Josh Wharton and I must've used up our luck and good weather on his last two highly productive visits, because we just got pretty much shut down on all things alpine we were interested in. During the exact same dates as a year ago, we enjoyed a successful and rare repeat of the North Twin's Tower, while freezing levels remanied close to 4000m, and valley temps crested the 30 degree mark. This year, four out of the 7.5 days we just spent together were full winter days with relatively large amounts of snowfall, all the way to the valley, that firmly slammed the door on everything we hoped to do. We still drove many hundreds of kilometers trying to stay optimistic and psyched, but in the end, we had to settle for a warm-up day at Acephale (our favorite Bow Valley crag) before the apocolyptic weather began, and two days on Yamnuska working a 5.13 multi-pitch sport climb called Blue Jeans. It's not that there wasn't alpine objectives that would've been doable and perhaps enjoyable, we're just picky and like to stay focused on harder technical routes whenever possible.
Blue Jeans has only had one proper repeat (by Vikki Weldon) since it's first ascent four years ago (by Derek Galloway), and Josh was psyched to make the third. The highly technical climbing made quick redpointing a difficult propositon though, and it turned out that a mere two days wouldn't be enough to figure out the beta, and then link all the moves of the two crux pitches. Anyways, it was fun trying and a bit more effort next year will be needed for success.
Perhaps the most memorable part of the Blue Jeans adventure was the amount of snow we had to plough through just to get to it - thigh deep at times!!! Normally it would take an hour of hiking, although with all the fresh snow, it took over two hours on our first try, and it was -9 degrees Celcius at the car park when we left! Then in full sun, it was so hot on the rock that it felt hard to stick to the steep limestone. A couple days later, our apprach time was cut in half thanks to the trail being in, and some cloud cover greatly improved the friction. The first three pitches cruised by, but the fourth was the end of the redpoint attempt. Josh came close, but in the end we retreated. Here's a few pics:
On the approach trail. Had someone not hiked three quarters of the way the day before, we wouldn't have made it
Josh following the first pitch
Josh onsighting the second pitch
Josh starting the third pitch
Josh on the fourth pitch
Rock climbing in the Bow Valley has been so much fun lately, and although I've been mostly seasoning single pitch sport climbs at Bataan and Lake Louise, I've been really stoked on a couple of multi-pitch lines I've recently done.
Super Mega-Fauna (named after an encounter with a bear on the trail) was put up a few years back by the late, great Dave Thompson. Dave was one of the legendary route setters of the BV and this route is a prime example of his amazing drive. Sustained, technical, well bolted, and perched just above tree line ousted of Banff, it's a perfect route for summer. 8 pitches up the NE face of Mt. Edith and it definitely gets my recommendation.
Michelle Kadatz on Super Mega-Fauna
The NE face of Mt. Edith. SMF goes right up the middle of it.
Michelle halfway up the route
Another awesome line I climbed by another of the BV's best route setters is Silent Auction. Greg Tos opened this one up just a few months ago, and with five pitches of 5.12-, three of 5.11 and one of 5.10, this has to be one of the most sustained at its grade in the area. Highly recommended! Although it was sunny the day we climbed, there had been quite a bit of rain the week before, and we found the crux holds on the second and fourth pitches to be a little damp. Unfortunately the damp holds prevented us from getting the on-sight, on those pitches, but otherwise, we both managed to on-sight the rest of the route. There is so much good looking stone in this giant grotto on Grotto mountain just outside of Canmore, that I can only imagine this is perhaps the start of a stellar future climbing zone!
Samuel lambert on the 3rd pitch
Sam following the 4th pitch
Looking accross and all the unclimbed rock!
Sam following the wildly overhanging 6th pitch
Nice water streaks on the 7th pitch
Sam locking into a knee bar on the 9th pitch, and getting the first bit of sun of the day at around 3:30 in the afternoon. Climbing the whole route in the shade on a warm day made for perfect conditions. We both climbed every pitch pitch in a t-shirt, and hauled a light bag with a light puffy jacket each for the belays.
As I write this, I'm only a few hours away from my second trip into the Bugaboos this summer. So Stoked!!! The first trip was amazing with adventures on the Minaret Tower and amongst the Pigeon Feathers, and no doubt the second one will be super fun too. I'll post some pics when I'm back in August...
As usual, the Bugaboos feed my stoke. I've been in there four times this year, and so far there have been four highlights. All have been ascents of rarely climbed, somewhat obscure routes, and all have been shared with a different, extremely talented partners whom I feel fortunate to be friends with. And of course it's always good to see all the usual suspects that make annual pilgrimages to Applebee Camp, and share some fine single malts and stories of their adventures too. It's part of what I look forward to when I go to the Bugs. It's funny how some folk you don't see for a year but then see on a regular basis between climibng sessions. Both the comraderie and epic adventures are the key ingredients that make the Bugs my favorite venue. Anyways... THe highlights:
The Midnight Route, East face of Bugaboo Spire:
Jon Simms convinced me to take on lap on this gem of route with him. A couple years earlier, Jon and Chris Brazeau had managed the first free ascent, although they had traversed right to the ridge in a storm, two pitches below the top. A two pitch direct finish awaited, and this was what we set our sight on. Unfortunately, the .12b crux was wet and we had to french free a few moves, but lots of sustained and heady 5.11+ kept us entertained and digging deep pitch after pitch. I was sandbagged into not bringing some pitons, but what are friends for? The intensity was high as I built nests of RP's in sustained 5.11+ sections and ran it out above them, but I was always amazed by the quality of the climbing. We managed one of the direct finish pitches but again, an electrical storm thwarted us with one pitch to the ridge, and we rappelled. This is a route that with a little bit of love in the form of a wee bit of traffic, maybe a bolted station or two to make the a couple of semi hanging belays less rugged, would be world class for those seeking a steep sustained adventure up one of the most looked at yet most ignored faces in the Bugs!
Spicy Red Beans and Rice FFA / Shooting galery / a few new pitches
A couple weeks later, I was back with Josh Lavigne with the remote 900 meter West Face of THe North Howser Tower on our radar. It's the biggest face in the Bugs and Josh is obsessed with it, having previously climbed it six times, four more than me, and likely twice as many as anyone else! Pretty impressive considering it's a five hour approach from Applebee to the base, and requires 4 very committing rappels even to get to it. If you have to bail from the face, it's a very long walk of shame to get out of the remote valley. This time, we were back there looking for first ascents and first free ascents, but got off to a dead end start right off the bat on the route Young Men on Fire which proved to difficult to free, without a ton of preparations we weren't prepared to make! But a quick rappel, then two and a half pitches of the Shooting Gallery went smoothly. A short traverse left around the corner and we were into a virgin ground. A couple pitches of some very nice finger cracks up to 5.11-, gave way to the easier terrain near the halfway ledge. As the upper headwall came into view, we couldn't help but be drawn in by the clean white right facing corner system of the Warrior, a 1974 Hugh Burton and Steve Sutton A3. Hopefully it would go free we though as we gravitated towards it. We easily traversed across the Seventh Rifle gully, dropped off a bit of stuff on some comfy bivi ledges below the line where we'd hunker down for the night as planned. Suddenly a continuous splitter crack system about 15 meters right of the Warrior corner now grabbed out attention and we immediately set out for it, with intents of fixing our two ropes, then returning to the ledge for the night. The first pitch was on the Warrior, but a ten meter traverse right into the crack system on the second pitch brought us into the first pitch of sustained 5.11+ finger cracks that would continue for many pitches to come.
Despite just one tarp and one Thermarest between us, the bivouac wasn't too bad, as the it was calm and mild night. Ascending the two ropes in the morning warmed us right up, and we were treated to an amazing splitter and the best pitch of the route for the first pitch of the day. About four pitches later, we found ourselves back in the Warrior, and followed it to the summit ridge. The rest of the day went smoothly with us swapping leads, and on-sighting every pitch. Ocassionally the seconder would jumar with the not so light pack. We had hauled a few times but the pack was falling apart and on the verge of spilling it's contents. Given the sustained difficulty and the fact we both had work commitments the next day, it seemed prudent to conserve energy this way. Upon returning to civilization and doing our homework, it appeared we had climbed Spicy Red Beans and Rice (Cameron Tague / Eric Greene,1997, 5.12- A1), with a one or two pitch variation to the right. We though it was one of the best climbs we've done, and much better quality than it's popular neigbour - All Along the Watchtower. Definitely a bit more sustained and harder overall, but not such a difficult crux! The A1 grade can now be removed, and the original topo can be found here. The actual line of this route is slightly left of what is shown in the picture in the Bugaboo guidebook...
Photo: John Schurlock
Sweet Sylvia, East Face of Snowpatch
A sweet route indeed. Chris Brazeau and I had climbed this before but we were now back to try and free our variations we had done a few years back. At about mid height, there are two parallel splitters. You'd be blind not to notice them (they stand out from very far away), and they both start off a huge semi detatched flake. The original route heads up the left crack and it gets wide as in off-width. The right one (which we assume we may have been the first climbers up it a few years back), starts out with 30 meters of slightly overhanging hands, before tapering down through the sizes. A short section of purple camelots provides the .12b crux which Chris managed to send this time. A short rest is reached as the two cracks merge, but a mandatory short o.w. guards the anchor so don't forget to bring your #4 camelot (or maybe two of them). Laybacking these last two bodylengths is definitely the easy way, to one of the sweetest belay ledges in Bugs. The next pitch is a real blockbuster, meat and potatoes, wide corner crack. I think I'd want three #4 camelots next time I lead it. Only rated .11a, but very sustained and about as burly as just about any 5.11 pitch in the bugs! Absolutely incredible though!! Another pitch and we ventured off on a variation finish. After a little prep work, our light start disappearing so we gunned it for the chains at the top of Sunshine Crack - our descent route. I led the last pitch as the moon rose in the alpenglow south eastern sky. To make a long story short, we were both stoked and completely destroyed, and will definitely be back for more.
Minataur, East face of Snowpatch - First ascent
Colin Moorhead was back in hood after an absence of several years, and we were stoked to team up again. Not only as old friends, but also because we're both very passionate about putting up our own lines rather than climbing someone else's, and we both have a very creative eye when it comes to seeing passage up big granite walls. Naturally, we started making plans. I'll post more on this later, but the short version goes like this: Minotaur climbs the first four pitches of Labyrinth, a route I authored with Jon Simms a couple of years ago. It then branches off left for eight pitches, three of them part of an aid route call Les Bruines Es Pentinen, and then re-joins Labyrinth for it's final three pitches. The belays we used are marked in yellow on the photo. Over two days, we managed to free it all at 5.12- which there are three pitches of, and much 5.11 as well. All and all, we though it was a great route, we had a great time climbing it, and we'd definitely recommend it to others. It's prepped with 7 fixed pitons, 1 bolt, a couple of fixed nuts in key places, and the cracks have been excavated enough for the onsight now. A few times, we had to clean some crux sections, and then lower down to the no hands rest before sending them from there. Like I said, I'll post more on this route in the near future. I suspect most people should be able to figure out the meaning of the name(s). Especially if you venture into it!