The first time I went climbing in Skaha, I got a ride up with a guy I met through the VOC (UBC’s outdoor club), who insisted on smoking a joint right before belaying and nearly dropped an open pocket knife on someone from halfway up a route. He was subsequently shunned, and I only saw him a few times after that, since we shared a geology class. I have a study session with him to thank for passing that course, so I guess there were pros and cons to that situation.
This year’s mostly-annual Thanksgiving Skaha trip, a horrifying nine years on, was much less eventful. It was definitely more adult. But whether you do it teenager-away-from-home-for-the-first-time style or more going-to-bed-early-to-sleep-off-a-work-induced-head-cold-while-my-friends-share-a-sophisticated-mickey-of-bourbon, you’ll never regret a trip to Skaha.
Here’s what you need to know to have a great climbing trip in Skaha. Whether you spice things up with campfire songs or a naked hot tub is up to you.
How to Get There:
Well, that depends on where you’re coming from. And also, answering this question is what Google is for.
Where to Stay:
There are lots of motels in Penticton, but I’d recommend either camping or setting up a tent in a friend-of-a-friend’s backyard. Rumour has is that Howie Richardson, the author of the Skaha Climbing Guide isn’t averse to the tents of friends-of-friends decorating his property. I’d ask him first, though.
For camping, you have options, but I’ve always stayed at Banbury Green, which offers lakefront spots, fire pits and not much fuss about pets and late-night sing-alongs. They also have free showers, so that’s a huge bonus. And there are usually other climbers around if you’re looking for new friends. Just make sure you peg your tent -we’ve definitely had wind-related incidents involving tents as sailboats.
If you want to get fancy, there are some really nice B&Bs up on the Naramata Bench, which is not far from the Bluffs, and super close to wine: a win-win.
When to Go:
The climbing season in Skaha runs from April to late October (or so). The summer months can get really hot, and might require a South American style siesta approach to keep from leaving melted pieces of shoe rubber on the walls. Sometimes, towards the end of October, it snows. But you’re pretty much guaranteed dry weather and reasonably-climb-able temperatures most of the time. It’s a thing of beauty.
Where to Climb:
Why, Skaha Bluffs, of course! So many crags, so many routes of all stripes, and, on a long weekend (be warned), so many people. If you’re just starting out, Daycare is a great wall, a short walk from the parking lot, with lots of easy stuff. It’s also aptly named, though, so prepare yourself for children. (Awesome children in MEC fleece and tiny little climbing helmets, but children nonetheless.)
Other crags with fun, moderate sport routes include Grassy Glades, Red Tail and the Fortress. For harder stuff and trad, you’ll have to check out the guide book. I’m not that kind of girl (at the moment).
Climbs are mostly straightforward, crimpy and super-fun (they’re gneiss! Mehehe.) None of the slabby horrors of Squamish.
A description of the access (as well as current weather, and guiding options) can be found here.
Where to Eat:
Breakfast and Lunch
The Bench has great healthy, tasty and local breakfast and lunch food, as well as a really cute display of specialty cookbooks, things in jars and fancy crackers. My coffee connoisseur friend was not a fan of the coffee, though, and the cappuccino was described as “not great”. But rumour has it the chocolate chai is good. So order your drink with care.
I have it on good authority that the Bistro at Hillside Winery is excellent, though they were sold out for thanksgiving dinner. We ended up at The Barley Mill Pub, which was also not that bad. Can’t beat an enormous turkey dinner plus pumpkin pie for $14.99!
Upper Bench Creamery and Poplar Grove Cheese (not to be confused with Poplar Grove Winery -it’s a long story best told by the woman at the Penticton visitor’s centre) have really tasty cheese, which you can sample as part of a wine and cheese tasting, or just buy, because you know it’ll be ah-mazing.
What to Do Besides Climb:
The wine tasting season in Skaha pretty much mimics the climbing season, so it’s a great rainy day (or rest day) option. The Naramata Bench is full of fun/tasty wineries, most of which offer tastings for from free to $5. I highly recommend Elephant Island, a fruit winery that my sweet tooth is in love with, and Poplar Grove Winery (not cheese), which has the most delicious viognier and rosé I’ve ever tasted.
The real question is, what can’t you do? Some past favourites of mine have included horseback riding, swimming (in the lake or at the pool -“lazy river”? heck yeah!) and buying local, fresh produce. Other awesome options are kite surfing (it was so windy yesterday that there was actually surf breaking on the lakeshore) and kayaking (it’s not always that windy).