Over 13 days in November, twenty-two-year-old Marc-Andre Leclerc fired a series of demanding ice and mixed routes lines in the Canadian Rockies. It was his first visit to the Icefield Parkway and first time using ice tools on limestone.
“You know how you hear stories of people who climb 10 to 15 days in a row because they are so excited?” Leclerc said over the phone. “I can’t take rest days on ice climbing trips.”
Leclerc has been scampering up rock and in the mountains for 11 years and ice climbing for the past seven. A year ago he climbed 32 pitches on Squamish’s Chief in 17 hours. In an interview about the climb, Chris Geisler said, “This is just the beginning, just warming up, before Marc actually knows what he’ll truly be able to accomplish.” [Read more on Leclerc’s Squamish link-up in our September 5, 2013 Feature.–Ed.]
This year, Leclerc kicked off his Rockies climbing spree on November 8 by establishing a difficult new mixed route directly through the Storm Creek Headwall with Jon Walsh. The Plum (WI6 M7) follows a cascade of thin ice flows for 120 meters. Walsh called Leclerc’s Pitch 1 lead “the best first lead in the Rockies [he’s] ever witnessed.”
A few days later Leclerc camped for two days on the Icefield Parkway, weathering -30 Celsius at the base of Mt. Andromeda. He attempted to solo Shooting Gallery (IV 90 degrees), named for its frequent rockfall, but poor conditions forced him to retreat.
The next day he intended to solo Professor Falls (III WI4). He erred on the approach and instead ascended a drainage below Sacre Bleu he thinks is unclimbed. The line consisted of 10 pitches of sustained M5 climbing including a thin, freestanding pillar he rated WI5+. He finished on Sacre Bleu, which climbed like WI6, “but I might have just been a bit tired [and] scared,” he said.
[Photo] Marc-Andre Leclerc
The next day, November 16, the trio of Leclerc, Walsh and Joshua Lavigne headed to the Weeping Wall.
At 9 a.m. the team started up their new line Magic Bullet, on the south end of Weeping Wall near Polar Circus. They soloed the easy first 30 meters, then Leclerc led a thin WI3+ before Walsh entered the crux, a long pitch with three overhangs rated M7. Both Lavigne and Leclerc followed free. Lavigne told Alpinist he believes Raphael Slawinski and Ian Welsted had previously attempted part of the route.
Two days later, on November 18, Leclerc and Lavigne headed up Mt. Chephren (3266m) to climb The Wild Thing. Not only did they complete a rare, one-day ascent of this circa 1400m mixed route, they did so without bivying at the base on either the approach or descent. They freed the route in 18 hours and made a swift, 29-hour round-trip. When Peter Arbic, Barry Blanchard and Ward Robinson established Wild Thing in March 1987, it took them three long days. Jon Walsh and Jon Simms climbed the route free in 2008, with a variation to avoid an A3 section, rating it WI5 M7. Leclerc and Lavigne followed Walsh and Simms’ line of ascent.
The team carried one 80m rope, a light rack, puffy jackets and a stove. Lavigne led the crux just before dark. He encountered the hardest moves on the pitch with his last protection–two stubby ice screws in rotten ice–three body lengths below him. Below that was a tied off knifeblade. “It was a no-fall situation,” said Leclerc. They rated that section of the route M7 R/X.
Difficult climbing continued through the upper half of the face. “We had to do runout drytooling pitch after pitch by headlamp. It was more freaky than hard,” said Leclerc. “We kept wondering when we would get to the top.”
Summiting at 1:00 a.m., the team shivered around their stove and melted snow, waiting for sunrise. At one point, still under darkness, Leclerc rapped off a single pounded-in nut only to discover, as he neared the end of his rope, that it didn’t reach a ledge. He then locked off his device, removed his pack and dug out slings to construct prusiks. He ascended the rope by the light of his fading headlamp. Back at the top, he found Lavigne asleep near the anchor.
They descended at first light and reached their car midmorning.
At 4:00 a.m. the next day, November 21, Leclerc caught a ride in a van with a team of climbers heading to the Weeping Wall. He made a solo enchainment of the Polar Circus (WI5, 700m) and Weeping Wall Right (IV WI4-5).
Arriving back at the van at last light, Leclerc found it locked. Using his ice axe as a jimmy, he opened one of the van’s small windows, hooked a sleeping bag and jacket and pulled them out. He spent the next five hours sleeping by the side of the vehicle until his friends arrived.
Now, a few weeks later, Leclerc is in Argentina on a three-month climbing trip. With southern Patagonia, Valle Frey and Aconcagua all on his ticklist, we doubt he’ll have time or patience for rest days.