Over the last decade or so, the 500-meter high East face of Snowpatch Spire has been transforming into one of the finest alpine rock faces in North America. What used to be a face known primarily as an aid climbing venue, is now covered in free-climbing lines, although mostly difficult ones, usually reqiuring at least a couple pitches of 5.12. But perhaps the most amazing thing about it is that almost every pitch is good! I don't think there's another mountain in western Canada that can boast that! Like a big crag offering pure rock climbing in the alpine, it offers an easy approach from the nearby campground, belays on most routes are mostly bolted, there are no "approach" pitches, and there's no tedious summit ridge. The climbing is almost entirely traditionally protected, although most routes have a few protection bolts where cracks need to be conected by face moves, and face holds are plentiful. It has been one of my favorite zones for over ten years now.
Last season, Michelle Kadatz and I investigated the sector in the Bugaboo guidebook where the great flake fell off the lower middle section of Snowpatch Spire, taking the first three pitches of several routes including Les Bruines Es Pentinen, Deus Ex Machina, and the original Sunshine Wall with it. The obvious scoop at the bottom went ok, but the next 80 meters required extreme care to remove the left over debris from the major rockfall. Once it was gone, it didn't take much to buff it into a nice free climb and a fairly moderate one by East face of Bugaboo standards. After five pitches, we had established Minotaur Direct, which seemed like a better start than the original version that climbed the lower pitches of Labyrinth and traversed over. We returned this year, adding stations and continuing up the amazing middle section of Minotaur, a route I put up several years ago with Colin Moorhead. We gave this a good clean up too as this section of the wall is becoming a popular option amongst both Bugaboo regulars and visiting climbers. People seem psyched to have good pitches within a close proxitimity to Applebee and often set out to climb only half the face.
Alik Berg and I teamed up in mid July to venture out left from Minotaur into the obvious corner system that splits the big roof in the middle of the face where the Deus Ex Machina goes. We were blown away by the quality of the climbing and the softest pitch gradewise out of all the routes to go through this continuous roof system that runs the width of the face. Above it we ventured into new terrain but a couple of mossy cracks slowed progress about ten pitches up. We cleaned them out and rappeled. Two weeks later we were back with plans to finish the line. On the first day we climbed the first four pitches and fixed our two ropes. This allowed a bit of head start for a bigger day the next day. It was nice to sleep in the evening after hiking up, and fun to have Taran Ortlieb join us for this. The next day, we ascended the two lines, then made the continuous free ascent to the summit, adding four more pitches above our previous high point and sending every pitch first try! A very satisfying day, on a fun route with a lot of varied climmbing.
The East face of Snowpatch Spire with the line of ascent.
Taran Ortlieb joined us as we fixed two ropes on the first four pitches. Here he is crossing the moat between edge of the glacier and the face. Exactly four weeks earlier, it was easy to step across the gap and be standing on the ledge his left hand is at. As the summer goes on, and the snow melts back from the rock, the first pitch can get 5-10 meters longer and a grade or two harder!
Taran a few meters higher on the first pitch, now enjowing perfect hand jams on perfect granite.
Alik leading off on the second pitch of 5.10 tips.
Having Taran join us to climb the first four pitches and fix our ropes, allowed me to lead the fourth pitch, and then take photos of Alik leading it. It's got four 5.11 sections to it over 45 meters and is delightful to climb!
Another from the fourth pitch - Some face moves protected by a bolt connect two corner systems.
Alik hiking last crux of the fourth pitch with a combination of chimneying, steming, and edge pulling.
Alik climbing the splitter flake at the start of the 6th pitch.
JW in the first of four cruxy sections on the 7th pitch - the roof pitch of Deus Ex Machina, previously A3. It's the only one that we think shared any terrain with any of the old aid routes.
Alik nearing the top of the 55-meter 9th pitch.
Alik starting up the 10th pitch.
Some fine heel work high on Snowpach, with magical jugs in the all the right places; Alik getting starting on pitch 12.
Alik on pitch 12
Another from pitch 12
On the North Summit of Snowpatch with the summit ornament, and views of the Howsers.
Welcome to the Machine
5.11+, 13 pitches
First ascent: Pitches 1-5 - Michelle Kadatz and Jon Walsh; Pitches 6-13: Alik Berg and Jon Walsh
August 2nd, 2015
p1 - 30 meters 5.10-; step across the moat which gets harder as the season goes on. Climb double cracks / flake for about 10 meters until you’re able trend right, and easily up the big scoop. Make a gear anchor before it steepens where you can find some good foot ledges.
p2 - 30 meters 5.10+; continue up the scoop via a thin corner crack, to a belay bolted belay a good stance.
p3 - 30 meters 5.10+; climb the corner above and pull through a small overhang to a stance. Step left and head up a shallow left facing corner, until an easy ramp leads back right. Follow this, hand traversing flakes until a bolted station below a long left facing corner.
p4 - 45 meters 5.11+; A thin tips corner gains a section of cool stemming. When you get to a bolt clip it and face climb left to the arete. Don’t move it up to the bolted station up and right or you’ll have to down-climb 3 meters to continue sending! from the stance on the arete, move up and right back into the left facing corner, and follow past one more tips crux to the bolted station on a good ledge.
p5 - 50 meters 5.10 ; After a couple body lengths of fist crack, pull a small overhang. A #5 camelot is useful here for the crux move. Rather than continue up the obvious corner, look up and you’ll see a bolt. Climb up to it, and move left into the next corner system which is much better. It leads to a fourth class ledge, which needs to traversed up and left. A bolt below a groove is the start of Minotaur. Continue past it for five more meters to a two bolt station bellow a nice looking flake.
p6 - 35 meters 5.10; Climb the flake up, then hand traverse it left. It turns into a walkable ledge. At it’s end, move up and left though small overlaps, then face climb left, and then back right to a bolted station.
p7 - 45 meters 5.11+; This is the roof pitch of Deus Ex Machina. Move left off the belay, and then climb up a small right facing corner on face holds. Move left into the main left corner and follow it though a series of small roofs to a bolted anchor.
p8 - 60 meters 5.10; Climb the right hand crack for five meters to a ledge, Move left into a corner which is wide but easy. Follow this to a good ledge. Continue up another short right facing corner with couple of tricky moves and make a gear belay another good ledge, with some very nice looking corners up to the left. This pitch might be better to split into two as rope drag is a factor. Either way, a gear station needs to be made.
p9 - 55 meters 5.11; An amazing pitch! Start by climbing double cracks, with a mix of gear and bolts for protection (3 protection bolts total). At a small stance there’s a fixed wire and a bolt for an optional belay, however the FA team linked the next 30 meters of sustained 5.10 to a great ledge and bolted belay.
p10 - 40m meters 5.11-; climb the nice finger crack up and right. After a section of fist crack, two bolts on your left traverse to a ledge system, and a two bolt anchor at the far left of it.
p11 - 50 meters 5.10-; A clean corner above goes from hands to fists to off-width. After it gets too wide for a # 5 camelot, two body lengths of easy lay-backing passes it and gets you to easier terrain with small gear options. Continue up the groove above to a two bolt station below some black overhangs.
p.12 - 25 meters 5.11+; The last two pitches were nearly linked on the first ascent with 68m rope, but this is not recommended. Start by climbing through some overhangs with some great and unlikely moves. Belay at a good ledge.
p.13 - 45 meters 5.11 ; Follow the crack up and left, until a big ledge is reached. This pitch is a bit dirty but will clean up with a more ascents.
A scramble for a couple of ropelengths up and left gets you to the North Summit. You will pass the top station of Sendero Norte on the way which is probably the cleanest descent option. Of course if you don't know it, it might be more difficult.
The other decent option is as follows:
At the big ledge at the top of the last pitch, a sling around a pinch between boulders was used for the first rappel, to get back to the top of pitch 11. From here, rappel to a nut station about 10 meters climbers right of the station at the top of pitch ten. Careful of the rope eating crack below. Best to just rappel to the top of pitch 9 from here to keep the rope out of the crack. Then rappel to the obvious bivy ledge, on skiers left. On the far side of this ledge, rappel down Minataur on bolted stations. The first one is 55m. The second one is 30 m and it’s best to clip a bolt on the way down as a directional. Another 55m steep rappel gets you back to the big ledge at the top of pitch 5. Continue down the pitches you’ve already climbed. From the top of pitch 4, it's about a 65 meter rappel to the top of pitch 2, so if you have 60 meter ropes, it's best to place a directional or two to get into the optional station on pitch 4, and then rap to the top of pitch 2 from there. One more 50-55 rappel puts you on the glacier.
2 x 60m ropes
Double set of cams from tips to #3 camelot.
Triple set from tight fingers to loose fingers (#.3, #.4, #.5 camelots)
1 #4 camelot, 1 #5 camelot
One set of nuts
12-15 quick draws (half of them should be extendable)
Michelle Kadatz, Paul Bride and I flew in a heli into East Creek (the West side of the Bugaboos) for a few days last week. Paul was psyched to shoot landscape photos while Michelle and I checked out some of the incredible rock in the Pigeon feathers. Although there are quite a few routes here described in the guidebook, the Pigeon Feathers remain a slightly more obscure corner of the Bugs, despite their amazing quality, and proximity to a great camp. Upon landing, we hiked around until we found something that was really inspiring - some unclimbed splitters on Wide Awake Tower, slightly right of the original Wide Awake route.
Wide Awake Tower. Our route starts part way up the snow gully. photo: Paul Bride
On our first climbing day under stormy skies, we made it nearly three quarters of the way up before the skies started unleashing thunder and lightning. Going down was the only option. While pulling the ropes after the first rappel, a toaster sized block popped off and landed right in the pile of rope that was stacking itself in front of us as it fell. The result was both lead and tag lines were chopped in the middle! The storm intensified and we had no choice but to hunker down in a chimney, while rain, hail, and a lot of very close thunder and lightning came down all around us. Backs against the wall and all the metal off the harnesses, we slowly got colder and wetter. Multiple rounds of this continued until finally it passed and we made it down to the glacier safely. By the time we were walking back to camp, it was nice and sunny so we lapped the first three pitches of the classic Solitary Confinement. It was great to get back on this one again as it had been 8 or 9 years since I had climbed it, and it was one Michelle wanted to do too. Our thirty-five meter rope was exactly what it took to get to the first anchor of this amazing 5.11 continuous crack that gradually expanded from tips to off-width over three pitches. With only two #4 camelots, the even wider 4th pitch wasn’t really an option, which was fine by me. Three 4's, and three 5's would be considerated adequate for it...
Michelle on Pitch 3 of Solitary Confinement.
The following day we hiked to Applebee where it was possible to get two more ropes, which took the better part of the day via the Bugaboo Glacier. On day 3 we got back to work on what we were now calling Electric Funeral, obviously a reference to a Black Sabbath song, and our experience on it the first day. Paul and I are both huge Black Sabbath fans and when we get together, Sabbath becomes our theme. Michelle didn’t know the song, but liked the name! The climbing went well, although seventh pitch took getting dead-ended on two other option before I finally figured out what to do. Not comfortable with the run-out traverse to a grassy crack, I pendulummed across the face to the seam, then went into aid / cleaning mode with a nut tool and wire brush. By the time I got to the next ledge, I was so psyched to come back to send the pitch, as well as the amazing looking splitter above that bee-lined for the summit. It was cold, windy and getting late so we decided to save it for the next day.
Playing with fire at camp. Wide awake is the rightmost tower in the background photo: Paul Bride
On Day 4 the weather was looking pretty bad, and confidence of being able to complete the project was low. However, we were back, and for the first time we brought the power drill and enough bolts to set up some stations. We were psyched to have gone through the process a couple of times without bolts, and felt like the route was worthy of setting up to attract more climber to enjoy its quality. Fortunately the weather held and even got pretty nice, although quite windy in the afternoon. On pitch 7, I led out to a small foot ledge and placed the only protection bolt as high above my head as I could, then lowered the drill back to the belay and continured sending the pitch, which was delightfully sustained and interesting to climb. It was more like face climbing with a thin crack for protection, than the typical crack climbing that’s far more common in the area. The crux came right off the belay on the pitch 8 while laybacking off amazing chicken heads to pull a small roof! Trending right, beautiful cracks and transfer moves continued, and the rope was nearly used up before finally reaching a good stance.
Michelle following the 7th pitch photo Paul Bride
JW on pich 8, gunning for the top photo Paul Bride
Sweet views from the summit and a smooth rappel had us celebrating back in camp before long. Our time was up and we had the heavy, half-day slog / half-day drive home to look forward to the next day. It had been a fun process exploring this obscure conner of the Bugs and I know I’ll be back again. The crack system immediately left - aka Wide Awake, looked amazing!
Almost at the belay at the top of pitch 5. It's the triangular ledge a body length to my right. Photo Paul Bride
Michelle bringing me accross the traverse of Pitch 4. Photo Paul Bride
Michelle on pitch 6.
Michelle leading pitch 3
Michelle following pitch 7
JW starting up pitch 8, photo Michelle Kadatz
JW passing some perched flakes and the chimney on the way to the summit. Photo Michelle Kadatz
Electric Funeral, 300m, 5.11+, FA: Michelle Kadatz and Jon Walsh, August 7th 2014
A fun route on great rock, highly recommended, and it’s easily scoped from nearby snow slopes. Pitches 7 and 8 are nothing short of spectacular! The route is straightforward to rappel, or to walk off.
Rack: 1 full set of stoppers. 10 - 12 draws. Double set of cams from purple C3 or red X4 to #3 camelot. One #4 camelot and one #5 camelot are nice for the short wide sections of pitches 2 and 3. If the plan is to rappel, the #4 and 5 came lots can be left at the top of pitch 3.
Approach: Start up a the snowgully to the right of the tower's "nose" and ascend snow for about 80 meters. Look for a distint left facing corner that leads to a righ faceing corner that make up pitches 2 nd 3. We climbed a body length of 5.7 and then a 5 meter traverse left of easy 5th class to get a good belay ledge where you can dump your packs and get organised. This is directly below the changing corners of pitches 2 and 3. We left a cairn here...
P1: 5.10-, 30 meters; climb through bulge from belay and trend left to a left facing corner. A couple of balance moves to gets you to a crack that leads back right to a left facing corner with two wide cracks in it, and a two bolt belay station.
P2: 5.10, 20 meters; Climb the obvious wide cracks above up the left facing corner to a good ledge, and a gear belay (takes camelots .5, .75, 1)
P3: 5.10, 20 meters; A few off-width moves give way to nice hand-jamming. Belay at a good ledge with a huge, easily slung horn for the belay.
P4: 5.9, 50 meters; climb a short bulge above the belay and make a rising traverse to the right, until a short down climb becomes necessary. Climb down a few meters, then back up to a good belay ledge.
P5: 5.10+, 50 meters; Great hand and finger cracks head up and slightly left. Belay at a small but comfortable ledge below an overlap. A very nice pitch.
P6: 5.10+, 15 meters. Pull through the overlap and up a short groove. Rather than continue up the dirt right facing corner, make face moves out left onto the exposed / featured / golden face and up to a two bolt belay at a small ledge.
P7: 5.11-, 30 meters; Face climb up and left past a bolt, to gain a thin crack that leads straight up towards a roof. Two bolt belay below roof at small ledge.
P8: 5.11+ 50 meters; A crux roof sequence leads to spectacular crack climbing that trends rightwards towards the summit, sometimes transferring from crack-to-crack, one of such transfers providing a second, slightly easier crux! A two bolt belay at a good stance comes after 50 meters
P9: 5.9, 20 meters; A short straightforward pitch passes a chimney, and gets you to the summit.
Rappel notes: easy down-climbing about 5-meters off the summit to a slung block is required to get back to the last belay. A 25-meter rappel straight down from there (the last bolted station) gets you to another bolted station on a ledge that wasn’t part of the route. It would be possible to climb over to this on pitch 8, although this wasn’t done on the first ascent. A 50-meter rappel from here gets you to the bolted belay between pitch 6 and 7. Then 50-meters to a slung horn you passed near the start of P5. Two single rope rappels on slung horns throughout the owed angle traverse section, get you to the top of pitch 3. Then a double rope rappel easily makes the top of P1…
The last couple months have been one of the best high pressures I can remember in years. On stat I heard was it's been the warmest summer in Calgary since 1881! It was so nice in fact that it was impossibe for me to sit at a desk and share the photos, stories, or get much else done, as the mountains were calling....
I'm lucky and grateful to live in such an amazing part of the world. The Canadian Rockies are at my doorstep and the Bugaboos and Selkirks are a short drive away. These three ranges never cease to blow my mind! A few more reasons why I love being a canadian alpinist are (in no specific order):
-I can always find talented and inspiring people to climb with on world class objectives
-There is so much variety in the mountain sports I'm most interested in: sport, trad, ice and alpine climbing + unbelievable deep powder skiing on piste, off piste, ski mountaineering... All in a relatively small area
-The development of the sport climbing scene in the Bow Valley is going off and provides the perfect training grounds to get strong, have fun, and prepare for harder objectives in mountains
-There is an abundance of multi-pitch adventure routes of all levels, in all disciplines of climbing
-The Rockies provide the world's most consistent, extensive, easily accessible ice and mixed scene - bar none!
- First ascents -- Although the most obvious lines have mostly been done, some only once, there are still a lifetime's worth of first ascents to do, very much the opposite of Europe or the U.S.A.. I can share that because oddly enough, a little friendly international competition to get to them first would make them even more exciting!
-Getting to the incredible stone and scenery of Baffin Island only requires a handful of airports, no passport, and one day of travel
Here's a few pics from some of the climbing highlights from the last two months, starting with the Bugaboos:
Josh on the crux splitter of Hell or Highwater, Snowpatch Spire
Chris and Simon working on yet another sick new project
Josh leading the first pitch of Chris' other freshly completed new line: The East Columbia Indirect (mid 5.12), located just right of Hobo's Haven on the east end of the East face of Snowpatch. Easily the highest quality route I've done in a long time!
Me leading the overhanging thin hands to fingers second pitch - photo: Joshua Lavigne
Josh leading the third pitch
Looking down at Simon and Chris climbing the route behind us. Simon is seen here leading the second pitch.
And looking down at Chris on the third pitch.
Here's a line of the East Columbia Indirect as seen from the Crecent Glacier. The fourth pitch finishes up the last pitch of the Power of Lard. Although 4 pitches is a short route by Bugaboo standards, I'm not sure of another route that has four pitches of this quality, sustained at 5.11+ with a few 5.12 cruxes. Soooo good! Start directly or scramble around via the the start of Sunshine Crack.
The Applebee gang
Lydia leading Sheldon's Corner, Easpost Spire
Josh on a new route .12b on Eastpost Spire
And then there's the Rockies.
Magda enjoying a really fun and new 12-pitch, 5.12- route on Ha Ling Peak above Canmore, called a Particular Manner of Expression. Cudos to Jeph Relph and a variety of partners for putting this one up.
Colin Haley on the Greenwood / Jones route on the North Face of Mt. Temple.
This classic really exceded my expectations and I'd highly recomend it. Better than the other routes I've climbed on Temples nordwand. Colin pulling a small overhang near the top of the rock.
Colin on the walking the line to the summit
A raven joined us on top. Here he's sitting right at the very peak, just a little bit higher than we made it!
On thanksgiving weekend, October 6-8, Raphael Slawinski and I climbed this line on Howse Peak - a combo of the NE buttress and some mixed variations It wasn't the line we set out to do but as the Stones said "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime you just might find, you get what you need". We got what we needed, a great adventure up an iconic peak!
Raphael looking for the way about a third of the way up
Our first bivi about halfway up
The first pitch of day two was more sideways than up, as we deked out of the mixed gully system and back onto the ridge.
Good rock climbing on the buttress
Raph following a little traverse between gully systems
Back into more mixed gully action, Chephren Lake below
Raphael sorting out the rope cluster in the sun
Fun couloir climbing in the M-16 gully
Still a bit of a cornice left from the revious winter. Fortunately it was easily passed
Raph taking in the view from the summit!
Our second bivi sight. After descending 1000m of the summit of Howse on our second day, it got dark as we arrived here. The following morning, we ascended 600m to the misty Epaulette / White Pyramid col above the tent, and then descended down to the river Icefield Parkway beyond. About 5.5 hours from the bivi to the road. All said and done, it was a very satisfying and rewarding adventure!
The following weekend, I couldn't help myself but go back to sport climbing.
Alpine climbing means a lot ot me, but it's pretty hard to beat the overhanging streaky rock at our local crags such as Bataan seen here. It's just so much fun I don't think I'll ever be full. Jen onsighting a .12a in the upper photo and Jonny cranking below on a chilly mid october day.