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Canadian Rockies Update, Summer 2008
Posted on: September 23, 2008
Eamonn Walsh on Icarus Buttress (IV+ 5.11-, 1000m but only 300m of sustained rock climbing), a possible new route on the north face of Mt. Temple (3540m) in the Canadian Rockies. Despite poor weather, the Rockies were relatively active this summer. [Photo] Raphael Slawinski
Editor's Note: Below, Brandon Pullan recounts his and others' summer climbing exploits in the Canadian Rockies. Though conditions were unseasonably wet, they battled poor weather to set up hard new lines ala Urs Kallen's motto: "If it's not more than five pitches it's not even climbing, and if death isn't a good possibility it's probably not much of an adventure."
I began the season excited for the potential new routes Will Meinen and I could go out and bag. After spending the spring with the legendary alpine climber Urs Kallen, we were stoked at the opportunities that awaited us in the Rockies. But Mother Nature was not on our side this season. With one of the wettest summers on record we sat back and watched as snow continually fell on the higher peaks and the valleys stayed perpetually wet. Nevertheless, a few small windows of good weather provided enough time to get in several routes worth writing home about.
Last year I had noticed a line on the southeast aspect of Mt. Louis (2680m). The rock looked fantastic, and with a few recon trips I soon found the line: a series of blank slabs and thin seams meandering up the wall. Will and I had an epic time (I hate using this word, but it was) on Mt. Louis last year when we established our route, Meinen-Pullan, on the east face (read about the epic in the www.alpinist.com July 19, 2007 NewsWire). So this year we went prepared nearly a year to the day of our last outing to Louis in early July and bivied at the base to ensure an early start. It was our first attempt on the route, and we even remembered to pack in some luxuries like food and water! Unlike many of the routes on Mt. Louis, The Gargoyle (III 5.10a) is mostly face climbing, and every inch of the new 300 meters is bombproof rock before connecting with the Kain Route. We established the new terrain ground up, then connected into Kain Route on the south side of the peak.
Brandon Pullan on the crux of The Gargoyle (III 5.10a), a new 300m introduction that taps into the upper Kain Route on Mt. Louis (2680m). [Photo] Will Meinen collection
Soon after we climbed The Gargoyle I heard of others getting out and sending when the weather was good. Raphael Slawinski and Eammon Walsh freed what may be a new route on the north face of Mt. Temple (3540m) on July 20: Icarus Buttress (IV+ 5.11-, 1000m but only 300m of sustained rock climbing). Raphael noted that the route is mostly "snow, ice and choss scrambling," but it follows a striking buttress to the right of the classic Greenwood-Locke.
At the same time Andy Genereux was hard at work on Yamnuska (2200m), establishing nearly half a dozen new routes (some have become controversial: Yamnuska has long been a traditional crag, and Genereux utilized both top-down and ground-up methods). But Andy's lines are no doubt fun and safe. They include Missing Link (5.10d, 310m) with Steve Birch, E is for Excitement (5.10, 75m), Another Fat Bastard (5.10) and The Diving Board (5.11b, 175m).
On a hot August weekend Will Meinen headed out to climb the north face of Mt. Edith Cavell (3363m) in Jasper. He and Fred McGuinness spent one night there dodging "death orbs" while climbing the final headwall. Rangers mentioned they were the first on the north face this season.
Finally finding steep, decent rock on Icarus Buttress, which Slawinski characterized as mostly "snow, ice and choss scrambling." [Photo] Raphael Slawinski collection
Eammon Walsh and Steve Holeczi got the first ascent of the South Ridge (IV/V 5.9) of Mt. Joffre (3449m) over August 15-16. Joffre, located on the continental divide, is a spectacular peak. Similar to other routes in the Rockies, the lower angled rock was less than sublime, let's just say "classic," but the steeper pitches had better rock. The team bivied at 3100m on a massive ledge system, and the following day they climbed the steeper sections to the summit.
On Yamnuska, where the hardest and steepest remain unclimbed, most of the lines have been climbed ground-up, following weaknesses and connecting low-angle rock. But things are changing. When Will Gadd established Yamabushi (5.13) a few years back, it opened eyes to the potential hard routes that lie on the bigger walls. This summer Sonnie Trotter freed his route, The Mistress (5.13b), with Derek Galloway flashing all pitches while seconding, in mid August. His route climbs above the Calgary Route (5.6, 300m) up a steep, impressive golden wall of limestone. For years climbers have been looking at it, wondering if it would go. It took a few keeners to head up, rap in and have a look. The route was bolted top-down by Sonnie and Nick R. It sat for a year until Sonnie returned to send it.
Last summer Nick R and I spotted a line on the East End and went up to have a look. After Nick took a 25-footer, decked, and rolled down a talus slope we decided to go top-down. The route, Blue Jeans, has seven pitches of climbing; only a few have been freed so far at 5.13. There is potential for it to check in at 5.14, making it the hardest multipitch line around. This is only the start of what could be the next generation of Rockies routes. With so many big-wall-style steep faces, and climbers sending at consistently harder grades, it is only a short time before these monoliths see more attention. Many of these routes will need to be cleaned top down, as they are quite prone to having considerable loose blocks that can only be dislodged safely from above.
Brandon Pullan on the first ascent of Tah Osa Ridge (II 5.8, 1200m but broken by long sections of hiking), Mt. Kidd (2950m). [Photo] Will Meinen
A few weeks ago I spotted an unclimbed route up Mt. Kidd (2950m) in the Rockies. Tah-Osa Ridge (II 5.8) now climbs a massive southeast ridge. With over 1200m of climbing–which begins only 45 minutes from the road—the route is a real gem. The first 500m ascends a massive buttress. We found weaknesses through two roofs above, running out impassable-looking walls, finally gaining the ridge. We used no bolts and left no fixed gear.
This September's Indian Summer gave us a small weather window. Will and I just returned from an ascent of the Greenwood/Jones (V, 5.9) on the 1300m north face of Mt. Temple (3540m). A 40-hour car-to-car push with a short bivy on the face felt like a great way to wrap up the summer. "Climb the obvious rib/buttress to a short headwall" was the beta we had for the route—and, as with most Rockies climbs, it was anything but obvious.
This summer I heard accounts of many of the big mountains such as Mt. Robson (3954m) and Mt. Alberta (3619m) turning back climbing parties due to weather. Though, it seems the Rockies are blossoming late this year, and there's no telling what late September and early October hold. From untrodden alpine ridges to steep, bolted 5.13 faces, the Rockies are slowly revealing their full potential. Next up, ice climbing!