Horne Lake is a small climbing area on Vancouver Island, about 70km north-west of Nanaimo. The setting is beautiful, right above a huge lake with no big roads for miles around. More interestingly, the cliffs are made of limestone and look like the tufa-ridden caves of Spain that keep showing up in climbing movies. The rock is very different from Squamish or Skaha.
I had been there once before, last summer, but had been planning to go back for a long time. Supposedly it is possible to climb in the cave all year round, although some of the routes do seep. But now we had a 4-day weekend coming up, coinciding with my birthday and an incredible weather forecast: finally it was time to return!
Madi, Lachlan, Ian and I took the ferry to Nanaimo on Thursday evening, to avoid the Easter craziness of Friday morning. On the boat we ran into another group of VOCers (Caitlin, Phil D, etc) who were off to go sea kayak in the Strait. We arrived at Horne Lake shortly before midnight and pitched our tents at the Adventure Park campground, just 5 minutes driving from the cliffs.
The next four days were filled with amazing climbs, sun tans, birthday cake, rope swings, easter egg hunts, spelunking and more. We drove home Monday afternoon, extremely tired and with little skin left on our fingers.
There is no published guidebook for Horne Lake, because the area is on private land and officially not open to climbers. However, the local climbing community is on good terms with the owners: you can climb there, but pack out your garbage, be respectful, etc. Some things, like a guidebook or trail signs, are not possible due to liability. There is an old (1999) mini-guide available online here, that shows many of the routes. Routes that are not in this guide often have names and grades painted on the rock.
There is only sport climbing in Horne Lake, don’t bother bringing a rack. Furthermore, most climbs are hard. Looking at the guide, there are some 5.10s and lower, but those are often sandbagged. It might not be worth the trip unless you are happy to try steep 5.11a sport or harder (up to 5.14!).
Boss Wall: This wall is definitely worth a visit! The four right-most routes on the ledge (all around 11a) are fantastic, with an amazing view. There also some new routes further right and down (you pass these first when walking up), including a very good 10d that starts from a wooden platform and goes right. Born to Run and Brilliant Disguise are awesome harder climbs.
Easter Egg Wall: Nice vertical climbs, not too hard. The rock can be a little dirty and/or chossy in places.
Llama Ledge and Century Wall: Great routes of mixed difficulty. To the right of the Waterspout, starting from the platform above the stream, is an excellent warm-up 5.10. Daddy’s Girl and Llama Lover are very good quality.
The Amphitheatre: The big steep stuff! Some 11a’s on the right that stop at the roof, they are decent. All climbs on the left are amazing. Try Plastic Jesus (12a) for some three dimensional fun. Left of Code of Honor are Stormtroopers (12d) and then a great unnamed climb (12b/c).
The Stage / Orange Wall: Some good climbs here, perhaps not spectacular. Bobby Lust (11d) climbs some fun orange rock.
See this map! From the parking to the rocks is a steep but well-maintained trail. You can fill up on drinkable water right at the cliffs, underneath the amphitheater (in fact this is better water than at the campsite, which comes just from the lake). Nearest groceries are in Qualicum Beach, about 45 minutes driving. The campsite (Horne Lakes Adventure Camp) is about $11 per site per night and has tables and fire pits. Lots of RVs and rednecks, too.