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North America, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Summary

Summary. [Note: In addition to mention in this summary, several of the bigger routes have individual reports, below—Ed.] Following a string of hot, dry summers, routes that were once climbable year-round in the Canadian Rockies have been increasingly reduced to unattractive and frequently dangerous chutes of dry slabs and rubble. The upside is that, perhaps as a consequence of milder winters, seasonal ice occasionally forms and resuscitates them. While many of what used to be classic summer alpine adventures can no longer be recommended in that season, they can still offer excellent climbing, but now in winter and spring.

In May, having found surprisingly excellent ice conditions on Shooting Gallery and the Andromeda Strain in the weeks prior, Scott Semple and Raphael Slawinski climbed a new route on the northeast face of Mt. Andromeda. The Doctor, The Tourist, His Crampon, and Their Banana (V M7) follows a faint crease some 100m left of the Andromeda Strain, but with significantly more difficult and sustained climbing than that route.

In the summer Chris Brazeau soloed the well iced-up Grand Central Couloir (V WI5). Over the years the GCC had seen a number of solo ascents, but Brazeau upped the ante by climbing the route without rope or harness. Later the same month he soloed the rock buttress of the Greenwood-Jones (V 5.9) on the north face of Mt. Temple in the same style. Risky? Perhaps, but climbing does not get much purer.

In early September Brazeau teamed with Jon Walsh to provide the highlight of the season, when the two, on their first try, created a new route (VI 5.11 M6) on the north face of Mt. Alberta. To put their achievement in perspective, until last summer the 1972 Lowe-Glidden route was the only route on the north face, and it has likely not been repeated in the past 15 years.

Another George Lowe route, the Lowe-Hannibal (VI 5.11a) on the north face of Mt. Geikie, saw two ascents the past summer, making it a trade route by Canadian Rockies standards. The first of these ascents, by Steve Holeczi and Mike Verwey, was all the more noteworthy as both climbers free-climbed the route. A 2001 ascent by Eric Dumerac, Jeff Nazarchuk, and Slawinski had freed all but two points of aid on the route at 5.11a. But that team climbed with only the leader free-climbing and the two seconds jumaring. Holeczi and Verwey, in addition to removing the remaining aid on the route, considerably improved the style of ascent, climbing on a big north face the way one would on the local crag of Mt. Yamnuska.

For whatever reason (perhaps the abundance of roadside ice?) the alpine winter of 2006-07 was rather quiet. The only climb of note was the first winter ascent of the classic Humble Horse (IV WI4 5.7) on the north face of Mt. Diadem. In late February 2007 Greg Tkaczuk and Eamonn Walsh climbed and rappelled the route in very cold conditions from a bivouac at the base. The ice on this once-popular route had largely disappeared in the late 1990s, leading to speculation that the climb was gone for good. Tkaczuk and Walsh’s ascent showed that the route may still be enjoyed as an alpine ice climb, though perhaps no longer in summer and fall.

As mentioned above, the 2006-07 ice season was an exceptional one. The famous venues of the Terminator and Stanley headwalls were lean, but areas like the Ghost and Waiparous valleys in the front ranges, and Mt. Wilson on the Icefields Parkway more than made up for it. Some beautiful ephemeral lines appeared in unusual places, a couple of which were even climbed. On Mt. Wilson, Verwey took advantage of the exceptional conditions and boldly soloed Malice in Wonderland (500m, M5+ WI5+), a linkup of the classic Ice Nine and the obscure Eh Spring Chicken Named Logan, with original variations along the way. At the southern end of the range, in rarely visited Waterton National Park, Slawinski and Walsh filled in a few blanks with remote first ascents. Probably the best of these was Walk the Line (500m, WI4+) on the north face of Mt. Lineham, climbed in tandem with Kelly Cordes and Scott DeCapio. This beautiful, quiet area holds potential for new ice and mini-alpine routes, especially if one is willing to venture into the backcountry.

Last but definitely not least, Will Gadd finished a long-standing project on the south face of Mt. Yamnuska. Yamabushi (ca 300m, 5.13a) is the hardest multi-pitch rock route yet done in the Canadian Rockies. Gadd started bolting it eight years ago, primarily bottom-up but with some pitches established top-down. Progress was slow until this past fall when, assisted by a variety of partners, Gadd finished bolting and cleaning the spectacularly steep line. Taking advantage of sunny October weather, he then worked the moves, until finally linking all eight pitches without falling, in a continuous push.

Raphael Slawinski, Alberta, AAC