American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Summary

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2009

Canadian Rockies, summary. After an eventful couple of years, the summer of 2008 and the winter of 2009 were relatively quiet. Given the short windows for the high peaks, and how few people are drawn to hard alpine climbing in what is a demanding yet unglamorous range, big sends in the Canadian Rockies have always been few and far between.

In July on Mt. Louis (2,682m), a spire of unusually good limestone, Brandon Pullan and Will Meinen established a significant variation start to the left of the Kain Route (III 5.6). The Gargoyle (III 5.10a) is mostly mid-fifth class with a harder crux. After some seven pitches it joins the Kain Route.

Also in July Eamonn Walsh and I climbed a possibly new route on that weekend warrior’s dream, the north face of Mt. Temple (3,543m). The Icarus Buttress (IV+ 5.11-) takes the prominent rib right of the classic Greenwood-Locke route (IV+ 5.9), and though the vertical gain is 1,000m, only 300m are sustained rock climbing. The crux was two pitches of 5.11 -ish climbing up rather friable rock.

The steep, rocky, and remote south and west aspects of Mt. Joffre (3,449m), the highest peak in Kananaskis Country, had likely never been attempted before last summer. After hiking up the wrong valley on their first attempt in August, Steve Holeczi and Eamonn Walsh consulted a map and returned a few days later to establish the South Ridge (IV+ 5.9) over two days. Not surprisingly, the rock left something to be desired.

The winter of 2008-9 saw the establishment of the hardest multi-pitch sport-mixed route in the range. Will Meinen and Brandon Pullan began aid climbing and bolting their way toward a distant hanging dagger on the east aspect of Pigeon Mountain two winters ago, but a long approach and overhanging rock made for slow progress. This past winter they recruited Will Gadd to redpoint the line. Gadd suggested a grade of M12 for the crux pitch to the final ice dagger. With the lower pitches featuring dry-tooling up to M9, the five or six-pitch Jimmy Skid Rig (250m, M12 WI5) is easily the hardest route of its kind in the Canadian Rockies.

But it was another multi-pitch bolted mixed route that stirred up plenty of controversy. Patrick Delaney bolted The Doors of Perception (12 pitches, M5+ WI2) on the east face of the front-range Loder Peak during the summer, using a combination of bottom-up and top-down tactics. In January 2009 Delaney returned with Mathieu Audibert to make the route’s first ascent. But it quickly came to light that the line had been climbed before, aside from minor variations. In fact, while bolting the route Delaney encountered old pitons. The ensuing debate involved two issues: Just what constitutes a new route? And is bolting a line that can be climbed largely on natural gear acceptable? One thing is certain: a line that until last winter saw maybe a couple of ascents suddenly received multiple ascents within a couple of months.

The alpine world was quiet last winter though not unremarkable, as two ascents provided stark proof of the rise in standards. Both were ascents of that “hard” classic, The Wild Thing (VI M7 WI5) on the northeast face of Mt. Chephren (3,266m). In late November Jon Simms and Jon Walsh made the first free ascent (and likely fifth overall), climbing an M7 chimney to the left of the original A3 crux, in a 44-hour round-trip from the road. In February 2009 Dana Ruddy, Eamonn Walsh, and I made the sixth ascent. Motivated by a tight work schedule, we eschewed bivy gear and climbed the route in a continuous 29-hour push from base to summit. It was the first time a Canadian Rockies grade VI had been climbed in this style in winter. We took the more challenging and aesthetic ice-climbing on the direct start, climbed by Ben Gilmore and Kevin Mahoney in December 2003 but never completed to the top. On the upper headwall we followed the original line, freeing the supposed A3 crux at well- protected M7.

Raphael Slawinski, Canada, AAC

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