American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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The Year in the Rockies

Canada, Alberta, Canadian Rockies

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Ian Welsted
  • Climb Year: 2018
  • Publication Year: 2019


The Milkwater (1,250m, V WI4 M4) on the east side of Mt. Temple. Striving for the Moon takes the obvious ice line to the left.
Photo by Alik Berg

SOLO CLIMBING SEEMS to be making a resurgence in the Canadian Rockies, including a pair of impressive solo ascents on Mt. Temple (3,544m) toward the end of the year. Finding excellent early season snow conditions in December, Alik Berg climbed a new route up the east side of the mountain, the Milkwater (1,250m, 750m to ridge, V WI4 M4), in a 20-hour round trip from a bivy on the Moraine Lake Road. The route starts 200m right of Striving for the Moon on an obvious ice flow and then trends right and then back left in gully systems to gain the east ridge, just short of the top of the Aemmer Couloir. Berg continued up the east ridge to the summit and descended the regular tourist scramble.

The next day Quentin Lindfield Roberts partially followed Berg's tracks to solo Striving for the Moon (1,250m, WI6) in 21 hours car to car. First climbed in 1992 by Barry Blanchard and Ward Robinson, the route has rarely been repeated.

Backing up to the end of the previous winter season, Lonnie Dupre (USA), Pascale Marceau, and Vern Stice climbed the remote Jeanette Peak near Valemont on April 2, making the first known ascent (see their report here). Stice and Jeff Dickson later completed the first recorded traverse of Mt. Alexandra (3,401m) and neighboring Queens Peak. Toward the end of April, Brette Harrington and Rose Pearson (New Zealand) climbed a partial new route up the west face of Mt. Blane in the Opal Range.

In late July, a bike-and-hike approach of at least 16km got Pedro Guerra-Zuniga, Gen Kenny, and Robb Schnell to the north face of Beatrice Peak, beyond the massive east face of Mt. Ball. A 300m climb up a moderate ice slope brought the trio to the summit. In the Fryatt Valley, Craig Hartmetz, Martin Schwangler, and Jordanne Taylor climbed Walk of Shame (600m, AI3 5.7) in late October, following the prominent Y couloir up the north face of Mt. Xerxes. Not nearly as remote, the author and Alik Berg climbed CTrain (200m, M5+ WI3) on the northernmost buttress of Crowfoot Mountain in January 2019. Directly above Bow Lake and prominently visible from the heavily travelled Bow Hut approach, it had been attempted to two-thirds height the previous spring with Jesse Bouliane.

Plenty of interesting long rock climbs also were established in the mountains. Dave Peabody and Mark Taylor climbed the northeast buttress (250m, 8 pitches, 5.9) of McGillivray Mountain in May. A mix of bolts and gear was used to protect this prominent buttress visible from the Trans-Canada Highway in the Bow Valley. Far to the south in the Crowsnest Pass area, Clay Geddert, Josh Schuh, and Daniel Vanderpyle completed the previously attempted Northeast Arête of Chinook Peak (245m, 5.8 X) in June.

Prairie Gold on Peyto Tower. Photo by Grant Statham

On the imposing Peyto Tower on Mt. Wilson, Niall Hamill first rappelled, cleaned, and installed 14 bolts (including anchors) on a new line, then returned with Grant Stewart to establish Prairie Gold (280m, V 5.11c). The route follows the leftmost major dihedral system up a face that is characterized by bulletproof quartzite in its upper 200m, just to the right of the Prow (5.9). Hamill states that many more free routes are there to be climbed.

In the Banff area, the east-facing Grand Minnewanka (7 pitches, 5.10d A1) by Paul Gardner and Paul Taylor is found after a 7.5km bike ride along the Lake Minnewanka shoreline trail. A few aid moves were required to overcome the huge obvious roof system on pitch four, with a combination of bolts and gear throughout. Nearer Canmore, Adam Campbell and Brandon Pullan established Homage to the Warden (350m, 5.6) on the second buttress of Mt. Rundle. And in Jasper the trend toward long bolted face climbs on Ashlar Ridge continued with the addition of Canadian Compressor (11 pitches, 5.11c) by Konstantin Stoletov and a team of eight from Edmonton. Jasper has undergone a rapid growth of documented rock climbs in the last few years, spurred partially by a new guidebook, viewable at northernexposurejasper.com.

A summertime visit by Adam Ondra (Czech) resulted in the Bow Valley becoming home to two out of three of North America’s 5.15b sport climbs. Ondra added a 5.15a at Echo Canyon named Sacrifice before dispatching Disbelief (5.15b) at Acephale. (The first Alberta 5.15b was Alex Megos’ Fightclub, put up in Banff in 2016.) This visit is likely to add to the seasonal influx of traveling climbers to Canmore and Banff.

A few very significant repeats also were done. Sasha DiGiulian (USA) and Mike Doyle, climbing together and with local partners, repeated Sonnie Trotter's “alpine trilogy” of long 5.14 routes near the Bow Valley: War Hammer (15 pitches, 5.14a) on Castle Mountain, the Shining Uncut (13 pitches, 5.14a) on Mt. Louis, and Blue Jeans Direct (8 pitches, 5.14a) on Mt. Yamnuska. DiGiulian managed the Uncut a few days before Doyle and then sent Blue Jeans to complete the second ascent of the trilogy; Doyle completed the last climb and the trilogy a few days later.

Though this is a worldwide mecca of ice climbing, new ice and mixed first ascents in the Rockies were surprisingly rare. In February, the prolific Raphael Slawinski added Bride of Frankenstein (100m, M8), an unclimbed hanging dagger on Mt. Wilson. Found above the ice route Skinny Puppy, it was equipped over a few days with Juan Henriquez and redpointed with Landon Thompson. Dave Rone climbed two difficult new ice routes: Sun Pillar (100m, WI6+), with Scott Backes, in the Icefall Brook area, and Full Cup (170m, WI 6 R), with Jon Jugenheimer, in the Stutfield Glacier cirque.

Martin Schwangler and Sean Willis climbed Jin Spin’s Purple Thunder, a 180m flow to the left of Saddam’s Insane on Mt. Kidd, with a crux WI4 section. (This might be one of the routes described as a group of smears in the Mt. Kidd Bowl in Joe Josephson's guidebook.) In Jasper, Max Darrah and Jonas Hoke climbed Deagle Eye, a four-pitch WI3 below Ashlar Ridge.

In November, at the Storm Creek Headwall, Olivier Ouellette and Quentin Lindfield Roberts equipped the Bodhi Tree (M8+ WI5), just to the right of Buddha Nature, though the send (and onsight) fell to Slawinski. Accessed by the 60m first pitch of Buddha Nature, the Bodhi Tree goes in two pitches. Earlier, the author had added a mixed pitch above and right of Buddha Nature.

In Field, Trepination Tripel (M7), climbed by Jonny Simms and Mike Verway, adds a dry-tooling start to the frequently unformed Cascade Kronenbourg (WI6). There is some concern it will interfere with a pure ice ascent of Kronenbourg, which originally was climbed as a thin ice line. Simms and Brette Harrington added a 10m rock start (M5) to Carlsberg Column. In Lake Louise, the popular mixed climb Dark Nature had a much-considered mixed last pitch added by Fred Giroux to take it to the top of the cliff. The Dark Matter extension (15m, M6+) is a rightward traverse on quartzite with gear to reach a corner crack.

The most audacious attempt of late 2018 was by Stas Beskin, who climbed the first pitch of the Real Big Drip in the South Ghost area for the first time as a pure ice pillar (normally bolt-protected M8), though he did not complete the full route due to the startling nature of the third-pitch pillar, which perhaps had formed for the first time in the modern ice climbing era.

Back in the high mountains, Jon Walsh scooped the second ascent—and first free ascent—with Quentin Lindfield Roberts of the Owens/Walsh Route on Mt. MOG in October. Originally climbed in 2007 by Rob Owens and Eamonn Walsh at IV+ M6+ A1, the 600m route generally had thicker ice conditions and ice at the previous aid section during the free ascent. On the same day in October, Peter Hoang and Michelle Kadatz made the much-attempted second ascent of Zeitgeist (530m, IV+ M7 WI5 R) on the north side of Mt. Bell, also put up in 2007. A sign of the modern times, once these routes were presented on the Internet, both of them received multiple ascents.

In mid January, coming full circle on the note that began the report, Niall Hamill made a rope-solo ascent of most of Zeitgeist, including the crux, skipping the last two moderate, snow-covered pitches. In summary, a new spirit of contemporary audaciousness is in the air, though it doesn't always follow the old rules of onsight ground-up climbing ending at the summit.

– Ian Welsted, Canada

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