fast what he hopes people get out of the book, he says, “I’d love to bump into people I don’t know at some of the smaller, more obscure crags. I think before the book, it was rare to see other parties, especially strangers. If this book gets more climbers exploring different zones I’ll be stoked.”
All in all, Fast agrees that Harrison Bluffs is worth a try, “If you like splitters, slabs and steep face climbing, but without the crowds of Squamish, Harrison is for you,” says Fast. However, if you’re planning a trip, it’s important to know a bit about the area surrounding the crag. Much of the land surrounding the crag is private property, making it important to stick to the trails, clean up after yourself, and follow the crag rules. Fast also insists that people leash and keep control of their dogs when visiting. “The land owners have many animals such as goats, pigs and ducks. Loose dogs have killed their animals in the past, and while they are super nice people, they do have the power to block access. Don’t blow it by letting your dog run free!”
Harrison Bluffs Route Recs:
Though you can find Fast and Valecko’s top five Fraser Valley routes at the start of their guide book, I asked Fast what his top three Harrison Bluffs routes are. Here’s what he had to say:
#1: Crystal Ether, trad, 5.9
This is Fast’s favorite route, an area classic that he believes would be considered iconic in Squamish or any other world class climbing area. “The difficulty consistently increases as you get higher, starting from fists and finishing with tips. You get straight in jams, laybacking and stemming all in one 35m pitch.”
#2: Swinger’s Club, trad/sport, 5.11+
Swinger’s Club is one of Fasts’s routes, a crack he found rappelling from the Upper East Wall. There are two sport pitches that precede it, the first one a technical face climb with thin edges. The second is a right-trending traverse ending on an obvious ledge. “The first two pitches climbed so well that I now consider the finger crack on pitch 3 just icing on the cake.”
#3: Bigfoot, trad, 5.10a
This is the first multi-pitch Fast ever completed. “I’ve got fond memories as a brand new climber being terrified on lead, in the dark, dying headlamp, and having barely ever placed gear. At the time, the bolts seemed so far apart, and every move was life or death.” Fasts now insists the bolts are not that spread out and the route boasts amazing views on top of the already spectacular slab and crack climbing.
To get to a nice five recommendations, I’m adding two of my own recommendations:
#4: Sleeping Princess, trad, 5.9
Starting with a somewhat heady, but straightforward slab section, this crack is cruiser and fun. This is the very first route I climbed in Harrison Bluffs, back when a bit of mid-route gardening was necessary, but now it’s a fun route to romp up on your way into the crag (it’s close to the parking area!)
#5: Vertabrae, sport, 5.10b
This aesthetic arete climb is delicate and fun. It requires trust in your feet and balance, but the bolts are in all of the right places for a clean fall! It neighbors Crystal Ether and provides a nice break from placing gear and wedging body parts into cracks.
Next time you want to escape to some granite nirvana in the Great White North, but you’re dreading the Squamish crowds on the weekends, grab a copy of The Fraser Valley Climbing Guide and head east to Harrison Bluffs. The work that Fast the development crews in the area have put in is worth checking out, and the climbing is nothing short of spectacular. And if you happen to see Fast, be sure to give him a shout out for all the work he’s put into and continues to dedicate to the crag.