American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Canadian Rockies, Various Activities

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

Canadian Rockies, various activities. In the front ranges a dry winter, followed by a dry spring, made for great rock climbing in the summer of 2001. Taking advantage of the good conditions, visiting New Zealand climbers Mike Brown and Steve Eastwood established The Corrupters (500 meters, 5.10 A2) on the northwest face of the Ship’s Prow above Canmore, in an impressive one-day effort. Further details are lacking, but it is likely that their route follows the obvious wet corner on the right side of the face. The corner, which had previously been attempted, is dry only in the driest of summers.

In the main ranges, in contrast, early summer was snowy and wet, and even by late July many of the big peaks had not yet come into condition. Finally, in early August an extended high-pressure system settled over the range and shifted the summer alpine season into high gear. Unlike many of the Rockies’ major north faces, the mile-high north face of Mt. Temple is easily visible from a highway and accessible by a two-hour walk. As a result it has some ten routes and variations on it and might have been considered climbed out. But last August Josh Briggs and Rob Owens found a major new route near the left end of the face. The East- Northeast Buttress (IV 5.8) climbs the prominent prow between the Aemmer Couloir and the Sphinx Face. The crux is six pitches of 5.6-5.8 on good quartzite. The route joins the classic East Ridge route near the top of the Aemmer Couloir. Offering good climbing with few objective hazards, the ENE Buttress should become a popular objective.

In his Selected Alpine Climbs Sean Dougherty describes the east face of Mt. Woolley as “an obvious target for a route” that had been overlooked, as “most people are more interested in the big routes over the other side of Woolley Shoulder” (meaning Mt. Alberta and North Twin). In late August Ben Firth and I took the hint and bivied below the face. We had hoped to follow the aesthetic central rib, but the limestone on the rib, although of good quality, turned out to be blank and very steep. As a consolation prize, we climbed the snow-and-mixed couloir immediately left of the rib to the south ridge, which we followed to the summit (III 5.10).

On the repeat front Eric Dumerac, Jeff Nazarchuk, and I made the third ascent of the Lowe-Hannibal route (VI 5.10+ A0) on the remote north face of Mt. Geikie. The mountain has aptly been called the dark horse of the Canadian Rockies. It offers challenging climbing on excellent quartzite on a grand scale, yet many climbers remain unaware of it. The three of us climbed the route over two days in early August, freeing all but two points of A0. We were not the first to call it the best alpine route they had done in the Rockies. Several of the Rockies’ other classic big routes also received ascents, including the North Face of Mt. Bryce and the Supercouloir of Mt. Deltaform. A strong twosome from south of the border made the long approach to the still unrepeated North Face of North Twin but did not set foot on the face, owing to rockfall and wet rock.

The ice season was a strange one. Many areas like Kananaskis Country and the Ghost Valley in the front ranges, as well as Field and Mt. Wilson in the main ranges, were unusually lean. Old faithfuls, like Professor Falls and Oh Le Tabernac, did not form for the first time in years. Yet areas like the Terminator and Stanley headwalls enjoyed above-average ice conditions. Go figure.

The season got off to an early start, with The Replicant (145 meters, WI5+) on the Terminator headwall and Nemesis (140 meters, WI5+) on the Stanley headwall receiving multiple ascents in October. The first major new route of the season came at the end of month, when Briggs, Virginia Buckley, and Eamonn Walsh climbed Virgin No More (130 meters, WI6R). This Curtain Call-like route is located high in the bowl between Mt. Epaulette and the Kauffman Peaks and is obvious from the Icefields Parkway. It had been looked at for years, but the four-hour approach had repulsed previous attempts. The first crux pitch consisted of “mushroomed, chan- deliered, hollow, and thin [ice], very technical and hard to protect.” This section was followed by a strenuous free-standing pillar. A few weeks later Rene Cote, Doug Sproul, and Jon Walsh put up another major route across the bowl from Virgin No More. Named Choksondik (225 meters, WI5) in keeping with the theme of the area, it was climbed from a bivy at the base and was described as “a very engaging climb on very thin, rotten, and airfilled ice.”

Further north Peter Kottegen and Dana Ruddy climbed Power of the Gospel (140 meters, WI5) to the left of Echo Madness in the Stutfield Glacier cirque. This beautiful valley is surrounded on three sides by hanging glaciers, which feed a multitude of impressive waterfalls. Unfortunately, though, most lines are threatened by serac fall. While the glacier-topping Power of the Gospel appeared to be relatively benign, the first ascensionists cautioned, “this…is something individuals will have to judge for themselves.”

In the Bow Valley the bowl between Castle and Protection mountains has long been known to contain quality ice, but the four-hour approach has kept climbing activity to a minimum. In November Grant Meekins and I bivied in the hanging valley, intent on the second ascent of the impressive Superlight. Instead, we found two good new routes. Smothered Hope (120 meters, WI5) climbed steep ice in a deep gash, passing under a couple of chockstones for ambience. The real gem, however, was Guinevere (160 meters, WI5R M4+), a “cool line with lots of varied climbing.”

On the solo front Mike Verwey made the first solo of the remote Gimme Shelter (300 meters, WI5+) on his third attempt. He had attempted to solo the route last year and the year before but both times retreated after only a couple of pitches. Adding to its seriousness, the route is threatened by a band of seracs. A few years ago Guy Lacelle was retreating from a solo attempt on the neighboring Arctic Dream when he barely missed being killed by serac fall down Gimme Shelter.

Impressive though all these firsts were, the ice season was marked more by a change in attitudes, which combined with a relentless rise in standards, often reduced what had previously been major endeavors to half-day outings. The once-feared Stanley Headwall, home to such classics as French Reality (145 meters, M5 WI5+), Nightmare on Wolf Street (180 meters, M7+ WI6), and Suffer Machine (200 meters, M7 WI4+), served as the stage for much of this dramatic advance. Due partly to the paucity of ice in other areas, local climbers converged on the headwall through November and early December. At times there would be nearly 10 cars parked at the trailhead in the predawn darkness. The early starts were required to avoid being scooped on the route of choice, not in order to finish before dark. On the contrary, long ropes, rising abilities, and a certain irreverence for earlier standards made for some very fast ascents. For several weeks French Reality was climbed almost daily, with some ascents taking less than six hours car-to-car. Nightmare on Wolf Street also received numerous ascents. Jason Billings and Owens cleaned up on Suffer Machine, freeing the bolt ladder on the original start at M7. The free version of the route immediately received further ascents.

From fast ascents of individual routes, one obvious progression was to link-ups of several routes. Kim Csizmazia and Will Gadd combined the classic Sorcerer (185 meters, WI5) and Hydrophobia (125 meters, WI5+) in the Ghost Valley during the short days of late November. The two routes had first been linked solo by Joe Josephson. Using a 70-meter rope and leading in blocks, Csizmazia and Gadd completed their link-up in less than 11 hours car-to-car, with no soloing. In late March, after Gadd returned from the Ice World Cup, he and Scott Semple made the first link-up of Polar Circus (700 meters, WI5), the Lower and Upper Weeping Wall (via the Weeping Pillar, 350 meters, WI6), and Curtain Call (125 meters, WI6). Once again using a 70-meter rope and block leading to good advantage, they completed the link-up in 13:16. In early April visiting climbers Rolando Garibotti and Bruno Sourzac upped the ante by making the first linkup of Polar Circus, the Lower and Upper Weeping Wall (via the Left-Hand Side {180 meters, WI4} and Teardrop {170 meters, WI6}, respectively), and Slipstream (925 meters, WI4+) in 15:15 car-to-car. They soloed all of Polar Circus and all but the last pitch of the Weeping Wall, and roped for only a few pitches of Slipstream. This link-up of three ultraclassic routes had been the subject of talk for years and had previously been unsuccessfully attempted by several strong teams.

Raphael Slawinski, Canada

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