A new resource has opened opportunities for boulderers to better enjoy a significant climbing area on Southern Vancouver Island. Seanathon Morphy, Greg Bauch, and Mikhail Yerkovich recently published The Duncan Bouldering Guide. Situated on the east side of Mount Tzouhalem near the Maple Bay Marina in the territory of the Cowichan Tribes, the Duncan Boulders are a beautiful set of sandstone blocs that offer world-class climbing with over 250 problems to tackle.
The project stared with Mikhail, Greg, and his wife Jane visiting the boulders in late 2013. “As any climber would be,” says Greg, “we were just curious to know what we were climbing. Only occasionally would we see people in the forests, such as Sharka and James. When we did, we tried to get as much info from them as possible. When we weren’t in the forest together, we would send photos of boulders to them to identify. Since none of this info was written down beside a limited Sendage page, we started adding things to a Word doc. As the project progressed we started GPSing the area and then creating topos.”
After that, things stalled until Seanathon got involved. “The first couple of times I went bouldering at the Duncan Boulders,” he says, “I went with a sport climbing friend who knew where the approach trail was, as well as a few of the main boulders. Then when I made the switch from sport climbing to bouldering, I realized that I knew very little of the boulder names and where they all were. In talking to Greg, I quickly realized he was a wealth of knowledge and would constantly bug him for climb names and locations. He had mentioned putting a guide together and I bugged him for years to release it. In early 2019, Greg invited me to help them with the book.”
Both were new to the publishing process. “It was a very steep learning curve,” says Greg. “Each author had to step out of their comfort zone and learn a new computer program — Inkscape, Adobe Publisher, InDesign — to create the maps and topos,” says Greg. “We were very green to the whole publishing aspect of guidebooks, from things as simple as acceptable margin widths to effective colour palates.”
Seanathon outlined the process. “We started with creating the guidebook in a Word document. We spent so many hours finely tuning it, only to find out it was in the wrong format. It took us countless hours more and lots of guidance to get it to where it is now. As well, we didn’t know much about the business side of publishing a book. We have to thank Rick Wood at Crux Consulting for walking us through the process and his tireless efforts to keep up with our edits. Rob at BoulderHouse was a huge reason this project went as smoothly as it did.”
Greg agrees that support from many community partners helped make the guidebook a reality, “Big thanks to all the contributions from including Flashed Climbing, West Coast Resoles, the Climbers Access Society of British Columbia, and South Island Climbers Association for supporting the project.”
With the release of the book comes an increased exposure of an area that has been relatively unknown. The influx of new climbers to the area raises some concerns, especially in light of adjacent residential development, which the authors address in the guide.
“Guidebooks are a classic double-edged sword,” says Greg. “By having more people enjoying the boulders there will be more people who are likely to care for the resource and act as stewards when faced with concerns such as land development issues. However, more people could result in access issues and more impacts on the land. We believe the positives outweigh the negatives…if this resource is taken away from us boulderers, we will only have ourselves to blame.” He cites the recent development issues in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, as an example of how mismanagement can affect a climbing area.”
Seanathon shared specific concerns around parking. “It is a private neighbourhood,” he says, “and I hope all climbers will be respectful to the inhabitants by only parking down by the marina and in more discreet areas. As we all know, access is a privilege, not a right, and we do not want to lose access to our main approach trail.”
The authors hope that by providing some regional context to the boulders, climbers will have a better appreciation for why it is important to respect it. “We are very proud of the Territorial Acknowledgment piece of this guide,” says Greg, “written by my wife, Jane Hofweber. This section will make climbers aware of the Indigenous history of the area. The boulders are located on the Territory of the Cowichan Tribes, and they have been using the land long before we started hugging rocks. We have noticed that there is a greater appetite for this type of information, so the guide provides a gateway to further research.”
The authors have limited the initial print run to 300 copies, hoping to stimulate local interest rather than promote the area more broadly. They suggest climbers implement best practices, such as going to the washroom before hiking in, packing out all garbage, staying on the trails, and, when in doubt, checking with the South Island Climbers Association or the Climbers’ Access Society of British Columbia for guidance and up-to-date info.
As for future editions and other guidebooks, the authors acknowledge that a guidebook is essentially out of date the moment it is printed. New climbs were being added to the book up until press time, and since then climbers have added nearly 20 new problems and uncovered many others with potential. While a second edition is planned, it won’t be coming for at least a year or two, but there are other ways for climbers to get up-to-date info in the meantime.
“To keep people up to date with the new lines,” says Greg, “we will post some vids to our various YouTube channels and may release some one-off updates to various local Facebook forums. If you put up lines yourself it would be great if you could email us — just a note that we have a low tolerance for lame sit-starts and useless linkups,” he jokes.
The authors also hope to update the climbing history of the area. The time constraints of publishing limited their ability to speak with some key people who have extensive knowledge of the boulders and their development. People with information and anecdotes are encouraged to email the authors [Seanathon10@gmail.com, BauchGreg@gmail.com] or reach out to them on social networks.
While Greg has no plans to produce other guidebooks, Seanathon is actively involved in the development of several areas, including the Glen Lake Crags. He’s created a free online guidebook that is kept up to date on the Glen Lake Crags Facebook group. He’s also been involved with the development of a guide for Sutton Pass.
The Duncan Bouldering Guide is available at BoulderHouse and retails for $25 (members can save 10%). Come grab your copy and remember to ask about our crash-pad rentals. You can also get copies at Romper Room Climbing Gym in Nanaimo and from the authors directly.
Main photo: Greg sticking the thin gaston on Noah’s Arete V7. Photo by Peruzzo (przvida.com).