American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Alberta, Canadian Rockies, Summary

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

Summary. [Note: In addition to mention in this summary, several of the bigger routes have individual reports, below—Ed.] The 200- 300m south face of Mt. Yamnuska (2,200m) is steeped in history as the birthplace of Rockies’ rock climbing. For many years, even as sport climbing swept through the surrounding Bow River Valley, Yam remained a bastion of tradition and ground-up climbing. However, the proliferation of bolts on routes new and old showed that Yam was not completely immune to change. The final step in this metamorphosis came in 2005, when longtime local new-route activist Andy Genereux installed the first entirely top-down route on the cliff: Rejection of the Faith (240m, 5.11c). Genereux’s creations (he has since established more top-down routes on Yam), with their many bolts and emphasis on convenience and safety, have proved immediately popular. Not everyone agrees, however, with the direction of climbing on Yam. Allan Derbyshire, an English ex-pat, has been climbing on Yam since the seventies. In 2007, with Kevin Embacher and Choc Quinn, he established Faith (275m, 5.11b). With its ground-up style and bold climbing, Faith stands in stark contrast to nearby Rejection of the Faith.

2007 provided a similar study in contrasts on neighboring Goat Slabs. In July, Genereux and local legend Urs Kallen, author of the first guidebook to Yam, put up Mix Meister (720m, 5.10d). While established ground-up, Mix Meister, with its bolted stations and largely bolt-protected climbing, has a distinctly sport flavor. As a result it received quick repeats. Then in October visiting Americans John Harlin and Mark Jenkins put up Barbacoa (10 pitches, 5.9/5.10 R/X) nearby. Harlin summed up the dilemma of traditional new routing in the Canadian Chossies: “I don’t think anyone will be in a rush to repeat this route. But we had a great time, because it was such a fun adventure.”

Located a few km farther west up the Bow Valley, the Rimwall (2,685m) is impressive, easily accessible, and largely ignored. Until last year, only three routes ascended the kilometer-or-so long cliff. In August, Dana Ruddy and Raphael Slawinski tried to remedy this with Murder by Numbers (450m, 5.11). The route is a traditional affair, with five protection bolts in ten pitches, and features limestone of exceptional quality (by Rockies’ standards).

Until last year what might be considered the Yam of Jasper, Roche Miette (2,377m), had only three major routes. Last summer Dana Ruddy, the resident Jasper hardman, and Matt Reynolds added a fourth line, up the north face of the formation. Like the other routes on Roche Miette, Grey Streaks (IV 5.11) has a distinctly traditional flavor, with only one or two protection bolts in its eight or so pitches.

The big alpine news of 2007 was a new route on the Emperor Face of Mt. Robson (3,959 m), one of the biggest faces of the Rockies [see below].

Though not in the same league as the Emperor Face, a few new routes and variations were completed during the summer. In August on the iconic Mt. Assiniboine (3,616m), Dana Ruddy and Steve Holeczi established the Northeast Face (IV M5), a significant variation to the popular North Ridge (II 5.5). The Northeast Face route climbs a triangular mixed face left of the ridge, joining the North Ridge above the Red Band.

The triple-summitted Mt. Bryce (3,507m) sits alone on the west side of the Columbia Icefield. In September Cory Richards, Dana Ruddy, Raphael Slawinski, and Eamonn Walsh climbed the North Face Couloir (IV AI4) variation to the classic North Face (IV). Rather than ascend a uniform sheet of 55° ice, the variation climbs a deep gully to the right, with varied and enjoyable climbing. The drive, ascent, and descent fit comfortably into a two-day weekend, a testament to the mixed blessing of logging road access.

The following weekend Slawinski and Walsh went to Mt. Alberta (3,619m), where they established the obscure West Face route (V 5.10+) [see below]. Only a few weeks later, the ice season started with a bang. On the north face of Snow Dome (3,451m), around the corner from the famous Slipstream (925m, WI4+), a spectacular line formed, weeping from the serac barrier. A few years before, the north face of Snow Dome was the scene of an infamous Internet prank, whereby doctored photos of Ice Porn, a supposed giant new route, found their way into climbing news. But this time was no prank, and over two days in October, Cory Richards, Dana Ruddy, and Ian Welsted climbed and descended The Real Ice Porn (800m, V WI5+) [see below]. Only a few days later, visiting Swiss climbers Simon Anthamatten and Ueli Steck repeated the route and added another pitch through the serac barrier.

For the two Swiss this was only the start of an incredible rampage that included Rocket Baby (M8+ WI5+X), a four-pitch alternate start to the new-wave mixed testpiece Rocketman (350m, M7+ WI5+) on Mt. Patterson (3,191m). On the lower cliffs of Crowfoot Mtn. (3,055m) Anthamatten and Steck climbed an oft-eyed discontinuous series of drips to create four-pitch Cockfight (M9+ WI5+), one of the most technical multi-pitch mixed routes in the range.

In recent years the popularity of mixed climbing has inspired people to look above the mixed crags and below the big mixed faces. Mini alpine routes, typically found during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, often yield excellent mixed climbing. In that vein in October, Rob Owens and Eamonn Walsh climbed the north face of a possibly unclimbed 2,680m outlier (“Mt. MOG”) of Mt. Whymper (2,844m) in the Chickadee Valley. A few weeks later Owens and Steve Holeczi established Zeitgeist on the northwest face of nearby Mt. Bell [see below].

Activity on bigger routes ground to a halt with the end of November, as the short, cold days of winter descended on the Rockies. On the Stanley Headwall, Raphael Slawinski and friends climbed several new routes and variations. This classic ice and mixed venue might have been thought climbed out, yet some unusual ice formations yielded some interesting new pitches, all in a strongly traditional vein.

As the days got longer again, so did the routes being put up. In February 2008 Rob Owens and Jon Walsh ventured up a rock corner to the right of the Upper Weeping Wall. The corner Owens and Walsh headed for promised little more than snowed-up rock climbing, but they found plenty of thin ice. No Use in Crying (205m, M7) is likely climbable every winter, and deserves to become a classic.

Icefall Brook is a remote drainage on the west side of the Rockies, in winter accessible only by a long ski or, more conveniently, helicopter. In March the international team of Audrey Gariepy, Caroline George, Jen Olson, Ines Papert, and Jon Walsh spent ten days comfortably camped within striking distance of a multitude of unclimbed lines. During their stay they established seven WI5/6 routes and three mixed lines ranging from M5 to Ml2, up to 600m long.

While rich in ice- and mixed-climbing accomplishments, the winter of 2007-08 did not encourage alpine climbing. From November through February hardly a week went by without an avalanche incident. A number of these proved fatal.

By early March 2008 Raphael Slawinski, Eamonn Walsh, and Ian Welsted rationalized their choice of objective, the Northeast Buttress (a.k.a. the Greenwood-Jones route, summer V 5.9) on Mt. Temple (3,540m) as having essentially no avalanche hazard. Their calculations proved correct, and over three days they climbed and descended this, the last of the major north face routes to receive a winter ascent. In keeping with the modern ethos, they dry-tooled the entire route at M6. A few days later, visiting climbers Steve House and Roger Strong climbed the route in a continuous 25.5-hour round-trip push from a camp below the north face.

The action then shifted north to the great pyramid of Mt. Chephren (3,274m), where Pierre Darbellay and Raphael Slawinski established the Dogleg Couloir (V+ M7 Al) [see below].

Meanwhile, Vince Anderson and Steve House ventured to the formidable north face of Mt. Alberta and put up the Anderson-House (VI M8 WI5), a difficult line climbed in excellent style just outside of calendar winter, but in full-on winter conditions [see below].

The spring alpine season came to a close in early April with another big roadside line. Mt. Wilson (3,260m) is an ice-climbing mecca, with one of the greatest concentrations of waterfall ice in the Rockies. In recent years climbers have started taking some of these lines not only to the proverbial end of the difficulties (typically fairly low on the mountain), but all the way to the summit ridge. Raphael Slawinski and Jon Walsh established Dirty Love (V M7) up a giant corner/chimney system above the (unformed) Shooting Star (350m, WI6), climbing the route in a continuous 23-hour push car-to-summit. They downclimbed and rappelled a gully on the south face (which turned out to be the route Living In Paradise), taking a further eight hours. As with so many weekend alpine adventures, the crux came at the end: staying awake on the drive home.

Raphael Slawinski, Canada, AAC

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