The Catapult, Jokers and Fools; Marching Men, Tin Drum and Toy Soldier. June found John Catto and me working together in India, trying to film bull sharks in the Ganges river. During an evening of cruising river channels and drinking extra-strong beer, we discovered that we had both made several trips to the seldom-climbed Ramparts group of the Canadian Rockies. A plan was hatched.
In early August we hiked to the Ramparts on the Macarib Pass Trail. Previous trips helped in sussing the logistics of getting our gear the 25 miles back to the wall. Pack horses carried to a fishing camp only three miles from base camp. The weather was perfect. Hiking to a pass to look at our objective, we had an eye problem: we could not see ourselves hiking up and down 4,000' to reach the base of our objective. Retreating to base camp to swat mosquitoes and think, we spotted a beautiful line up a northwest satellite of Redoubt that we took to calling “The Catapult.” It’s the closest of the satellite peaks, with the steepest rock face, located left of the large (ca 2,000') snow couloir. The line looked quite good as we glassed it with binoculars: directly up the middle of the north face on the lower band, staying right of the roof system and heading for the obvious chimney, then up to the middle of the snow band and the steep face above. The rock of the Ramparts is made of decent quartzite. We let a few days pass with some weather and an unexpected visit from my wife, Anna Keeling, and her climbing partner, Karen McNeill, who climbed the East Buttress of Oubliette. Eventually departing at 4 a.m. for the wall, we were pleased that the closer we got, the cleaner the route looked. The weather loomed with rolling clouds.
A couple of dihedrals gaining a crack system splitting the lower wall got things started. When the crack ran out, we began face climbing to another crack system up and right of a roof (5.9). Jon pulled over the roof to deposit us in a nice dihedral and ramp system that took us to a ledge several pitches above (5.8). From the ledge the climb ascended a steep stemming chimney until it was possible to escape left above a roof (5.10+). A few scary run-out moves gained a system of several horizontal cracks, eventually accessing a right-leaning crack (5.9+). The next pitch ascended a steep straight-in crack up an otherwise blank face (5.11). Two 5.6 pitches up broken rock brought us to a large ledge. The upper portions of the ledge were covered with snow.
Building thunderheads began to growl, and graupel started to fall. We descended to safer ground via a couloir west of the midway ledge.
The weather came right two days later. We climbed 1,500' up the descent gully to our stopping point. After stashing boots, crampons, and ice axes for the descent, we traversed slightly left along the snowfield to gain an easy ramp and dihedral system. We ascended this for two pitches, simul-climbing 5.8, and stopped under a small roof. John pulled over the roof (5.10) to gain a broken block system ending on a ledge. The next pitch was the crux. I climbed a beautiful tight-fmgers corner, then stemmed out, leaving the crack to pull over a roof to a broken ledge (5.11). John took the next pitch through a band of rotten rock, up left, then back right for 55m (5.10). John’s efforts gained easier climbing—a kicked-back crack system taking us another two pitches up the face. Above the crack a 5.6 scramble took us to a scenic ledge system. Moving left, we finally gained a view of the final pitches to the top. With the weather holding nicely, John led up large blocks and slightly right (5.8), to belay below the steep wall guarding the summit. I ascended a chimney system, winding my way through this mini-canyon over chockstones, stemming up steep walls, and finally topping out (5.9), with ugly frozen blocks for a belay. John made quick work cleaning the pitch, then led off on the last pitch to the top, up frozen mud, rock, and ice, bringing us to the top and an amazing view of the Ramparts. The route, Jokers and Fools, consists of 17 or 18 pitches (V 5.11).
After enjoying the views for an hour and soaking up the last of the sunshine, we rappelled the route for six or seven 60m rappels back to the ledge. Donning boots and ice gear, we traversed west for three pitches across steep frozen gravel and broken shale into a couloir. Downclimbing and rappelling for 1,500' returned us to the valley floor.
John and I also climbed two other excellent new routes, Tin Drum (III 5.11+) and Toy Soldier (III 5.11). Located at the bottom of Drawbridge Pass on the Marching Men formations, the routes are both six pitches of quality climbing up the centers of two of the formations. No bolts or anchors were left in this pristine area.
The Ramparts are seldom visited, other than by hordes of mosquitoes, occasional grizzly bears, and, fishermen. Despite this, I reckon it’s well worth the effort!
Scott Simper, AAC