Brandon Pullan starting Physio-Therapy (M7 WI5, 50m), one of six ice and mixed climbs he established with Will Meinen and Danny O’Farrell in January, 2008. The crag–in Evan Thomas Creek, Kananaskis County, Alberta–is now the closest mixed crag to Calgary, and a thirty-minute drive from Canmore. [Photo] Danny O’Farrell
I’ve long known about the excellent ice climbing in Evan Thomas Creek, in Kananaskis County, Alberta in the eastern Canadian Rockies. Unique for the Rockies, the area has no avalanche danger, and the hike requires no elevation gain–not bad for a spot that houses classics such as Chantily Falls (WI2, 80m), and grouped further up the creek, Moonlight (WI4), Snowline (WI4) and 2 Low 4 Zero (WI3 R), all taller than 100 meters. So earlier this month, when I saw a post on gravsports-ice.com that read “Four new routes in Evan Thomas,” I clicked eagerly.
After viewing the pictures and reading the online report, it seemed likely that there was extraordinary mixed potential. I packed a bag and headed in with my regular partner, Will Meinen (recovering from a busted ankle) and friend Danny O’Farrell. We followed a well-packed trail past the classic routes until we dropped down into paradise: wild ice climbs that probably never had been plucked. Later I contacted Kevin Barton, who established the four ice lines; he had done extensive research that suggested the area had not been developed previously.
The wall that sports the new ice and mixed lines is 200 meters long and nearly 60 meters high; a climber’s playground. Having climbed at Hafner Creek for the past few years, Bear Spirit and the Stanley Headwall, it was nice to find a crag that offered something different. It’s no M12 cave or M8 R scare fest but rather a near-vertical, featured wall covered with ice. Much of the wall is composed of horizontal bands of blue, grey and yellow limestone, some of which resemble basaltic columns, unlike other nearby mixed crags. These layers alternate with weaker, slightly eroded layers that create perfect pick placements for drytooling.
That first day we scoped the wall, climbed nothing, stashed our bags and hiked out to our car and headed west, back home to Canmore, about thirty minutes away. With Will still favoring his broken ankle we decided to call the crag Rehab Wall because any smart doctor would prescribe the ninety-minute hike and 40-meter pitches of ice. The next day we returned to climb Fun and Fitness, a thin WI4 smear that fattened near its top; Will toughed it out, making a fast lead with his swollen ankle. The next day we climbed Aroma-Therapy, another thin WI4 climb, and established Yoga Monster (M5 WI4, 30m) and The Treatment (M5 WI4, 30m). The next day we climbed Acupuncture (M4 WI4), a brittle smear of ice riddled with cool features and stances. The final route we pushed up the wall was Physio-Therapy (M7 WI5), the plumb of the crag: a 50-meter pitch of steep, juggy, iced rock. The first 35 meters ascends past two small roofs with big reaches and deep slots, then climbs a thin smear behind a huge curtain. The curtain creaked and groaned, and Will made his way up the steep rock climb (we no longer believe his ankle is injured) with stein pulls, heel hooks, verglas and jugs, topping it off with a beautiful 20-meter ice curtain.
Satisfied with our time at the wall, we left after climbing Physio-Therapy, on our way out counting at least eight more possible mixed lines that might ascend the steeper sections. We will leave those to other route developers with a creative eye. We hope the wall–the closest mixed crag to Calgary–does not fall victim to grid bolting but rather a few worthwhile routes.