First Face

First Face
Photo credit: Anne Giles

Crag Description

First Face offers some of the finest climbing in the province, in both sport and traditional styles. Although the climbs are all single pitches, most are a decent length (~25m). And with the added height of the scree slope rising out of Paces Lake, the exposure is delicious. The rock is of unusually fine quality – much friendlier than most of the granite in Nova Scotia – with flat positive holds and decent friction. In the off-seasons, the rock catches a fair bit of sun and so tends to be warmer than most other places at these times of year. If there’s no wind the bugs can be bad but if it’s blowing, you can steal a few climbing days here during the peak of bug season. It’s also one of the first cliffs to dry after a rain. And a curious bit of trivia: the site is known to the local cottagers as “the potato patch” because of the large scree slope which I Guess resembles a patch of potatoes (?!).

How to get there

From Musquodoboit Harbour, drive 6.1 km along Highway 357 and park along the road opposite Paces Lake Rd. Be careful not to block the road as it is a collection of private driveways. Do not drive up the road. Walk along the road for about 15 minutes. Before reaching a gated ‘Y’ in the road (the gate is on the left of the y), look for a cairn marking a climbers trail to your left. The trail is flagged with tape at the time of this writing. Follow the trail until you reach the obvious lookout. You can rap off of the bolted anchors on top (e.g. Black Diamond) or continue walking around the cliff to the bottom.

Note: This cliff is on private land. The landowners are o.k. with people rock climbing here, so long as they agree to the following conditions:

  • climb at your own risk
  • pick up any trash that you see lying around (even if it’s not yours)
  • do not camp above the cliff or make fires

(these conditions are stated here because they were explicitly requested by the landowner, however this code of conduct should be followed by all climbers at all locations as a matter of course)

Routes

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Type:Sport
Anchor Type:Rings
FA by:Gavin King/Todd Foster

Type:Sport
Anchor Type:Rings
FA by:Todd Foster/Gavin King
Scramble up to high belay of Anniversary Waltzes/Four Minute Smiler, then scurry left for 4m along/behind broken rock to comfortable ledge belay. Follow bolts up weakness in pristine smooth rock on great incuts to steeper terrain. Make tenuous moves along incipient cracks before a powerful steeper finish. Well protected and exciting climbing!
Type:Sport
Anchor Type:Rings
FA by:Todd Foster/ Mick Levin
"The Weight of History" (5.10c 32m M5/2) the tallest line at First Face! 10m left of Pyramid, follow five bolts for 25m straight up the face past two distinct and well protected cruxes before gaining a ledge and angling right up an exposed dihedral for the last 7m (T5.7G) to rings above Indian Summer. [SC edit: Climb directly from the ground to gain a ledge where Scrape and Pillage starts. Climb the starting moves of SaP to slight overhang and then follow bolts up and left (SaP angles up right here).]
Type:Mixed
Anchor Type:Rings
FA by:Mick Levin/Todd Foster
The line starts up fractured blocks (but solid for the most part) and goes through the corner system to the left of Four Minute Smiler - rock quality improves with height as does steepness, and it ends through the slightly overhanging dihedral with great exposure. Extra bolt added after first ascent.
Type:Mixed
Anchor Type:Natural
Rating:G
Developer:Rich LaPaix / Sean Cassidy
FA on:Sept 2011
open project, bolted by ricardo in spring 2010
Type:Sport
Climbs the pale overhanging wall at the far left end of the crag. Start by scrambling up a gully to a ledge and belay on Anniversary Waltzes. Climb up and left past blocky ledges to a prominent roof and a fixed pin. Step to the right onto an overhanging face with good incut holds. Follow the crack up the headwall to top out. Very strenuous with some great moves.
Type:Trad
Height:18m
Rating:PG
FA by:Steve Punshon
FA on:October 8, 2001
Near the far left end of the cliff, scramble up a right-angling gully that starts behind a clump of gnarled trees. You can belay at the base of the gully by these trees or rig a gear belay on a ledge a little higher up. Follow the gully up to a right-leaning dihedral and arete which takes you to the top. A fun outing.
Type:Trad
Height:24m
Rating:PG
FA by:Chris Dale
FA on:September 1978
From the base of Pyramid scramble up and left to belay on a comfortable ledge. Climb past horizontals directly above the belay into a right-leaning feature or traverse right into a corner with a scruffy tree in it and then traverse back left higher up. Follow a series of corners to the left of four successive roofs (avoid these roofs as there are some loose blocks on them), passing one bolt near the top. After the bolt, a committing exit ramp leads to the right and up to the ledges and a fixed piton. Traverse left on ledges to finish.
Type:Mixed
Height:23m
Rating:PG
FA by:Sean Willett
FA on:August 20, 1991
Starting below and right of the Scrape and Pillage start, climb up sparsely protected flakes and steps towards a short roof and a right-leaning dihedral. Follow the dihedral up and right (do not move onto the loose block under the overhang on your left) to a small blocky corner. From here move up and left along a sloping ledge past a bolt to join Scrape and Pillage just below the crux exit ramp. [Note: there is another bolt located below and right of the exit ramp which was placed in the early 90s in search of a direct finish for Indian Summer. This finish remains uncompleted.]
Type:Mixed
Height:25m
Rating:PG
FA by:Sean Willett
FA on:November 29, 1992
THE classic First Face climb. This route ascends the prominent roof-capped, left-facing dihedral. Start just right of the base of the dihedral and climb a poorly protected wall (5m, 5.9+) to a large ledge (there is usually a stack of useful cheater stones at the base). Move left and climb the shattered face up to the dihedral (1st crux - protected with small wires and tricams). Jam and layback the dihedral to the roof. Move to the outside corner of the roof and exit up and slightly right on evasive holds (2nd crux). Continue to the top from the ledge or belay/rappel from the anchors for Sins and Transgressions. [Note: the original ascent of Pyramid was done in a yo-yo style and exited the roof by traversing right for two metres and finishing on the final moves (5.10d) of what is now Sins and Transgressions. Rumour has it that they originally graded the route 5.9 and it wasn't until it was repeated almost a decade later that the grading was somewhat sorted out.]
Type:Trad
Height:28m
Rating:PG
FA by:Dan Price
FA on:June 27, 1982
The best sport route on the crag. Start as for Pyramid. At the ledge step up to the first bolt directly and make long moves up and left to gain a thin crack. Follow this crack up to a right-leaning corner below an overhanging wall. Move into the corner (crux) and up right for a few metres, then step left past a bolt to gain the final steep headwall. Finish on a ledge with a large block on it and a two-bolt chain anchor.
Type:Sport
Height:24m
Rating:G
FA by:Sean Willett
FA on:September 1992
A great face climb on all natural gear. Start as for Pyramid or to the right via blocks and trees to gain a ledge just left of a small roof. Traverse one metre right and move up through the roof into a good finger crack. Follow the crack and flakes until the crack system ends at a couple of horizontal features. Step up and right slightly to gain a shallow right-leaning crack/edge. Before the crack ends watch for some good face holds to take you up and left to a small ledge below the roof. Traverse left around the roof and then up the ramp and a short chimney at the top. This route requires some route-finding skills but is a great line with holds that seem to appear as you need them.
Type:Trad
Height:28m
Rating:PG
FA by:Tony Veling
FA on:July 1989
The crackline between Snakeskin and Emotional Vampires. Start as for Emotional Vampires up to the large ledge. Climb the left-slanting crack to a small overlap. Step left slightly using an interesting right finger mono-doigt and then move up and right to reach a ledge. Follow a right-trending dihedral through steep terrain at the top.
Type:Trad
Height:28m
Rating:G
FA by:Steve Punshon, Sean McOuat
FA on:November 10, 2001
Start as for April Cool and reach a stance below a right-trending thin crack which is left of the April Cool corner. An awkward move gains the crack system, and continuous difficulty with occasional "semi-rests" takes you to a small roof. Surmount the roof and stand on a narrow ledge below a steep wall. Climb the final headwall into a large "v-slot" to belay. Scramble off left or right when finished. Awesome line all the way. [Note: the original ascent traversed right at the small roof to join April Cool. The aesthetic direct finish was completed in 2001 by Sean Cassidy, Becky Craig, and Jonathan Graham.]
Type:Trad
Height:26m
Rating:PG
FA by:Sean Willett
FA on:September 29, 1993
This route climbs the prominent corner in the middle of the face. Climb directly up a series of ledges to the top of a large block on your left. Step right to gain the corner and stem and/or face climb your way up to gain a right-angling ramp. Watch for some loose blocks at the top of the corner. [Note: an alternate start is to climb the diagonal hand crack in the large block just to the left (5.8). First climbed by Dan Price in 1990.]
Type:Trad
Height:28m
Rating:PG
FA by:Kevin Cody
FA on:April 17, 1981
An exposed and powerful line that follows the arete right of April Cool. Climb blocky and poorly protected ledges (5.6) up to the base of the April Cool corner (10 m). At this point, clip a bolt on the arete and move right, following the arete past several bolts. At the fourth bolt move left and finish on the steep slab on the left side of the arete. Ends at a rap station on the ledge.
Type:Sport
Height:22m
Rating:G
FA by:Sean Therien
FA on:Summer 1999
Climb the steep face just right of the white crescent shape and the broken corner. Steep climbing takes you to a rest below a small roof. Move up and left with power to gain a good hold above the roof. Finish up and right to reach the ledge.
Type:Sport
Height:20m
Rating:G
FA by:Sean Willett
FA on:October 1992
Middle of the three sport routes near the right side of the crag. Start with an awkward move on steep rock, following the bolts. The climbing relaxes a bit after the fourth bolt, but use caution as there is some hollow-sounding rock around and it's a bit of a hike to the next bolt. An interesting sequence takes you above a small roof and follows a left-arching flake/roof to reach good holds. A short rest and one last steep section takes you to the ledge. Excellent climbing.
Type:Sport
Height:20m
Rating:G
FA by:Sean Willett
FA on:October 1992
Start directly below the left side of the big roof and climb the shallow right-facing dihedral and face until it is possible to move onto the left-most face, above the second bolt. Climb up and then right, crossing the diagonal crack to gain a final steep face leading to the big roof. Bust through the roof directly (crux), using a left-angling crack above, then step up to the chain anchors. It is possible to avoid the crux roof by exiting at the far right end of the roof (5.9) or by jumping on the diagonal crack exiting the left side of the roof (5.7), but why would you want to do that? [Note: you might like to bring along a #0.3 friend for the diagonal crack as you cross it, and a small cam for the last steps reaching to the belay station. Also, there is an old fixed nut in the crack above the roof that could be useful but is not essential.]
Type:Sport
Height:23m
Rating:G
FA by:Sean Willett
FA on:September 1991
Climb up the broken blocks on the right hand side of the roof and then Aid left along the back of the roof to reach a left-angling crack (5.7) leading to the top.
Type:Aid
Height:30m
Rating:A2
FA by:Kevin Cody, Tony Veling
FA on:October 23, 1982
A fantastic, exposed and powerful line with surprisingly good holds that climbs through the arching overhangs left of Black Diamond. Climb the broken corner on the right side of the overhang (as for A Puff of Blue Smoke) and traverse two metres left into a small niche in the roof. Pull through the overhang and follow the dihedral using good holds until you reach a square-cut block. At this point, leave the dihedral by swinging around to the right and onto the steep headwall. Follow left-angling steep cracks for three metres to reach a ledge and the end of the hard climbing. Scramble on to the top. [Note: double ropes are useful to decrease the rope drag, but not essential.]
Type:Trad
Height:28m
Rating:PG
FA by:Steve Punshon
FA on:November 19, 2000
Another classic line at First Face! Climbs the left-angling crack system just right of the large overhangs. At the top of the diagonal crack, traverse right along a narrow ledge to a second left-leaning crackline with a few horizontal features for holds. Follow the crack to a ledge and a bit of a rest on hand jams. Then step left on the ledge to finish up a final three metre thin crack to the top (for this section save some small cams or nuts and try not to take away your finger jams!) Fantastic route. [Note: according to Sean Willett's guidebook, "local climbers cleaned this route, but before they could make their first ascent, chalk marks mysteriously appeared up the entire climb. The explanation? Two visiting climbers and former employees of Black Diamond Equipment had been in the area and unknowingly made the first ascent."]
Type:Trad
Height:22m
Rating:PG
FA on:June 1990
Start two metres right of Black Diamond at a tree and climb the steep face right of Black Diamond. From the start, climb past a couple of horizontal cracks. Then, using holds above a small overlap, move into the short narrow hand crack on the right. Follow this to a small roof and then follow a left-angling crack system crossing a series of horizontals all the way to the top. Sustained climbing with excellent moves throughout.
Type:Trad
Height:20m
Rating:PG
FA by:Steve Punshon
FA on:August 27, 2000
A little further uphill from Ghost Dance is a wide dihedral. Follow the dihedral for about six metres on good holds (watch for loose rock) and then climb a short right-facing wall to reach the top of a pillar. Finish straight up from here to belay in the trees.
Type:Trad
Height:17m
Rating:G
FA by:Sean Kelly
FA on:Summer 2000