American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Northwest and Yukon Territories, Canadian Rockies, Various Activity

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

Canadian Rockies, Various Activity. The summer of 1999 was a frustrating one in the Canadian Rockies. From sport climbs to big alpine routes, wet rock was the norm through mid-August. The Front Ranges were somewhat dryer and saw the most activity. The Ghost River area continued to be the focus for the development of long rock routes on impeccable limestone, with Andy Genereux and Keith Haberl being the main activists. New route activity in the Ghost encompasses a variety of styles, from bold onsight ground-up ascents to rap- bolting, with the majority of routes being put up on lead with a power drill. This style has yielded some of the finest multi-pitch rock climbs in the Rockies. While the 1999 season saw mostly shorter routes go up, unreported from the summer of 1998 is The Ardent Heart (5.10d, 300m) by Haberl, Brian Spear and Ken Wylie, the first route to top out on the impressive formation known as The Prow in the Waiparous Creek area north of the Ghost proper. In the best tradition, it was put up onsight, with all bolts drilled by hand and with Haberl leading the last 5.10 pitch in a downpour.

In the Bow Valley, Raphael Slawinski and Rodger Debeyer made the first free ascent of Orient Express (5.11d, 510m), the original 1976 route on the North Face of Ha Ling (formerly known as Chinaman’s) Peak above Canmore. Slawinski also teamed up with Eric Dumerac to make the likely first free ascent of Remembrance Wall (5.11b, 555m) on the same face. The latter route in particular is highly recommended, offering sustained and varied climbing. Further west, unreported from the summer of 1998 is a 12-pitch route (IV 5.10R) on the Stanley Headwall, put up by Slawinski and Marcus Norman. It is the first route to top out on this impressive rock wall, better known as a destination for hard ice/mixed climbing on routes such as Nemesis and The Day After Les Vacances de Mr. Hulot.

An extended period of high pressure in late August/early September made up somewhat for the summer that never was. The visiting Salt Lake City climbers Chris Harmston and Seth Shaw timed their road trip perfectly with the weather. They warmed up with a rare ascent of the serious Above and Beyond (5.11c R A0, 305m) on Mt. Yamnuska. Moving on to the Icefields Parkway, bolting on-lead with a power drill, they put up the stellar Salt Point (5.11+, eight pitches, 400m) on the vast expanse of perfect rock next to the Weeping Wall.

Indian summer also brought some alpine routes into condition. Classic north face routes such as the Greenwood-Locke (V 5.9) on Mt. Temple and the Beckey-Chouinard-Doody (IV 5.7) on Mt. Edith Cavell were climbed, with the latter seeing multiple parties on a single day! In the Columbia Icefields, the Andromeda Strain (V M5+ WI4) received at least two ascents by Scott DeCapio and partner, and Dumerac and Slawinski. This superb alpine mixed route is now routinely freeclimbed, with the crux 5.9 A1 going at well-protected M5+ drytooling. The short but stout Sidestreet (III M6) nearby also received a number of free ascents in the spring and fall (neither route is particularly recommended mid-summer).

Winter seemed to arrive early, and by early October new ice routes were going up in the Front Ranges. However, by the end of the month, unseasonably warm weather descended on the range. With rain falling high up in the alpine, many routes fell down. Several spectacular lines formed on the 500-meter high face of the East End of Rundle above Canmore. They were attempted, but rapidly melting ice forced retreat before they could be completed.

The 1998-’99 ice climbing season was highlighted by several multi-pitch mixed testpieces going up, the work chiefly of Kefira Allen and the tireless Dave Thomson: The Real Big Drip (V M7+ WI6+, 200m) in the Ghost River area, Nightmare on Wolf Street (V M7+ WI6+, 185m) on the Stanley Headwall, and Rocket Man (V M7+ WI5+, 350m) on Mt. Patterson (home of Riptide). (Note that while both alpine and ice routes are given commitment grades denoted by Roman numerals, the two use different scales.) Unfortunately, this season none of these spectacular routes formed up, and no comparable new ones went up. Perhaps it was the initially poor ice conditions that set the tone for the season of 1999-2000, which was marked by an explosion in technical standards, fostered chiefly on short, often bolt-protected, drytooling testpieces. With many locals climbing at a high standard, friendly rivalry led to a frenzy of activity, with routes up to M9+ going up, the work chiefly of Ben Firth, Will Gadd, Sean Isaac and Slawinski.

The skills acquired at the crags were also applied to “traditional” routes. Rob Owens and Patricia Deavoll put up Stuck in the Middle (V M7- WI5+, 145m) on the Terminator Wall. After a pitch and a half of sustained mixed climbing, it joins Alex Lowe’s Troubled Dreams at the crux of that route. This excellent variation received several repeat ascents. Dave Marra and Eamonn Walsh climbed the often-looked-at ice in the gully above Ice Nine on Mt. Wilson on the Icefields Parkway to produce Eh Spring Chicken Named Logan (V 5.8R WI5, 500m). Also on Mt. Wilson, Cory Balano, Dave Edgar and Marra made a likely first ascent with Suntori (VI M6+ A2 WI6), spending two nights out on the route. Linking ice smears and mixed gullies, Suntori gains 1500 meters in elevation to top out on spectacular white quartzite towers. Edgar and Marra also put up The Ice Cream Man and The One-Eyed Kid (V 5.9R WI5+, 500m), a long route in a big setting on the east side of Mt. Stephen near Field.

In April, Blanchard, Steve House and Joe Josephson made another attempt on a new line on the Emperor Face of Mt. Robson. Described as “the big daddy of faces in the Rockies” by Sean Dougherty, author of Selected Alpine Climbs, the Emperor Face has only two established routes, the Logan-Stump (1978) and the Cheesmond-Dick (1981), neither of which has been repeated. They reached a point some five pitches below the Emperor Ridge before being forced down by a storm. Their previous attempt three years ago was cut short at the same point when they dropped the pump to their stove. After coming down, Blanchard and House attempted the rarely climbed Sphinx Face on the northeast side of Mt. Temple, but bad weather once again shut them down.

On the solo front, the prolific Guy Lacelle enchained the Weeping Pillar (V WI6,315m) and Polar Circus (V WI5, 700m) on one of the shortest days of the year. Mike Verwey later duplicated this feat. Slipstream (VIWI4+) remained a popular solo objective, but lived up to its reputation with hazards ranging from cornice fall on the route to crevasse danger on the descent.

Two ice routes with a big reputation came in unusually thick this season and received numerous ascents: Riptide (V WI5+, 200m) sported only short sections of its trademark “weirdness” and was nowhere near its original grade of WI6+/7 R. Similarly, Gimme Shelter (VIWI5+, 300m) has yet to be repeated in the thin conditions of the first ascent. Nevertheless, the sustained vertical ice and dangerous serac barrier overhanging the route made it an exciting outing. Most parties climbed the waterice in several hours and rappelled from below the seracs, but near the end of the season Dumerac and Sean King, after a comfortable bivy in a sheltered cave several pitches up, continued over the seracs in another four pitches, including a difficult pitch on glacier ice.

Raphael Slawinski, Canada

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