Storm Creek Headwall


KAHVEOLOGY - (The science of coffee)
160m, M8 WI5  First ascent by Jon Simms and Jon Walsh, Jan 23rd, 2015


Simms on the approach

Jonny “the Simmulator” Simms and I had a good Man Yoga practice at the Storm Creek Headwall, in Kootenay National Park.  Despite much thinner that usual ice-conditions this year, the end result was Kahveology, a new 4-pitch mixed route, that’s essentially the direct start to final ice pillar of Check Your Head, another route I co-authored a couple years ago with Jason Kruk and Joshua Lavigne.   Kahveology means the Science of coffee, and it’s a also a company in Portland that named one of their coffee blends Man Yoga, after the route on the Stanley Headwall that Simms and I authored, and Joshua Lavigne made an entertaining video of.  We were so honoured they named the main blend served in their shop after us, we named our latest route after them, to complete the circle, as well as a thank you for sending some of their crucial beans our way!  Being the serious coffee fiend that I am, I would definitely drink it all the time if it was closer to home.  

Crucial coffee in necessary for Man Yoga

Anyways, while descending from Check Your Head by headlamp, straight down, rather than reversing a couple traverses we had made, I couldn’t help but notice the immaculate, featured, overhanging limestone that directly lead to a tongue of ice that slithered halfway down it, flowing from the pillar.  What particularly caught my eye was the abundance of natural protection, somewhat rare for a steeper-than-vertical angle, and I immediately planned to come back someday to attempt it.  

Through the crux of the first pitch

That finally came a week ago, as Michelle and I skied up there on a cold day.   I did get on it, but unfortunately, couldn’t make it go bolt free, like I’d been dreaming about.   The route starts with about ten meters of easy stuff to get to the back of a cave.  Unsurprisingly, the back of the cave was chossy, and I had to place two bolts just to get into the steep climbing.  Then two more bolts got placed as I blew my gear and tools out on body weight placements.  With four bolts placed through the steepest and hardest pulls, I got to a nice crack which marked the beginning of what’s probably the best stretch of limestone I’ve ever dry tooled on.  Eventually, I placed two more bolts, perhaps unnecessary ones (although I was pretty psyched to clip them on the redpoint burn a week later), before getting to a fixed-nut rappel anchor left from a couple years ago, which marked the end of the day.   Many thanks to Michelle for enduring a long cold belay.  

Higher on the first pitch but still 15 meters to go

Six days later, the stars aligned for us.   It was much milder making for perfect conditions, the track was still good, and Simms and I made it to the base in 2 hours at a casual pace.  With the route prepped, I was able to get the redpoint, and was even egged on to make it a “mega-pitch” and keep climbing all the way to a small ledge, just above the bottom of the ice.  Definitely one of the best pitches I’ve done in the Rockies.  After a few steep pulls out the cave, the angle eases to vertical to slightly overhanging for about 30-meters, with numerous bulges to negotiate.  Perfect torquing cracks and incut holds, made for really fun sustained climbing, with enough stances to shake out from, although never a hands free position until the belay.  

A raw unfiltered video of on the second pitch

And on on the fourth

The second pitch was also new and of similar quality, although it followed a fragile strip of ice that on average was an inch thick and a foot wide.  By the time we were done it, the snow was falling so we had to hurry as a 2000’ couloir was above the route.  Sure enough, it wasn’t long before huge sloughs started coming down at frequent intervals.  We split the last 60-meters of ice into two pitches as there was a good belay spot on the right below a rock overhang and we only had a 50-meter rope.  We had also brought the drill and installed bolted anchors the whole way right to the top, with hopes it will entice others to get out and try this incredibly high quality route.  

starting pitch 2


Higher on pitch 2

Simms on pitch 3

me following it

pitch 4 as the storm intensifies

rappelling from the top.  We had a lot of snow come down on us and around us over the course of four rappels 

The Beta:
Approach: Park at the Stanley Headwall.  Walk or ski for two to three hours depending on conditions.  It is one of the closest to the road on the Storm creek headwall, and you can see the upper ice from the highway.  I believe it’s probably climbable most years.  
-2 ropes, 50-meters will suffice if you have them and want to carry less weight.
-12-14 quick draws, which should include a few long ones
-6 screws, mostly 10-13 cms
-stoppers from 4-11
-Pitons: optional….I placed one #3 Pecker and left it fixed on the second pitch
-I had a double rack of cams up to #3 camelot, and 1 #4.  I didn’t need much in the really small sizes.  I did place two #3’s on the fist pitch, but would probably have been ok with a single set in the hand crack sizes.   Definitely double up in the .3, .4, and .5 camelot sizes, and maybe a bit more.  

There is a sheltered spot below a small overhang about 20 meters down and lookers right of the route to gear up, and leave your skis and packs.

THe route as seen from the approach

Pitch 1:  45m M8 - From the highest point of snow below the ice, trend slight right up easy, scrappy, mixed snow ice and rock.  A fist crack provides protection for a steep bodylength to the chossy back of the cave.  Follow 4 bolts up and left requiring a few honest pulls, to get to a nice crack.  Follow that up.  It soon passes two more bolts and a fixed nut from the old rappel anchor.  After those, trend right, then back left to a bulge below the ice which is used to gain a small ledge and a bolted anchor on the right.  Be sure to put a runner on the first bolt, a medium length draw on the second bolt, and extend other cams etc. where necessary to reduce rope drag.

Pitch 2: 50m M6 R - This might be much easier on fatter years.  An 80-degree ice goulotte, with occasional rock pro for 15-meters, leads to average 60-degree terrain.  It was a very consistent 3 cm thick the entire way for us, and was unprotectable for 30 meters after the angle kicked back.  A fall would be serious.  Fortunately, the ice we had was of excellent quality making it a reasonable endeavour.  The bolted anchor is about 5 meters right of the pillar.

Pitch 3: 30m WI5 - Steep ice, thin and hard to protect at the first, but it does improve.  A bolted anchor is on the right below a rock roof.

Pitch 4:  25m WI4 - Straight forward ice climbing.  The bolted anchor is about 3-4 meters above the top of the ice in some rock.

The Plum

The Plum  WI6 M7, 120m, first ascent: Marc-Andre Leclerc and Jon Walsh Nov. 8, 2014
A new traditional mixed route with no bolts, at the Storm Creek Headwall, Kootenay National Park B.C.

Marc on the approach, with the route marked in red, the belays in green, and the snowslope approach in thick red.

On Saterday November 8th, Marc-Andre and I completed the first ascent of The Plum, a line that’s been in the back in the mind, and in my dreams for the past decade.  It follows a slender flow of ice that drips down the nose of a steep butress, creating funky mushrooms, daggers and pillars, that are a real treat to climb on.    I had attempted it approximately ten years ago with my ice mentor Rich Marshall.  After climbing a pitch of steep ice out of the big cave which eventually became the first pitch of The Peach, another fine addition to Rockies trad mixed by Raphael Slawinski, Rich proceeded to lead what was the wildest pitch he had ever led - he later confessed, as well as one on the craziest leads I’d ever witnessed.  Committed after climbing through a couple of M6 overhangs, he continued up for 25m of vertical ice that averaged about 2cm thick, with only 2 knifeblades below him, and no opportunity for further protection!  With laser-like focus, he slowly tapped and tested his picks in the verglas (which he thought would be little thicker), shook out his pump, and forged on.  Fortunately thin ice was his specialty and despite the x-rating and extreme intensity, he was in his element.  I honestly don’t think many others could have pulled off such a lead, and following it, I often found myself hanging just from the first tooth of my picks.  I led a short pitch above his anchor, but with darkness closing in and another wild and committing bit of climbing above, I had to build an anchor and lower off, ending our attempt.  

Rich Marshall attemping the route circa 2004

That day entrenched itself in my memorey.  I’ve been back to that part of the Storm Creek headwall a few times over the years since, always interested to see what that sector of the wasll was looking like, but never saw the buttress ice up enough to look inviting again.  Cold snaps likely cause the early season ice to delaminate and then it just doesn't reform, hence, this is really a late fall to early winter route, and perhaps one that only occationaly comes in.  One wseek ago, however, Michelle and I were hoping to climb something in the area, but unseasonally warm temperatures made being below any steep or thin ice too dangerous, so our day turned out to be nothing more than hiking and scoping.  We ventured far enough up valley to see that more ice was dripping down the dream line than I had ever imagined, and upon returning to the valley, it dominated my thoughts for the following week.  Luckily Marc-Andre Leclerc was heading to the Rockies for the first time and was keen to get out, and I figured it would be great first route for us to climb together, as well as perfect intro to the Rockies for him, as he is known to have a solid head for intense climbing, and power to spare.   And I say luckily because the Banff Film festival was responsible for tying up most of my other partners who I would normally try to recruit for such an outing.

Upon getting to the base of the route, Marc immediately arranged rock rack on his harness, so instead of the usual rock paper scissors for first lead, I offered it to him as he seamed so keen.  Two options presented themselves and he chose the left one, a shallow right facing corner with a bit of ice dripping down it and small icicles decorating the wall around it dangling like christmas tree ornaments.  The climbing was steep and thin, and long technical moves were common.  The protection was tricky too, and Marc moved slowly but confidently, and made steady upward progress, never knowing where the next hold or piece of protection would appear.  A cruxy pull over the roof on 1-2 cm thick ice followed by a fun iced up handcrack and a good ledge to belay at.  It was definitely the best first lead in the Rockies I’ve ever witnessed!  Three out of the 4 pitons he placed were left fixed.

Marc near the beginning of the first pitch

Marc setting up to pull the roof on the first pitch

Here Marc is trying to get his tools established in ice that mostly falls apart when weighted

The next pitch was pure fun, and I was psyched to get this one as this type of climbing is always special to me - steep, thin ice climbing with most of the gear in the rock!  I was surprised to pass the old anchor from ten years ago that I had built, as I thought we might have been further right, but it gave me a good boost of inspiration to have joined out original line, and I felt determined to finish the business.   From a stance at the top of strange fin like pillar of rock, an anemic ice pillar guarded the crux and the weakness through the overhanging wall.  I climbed delicately to its front, and pounded a knifeblade into a seam to its left, preparing mentally for some very engaging climbing above.   But then I noticed an suspicious, yet inviting foot-hold to my left, right on the crest of the arete.  I stepped over to it, and saw a I could turn the corner, and traverse into some ice runnels of better, less fragile and more protectable terrain that led to the same place.  Once in the runnels, my pace picked up and I made it to a perfect belay ledge with good cracks for an anchor, just as I ran out of rope.  As Marc neared the station, he asked if all climbing in the Rockies was this good, and I had to apologize for spoiling him on his first route, as this was about as good as it gets!   

Me, on some very fun ice climbing near the start of the second pitch. Photo by Marc-Andre Leclerc

Marc nearing the top of pitch 2.  This bit reminded of some of the climbing I did in Scotland last February.

He easily dispatched the last pitch of grade 4 ice, and we were soon on our way to down, stoked, and talking about more possibilities in the upcoming weeks.  Although the difficulties of this route weren’t too hard on top rope for the seconder, leading the first two pitches and following them were completely different things, and the intensity and seriousness far exceeded the technical levels of the climbing.  

Marc leading pitch 3 as it begins to snow lightly.

For me personally, it was awesome to have shared Marc’s first experience in the Rockies in this way, and to have finished an old project - one I dreampt about for so many years.  It was also an amazing feeling to have walked up to a line such as this, and to have completed it first try without placing any bolts.  We did carry a bolt kit in the pack, but fortunately that was where it stayed.  I think it’s pretty obvious from what’s written here, that this line comes highly recommended to those who like the style of proper traditional mixed, in a wild setting :)

Approach notes:  It took us 3 hours to hike from the Stanley Headwall parking lot in ankle-deep snow, that became knee-deep closer to the route.  The climb is about halfway along the Storm Creek headwall and just right of The Peach, which is the route up big hanging icicles in the photo.  We used an exposed snow ramp that came in from the right to get to the start of the first pitch, and reversed it after two long rappels from the top of the climb.  Do not consider going here in times of high avalanche hazard!

Pitch 1:  40m M7.  Traverse easily left from the belay, then make steep moves to gain a shallow right facing corner that leads to a roof.  We left two peckers and a knifeblade fixed in the corner.  Move left through the roof to gain a good crack that trends back right to a belay ledge with many good anchor options.  The gear on this pitch is a little bit un-obvious but seemed adequate.  Having the three fixed pieces should help…

Pitch 2: 60m WI6.  Work through ice blobs and mushrooms, past an old anchor (we used this for rappelling), to stance below an overhang.  Delicate moves up and left past some delicate ice, then around the arete on good holds, gain ice filled grooves  that lead to an excellent ledge with a good cracks for an anchor a few meters left of the main ice flow.  Most of the protection was in the rock, although I did place 6 ice screws as well.  This pitch was 90% ice, and 10% rock moves, although we felt like just an ice-grade was more appropriate.  The WI6 grade is a definitely more for the technical difficulties then the pump, and harder than your average pitch of “fat” WI6…

Pitch 3.  20m WI4.  Vertical for a bit, then easier.  This pitch could vary in difficulty depending on the thickness of the ice.  A fixed rock anchor of two stoppers is just beyond the end of the ice.

Rack beta:  We had a double set of cams from tips to #2 camelot, one #3, and one #4 camelot.  Doubles from tips to .75 camelot was nice, but singles from #1 to #4 would suffice.  A few pitons, nuts, and a half-dozen screws in the 10-13 cm range would be enough in the same conditions.  14 quick draws wasn’t quite enough for the long second pitch and I was wishing I had a couple more…