Monday, December 17, 2007
2 Low 4 Zero is in its usual thin shape but it looks to have been climbed recently (bring lots of stubby screws and maybe even a few pins). Chantilly Falls looks blue and wet; however, the last step hasn't fully filled out yet and looks a little bit too pillar-like to be called WI2.
The ice festival saga continues. Last weekend was the 9th annual Canmore Ice Climbing Festival. This is always an awesome event but of course I am biased since it is my home town. Lots of clinics, fun events, parties, comps and good energy. I presented a slide show for the opening evening event which was well received then taught an advanced mixed climbing clinic the following day. I missed the "Tight and Bright" party on the Saturday night but heard it went off. I managed to take 3rd place in the speed competition on the ice wall on the Sunday. Two weekends in a row (Bozeman last weekend) and two 3rd places; I'm not sure if that is a good or bad rut to be in. The ice wall and sponsor bazaar was well attended both days despite Arctic temperatures. In my opinion, this event has improved since Yamnuska Mountain Adventures took it over 2 years ago and I think it will continue to grow. www.canmoreiceclimbingfestival.com
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
The following are the results:
MENS INVITATIONAL STANDINGS
1. Ross Lynn & Guy Lacelle - 9,950 with a 300 point time penalty for 9,650 points : 13 pitches. Elevator Shaft, The Fat One, The Itchy & Scratchy Show, The Scrappy One, Upper Greensleeves Right, Upper Greensleeves Left, Genesis I, Hang Over, Hang Over Mixed Variation, Genesis II, Slot Corner 2nd pitch, The Curtains, Over Easy.
2. Chris Hamilton & Steven Koch - 9,500 points with a 400 point time penalty for 9,100 points: 12 pitches. Elevator Shaft, The Itchy & Scratchy Show, Mummy Cooler II, The Sceptre, Fat Chance, Thin Chance, Switchback Falls, Crypt Orchid, Cave & Gully, Feeding the Cat, Twin Falls Left, Twin Falls Right.
3. Adam Knoff & Sean Issac - 8,750 points with no time penalty: 11 pitches. The Sceptre, Fat Chance, Thin Chance, The White Zombie, Twin Falls Left, Twin Falls Right, Slot Corner 2nd pitch, Land of the Lost, The Curtains, Over Easy.
4. Whit Magro & Rob Cordery-Cotter - 8,750 with a 200 point time penalty for 8,550 points : 11 pitches. The Itchy & Scratchy Show, The Thrill is Gone, Magically Delish, Fat Chance, The White Zombie, Thin Chance, Sun Vow, Desert Dance, Switchback Falls, Twin Falls Left, Twin Falls Right.
5. Nate Opp & Brian Prax - 7,800 with a 100 point time penalty for 7,700 points : 10 pitches. The Fat One, Magically Delish, Upper Greensleeves Left, Upper Greensleeves Right, Genesis I, Hang Over, Hang Over Mixed Variation, Genesis II, The Curtains, Over Easy.
6. Kris Erickson & Pierre Darbellay - 6,450 with a 200 point time penalty for 6,350 points : 7 pitches. The Good Looking One, Mummy Cooler II, Mummy Cooler III, Mummy Cooler IV, The Sceptre, Dribbles.
WOMENS INVITATIONAL STANDINGS
1. Jen Olson & Sarah Hueniken - 6,750 points : 9 pitches. Mummy Cooler I, Mummy Cooler II, Fat Chance, The White Zombie, Thin Chance, Switchback Falls, The Overgrown Gully, Twin Falls Left, Twin Falls Right.
2. Meg Hall & Zoe Hart - 2,850 points : 5 pitches. The Fat One, The Scrappy One, The Thrill is Gone, Clump Tree Gully, Genesis I.
3. Amy Bullard & Kitty Calhoun - 2,000 points : 3 pitches. The Fat One, Fat Chance, Over Easy.
On Friday, Chris Alstrin and I checked out the Bingo World cave where locals have been bolting horizontal drytooling roofs. I remember seeing this cave 8 years ago when Pete Tapley was giving me a tour. I was surprised then that no one had tackled this obvious challenge. I am psyched to see it is no longer being ignored. After flogging ourselves in the cave, we did a lap up the Elevator Shaft, a classic WI4.
Saturday and Sunday were spent teaching clinics for the festival. I really enjoy this aspect of these vents because its gets folks psyched on ice climbing. Both days participants left with tired arms and big smiles. Mission complete.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Approach beta: Park at the "official" Heart Creek parking area. Follow the Trans-Canada hiking trail west (towards Canmore) for 30m to the dry creek bed. Hike up this for approx 5 minutes to a cairn where you move left into the forest on a trail. This trail is followed steeply up the spur boradering the left margin of the gully. Where it flattens out you will get a good view of the route. Continue following the trail which leads up a treed spur away from the climb. Near the top follow game trails right contouring into the base of the route.
The anchor situation has changed this year since parks cut down all the burnt trees along the rim. There are various new bolt anchors from the past few seasons that you can use or try to make V-thread anchors in the ice near the lip of the routes.
Weathering Heights is also fat but is wet so not a good for cold days unless you like cables for ropes.
Malignant Mushrooms is not in nor is Aquarius.
Wicked Wanda looks big from the parking lot.
Nice clear-cuts near the Big Hill. Feels strange that driving across a creek is bad but de-forestation is perfectly fine.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Monday, August 27, 2007
The storm snow has repaired the final ice face providing 20cm of supportive snow over the ice allowing for good steps with ice screw anchors (you have to dig down for the ice though). The bergshrund is also in good shape providing several options on the left side for crossing. Some breakable crust (2cm melt-freeze crust over 20-30cm of storm snow) on the glacier making for punchy trail breaking.
Aidan Millar (11 years old) has spent every summer of his life under the bulk of Huber. This was his first time climbing it. Maybe Mt Victoria next when he is 12. I was impressed by his strength as we managed the climb up and down in 9 1/2 hours. Good job Aidan! Also with us was his dad, Bruce (owner/manager of the lodge), and his nephew, Eric.
The original plan was Mt Victoria but bad weather had us executing Plan D! Natasha (13) and Alexander (9) had an adventursome day nonetheless. It is fun to get out with youth who are keen on the mountains.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Cooler temps and clear skies promoted a solid overnight freeze. We were pleasantly surprised to find the bergshrund well bridged with re-frozen debris. Good alpine ice on the face with a 2cm of soft recrystalized surface ice overlying the permanent blue ice. Only a small bit of old cornice remaining on the far right of the top-out. Start as early as possible because by 7am a few sun warmed rocks were beginning to clatter down.
The west ridge is bone dry making for quick travel. The bergshrund at the base of the short ice face leading to the ridge is easily passable (going up or down). The Roth-Kallen is a dirt chute complete with gaping shrund. Definitely should be avoided.
Of note, there is no cell phone coverage at the Neil Colgan hut (I'm with Rogers) but by hiking only 30 vertical meters up hill behind the hut on the scree ridge of Mt Little, I was able to get full reception. Perfect for getting updated weather forecasts and reading bedtime stories to the kids.
All photos by Mark Pijl Zieber.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Not sure if these are isolated events or related but I would be cautious about what I decided to climb and what I hiked under the next couple of weeks until things settle out. I've even put off guiding plans for the NE buttress of Chinaman's peak (Ha Ling) for a week or so to make sure.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Day 2: Departed camp at 6:15am (-10 C and calm wind) and worked up the glacier to the top of the Conrad Icefield. Instead of following the route as described in the guide book we stayed skiers left aiming for GR088246 which deposited us at heli flags. A notch through the rock ridge got us easily to the top of the Conrad Icefield. We doubled poled down the gentle glacier to an icefall at GR063271 which we took on skiers left near the rocks. Skins back on to work up around Mt Thorington then another good run down to Crystalline Pass. We spent a 1 1/2 hours brewing up then started the long contour to Climax Col. This is one of the cruxes of the trip and should be done in the am but we found ourselves dealing with it at 5pm. Steep boot packing and a cornice got us to the narrow ridge. The other side is very steep and west facing thus baking in the sun. We probably should have waited but pushed on through some spooky snow (Mike ski cut a size 1 wet point release). A short 100m descent from the col then we skinned up to the Hume Pass (heli flags) at 6:45. The descent from Hume Pass was the worse of the trip: bad snow compounded by bad visibility. We dropped off the ridge too early instead of following it to the actual Hume Pass. We paid for our mistake by losing time negotiating cliff bands. We bumbled our way down to treeline and started setting up camp at 8pm @ 6000ft in the trees.
west side of Climax Col (Daryl Ross photo)
Day 3: We managed to leave camp by 5:30am reaching Snowman (aka Snowmobile) Lake at 7:15am. Sled tracks and highpoint marks everywhere. Quite industrial for the backcountry. Luckily it was not the weekend. We hit Syncline pass at 11am (L SW, SH 5 on 3mm MFC) and skied the Vermont Glacier down to treeline opting to avoid the Syphanx high route. A hot, sunny slog got us to the ridge above and east of the Syphanx Col (GR983456). We then skied an awesome Bobby Burns heli run (Action Direct) straight down to our cache in Malachite Creek. An evening of cheese smokies, brie, two bite brownies and 12-year old Glen Livet helped recharge the batteries.
east side of Climax Col (Daryl Ross photo)
Day 4: Left camp at 5:45am then used boot crampons to climb the steep slope to Malachite Col (9:30am). At this point, our blue sky weather changed to whiteout conditions on the Carbonate Icefield. As we neared the western edge of the glacier, Daryl, second from the front, fell into a crevasse. At that pint Mike realized he was also on a snow bridge. An intense hour ensued as Daryl extracted himself from the slot and we probed our way to solid ground. We booted down the scree ridge onto International Glacier at 12:30 and used the compass and GPS to navigate our way to the valley. We hit the International Hut at 3:45 and brewed up for over an hour. We left at 5pm intent on reaching McMurdo Hut that night. Complex route finding through cliffs and spurs south of Mt David ate up time and we ended up bivying high on the south ridge of Mt David. We dug in at 9:30 and finally went to bed at midnight.
Upper Vowell Glacier (Daryl Ross photo)
Day 5: A slow start the next morning had us boot packing to the top of the ridge by 7am. A short 25m rappel from hand-placed chockstones got us to where we needed to be. A short skin up and we were at the top of the Spillimachen Glacier. The new 10-15cm of storm snow from the previous afternoon gave us great skiing down the glacier to the McMurdo Hut (reached at 10am).
My knee was tweaking and I was not keen on totally thrashing it so I decided to fly out from here having completed the Purcell section of the trip. The other 3 continued on for the Selkirk portion to Roger's pass. They left McMurdo by noon and skied up through Silent Pass and down into the Beaver Valley where they saw fresh grizzly tracks. That night they slept at the base of the steep slope leading up to Beaver Outlook. The next day they skied onto the Deville neve, did the rappels down the headwall, skied up past the Witch Tower onto the Illecillewaet Neve and got to Roger's Pass at midnight. Proud effort!
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Saturday, April 14, 2007
The weather made an about face that night with the blue skies changing to grey overcast sky and light snow. We woke at 6:30am and departed by 8am for Isolated Col. We worked up the ramp to the col (9:15am) in a whiteout then descended the other side into Little Yoho Valley. We avoided the wind scoops in the gully by cutting skiers left over a rib and into the next gully east. At treeline, we maintained our elevation and contoured skiers right through trees to gain the head of the valley. From here we worked up moraines and a narrow draw to the small glacier on the north side of Emerald Pass (12:30pm). The descent of the other side into Emerald Basin looked big, complicated and exposed. We were glad for the overcast sky which minimize the overhead hazards. If it was sunny, we would have bailed and had to ski out Little Yoho Pass which would have reached Emerald Lake by a safer option.
This is a frightening place that I doubt I ever want to ski again. Tons of exposure to overhead hazards like cornices, multiple converging avi paths, cliffs, etc. Of the 1200m vertical, we experienced breakable sun crust on the upper 400m, rock-hard melt-freeze crust in the middle 400m and piles of avi debris on the lower 400m. I didn't take a single photo of this section because we were focused on getting out of there. Nothing like a big terrifying place to make you feel really small. A friend who had done it the week before quipped, "might as well turn your beacon off and put it in the pack cause it ain't going to help in there". It might have been scary but at least the skiing was really bad....
Weather: Yesterday was blue sky and -7C on the Wapta (@ the Gordon-Rhonda Col) @ 2:30pm. Started snowing around mid-night, with 3cm of HST at our camp near the toe of the Des Poilus Glacier. Moderate SW winds both days. Overcast ceiling hovering around 2900m today.
Avalanche Activity: none observed.
Snowpack: HS on the Wapta and Emerald glaciers was 230+ cm. A variety of surfaces ranging from wind pressed defrags on the flats; boilerplate sun / melt-freeze crust on south aspects and wind deposited powder (up to 10cm) on north aspects.
Ski Quality / Travel Conditions: We had absolutely no good skiing. Breakable sun crust on south aspects above treeline. (ie - all of our descents; down the Des Poilus Headwall, Isolated Col and Emerald Basin). However, we skinned up some nice dry powder on the north slope of Isolated Col which would have been good skiing if we were going the other direction. Travel was fast with ski pen ranging from 0 to 5cm. We did not need ski crampons. The crust was mature and supportable in the valley bottoms.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Weather: Broken skies all morning. At Lake Agnus it was-4 C @ 9am @ 2135m with calm winds. On the summit of St-Piran (2649m) we observed moderate gusting to strong west wind. No precipitation all day despite a promising weather forecast.
Snowpack: Melt-freeze crust (2cm thick) was strong and supported skis on south and east aspects. We did not venture on north and west aspects. The crust was still supportive down to 1950m by noon. Below 1950m the crust was breakable with moist snow underneath.
Ski Quality: Fast travel on supportive melt-freeze crust. Turns were noisy and fast; not dissimilar to Norquay first thing in the morning.
Monday, April 9, 2007
Snowpack: A variety of snow surfaces ranging from recrystallized facets to a thin unsupportable sun / temperature crust. In the trees around 200m we found moist bottomless mash potatoes. In the gully itself, the snow pack is thin with lots of rocks poking through on the edges.
Friday, April 6, 2007
For the descent, we choose to drop into the couloir that dives straight for the Trans Canada Highway near Field. This is an amazing line when viewed from the highway or Mt Field but good stability is required. It is a huge hourglass with a big bowl funnelling into a 2m wide gully at mid-height. A couple parties ahead of us had already skied it that day so we followed there tracks into the huge toilet bowl. I know a bunch of folks that have skied this shot but usually the snow sucks. We had bomber conditions with a good 10cm of fluff over crust. As the narrows approached, jump turns were needed to check speed. If you are a hot skier , you may choose to straight line the narrows but I am not such a skier so opted for the conservative approach of side-slipping. Just before the gully opens up and lessens in angle a short 1m step of blue water ice needs to be slipped over.
The gully then opens into a bowl and mellows out until treeline where it drops steeply into a drainage. This gully felt not dissimilar to a terrain park at the resort complete with halfpipe feature, drops, and obstacles. The odd bit of sun-crust had to be dealt with but for the most part it was good skiing the whole way. From the summit at 3200m to the highway at 1400m, it is a 1800m descent. Add on our little 100m lap on the way up makes for a 1900m day.
Weather: We cooked from solar radiation on the way up despite thermometers reading -11 C at 1pm at 3000m. Scattered sky all day with mainly calm winds. On the summit a light SW wind.
Snow: HS was 220cm on the flats of the glacier at the col between Cathedral Peak and Cathedral Crags. Melt-freeze crust stayed intact all day even as low as 1400m. Ski pen ranged from 5 to 10cm of HST laying over the crust. Surface form is still stellars with no wind affect.
Avalanche Activity: None observed. Ski cut steep convex rolls with no results. Minor pinwheeling on steep south aspects.
Ski Quality: Good dust on crust on all aspects / all elevations. A little sun crust near treeline. Didn't need ski crampons.
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Ski quality was amazing, complete with faces shots. After we destroyed every chute, Ross and the two John's had to get back to town but Jeff and I were hungry for more. We headed over to the twin paths before Super Slope. 20cm of cold powder on a strong melt-freeze crust provided fast skiing. It was so good we headed back up for a second lap.
This was my first time skiing at Tryst and I have always heard that it is usually skied out. We felt lucky to have fresh tracks all day. In total, we managed 1750m of vertical.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Leaving the car at 7am at the Goat Creek parking lot, we transitioned a few times between skinning the icy trail and hiking until we finally decided hiking was easier. The wind was gusty strong from the west once on the ridge between Ha Ling and Miner's Peak threatening to blow us off. It felt very wintry despite the air temperature only being -5 C. Even though there hasn't been much new snow for transport, intense ridge top transport was observed.
A test pit at the top of the couloir revealed 55cm of HST and wind deposited snow sitting on the rain crust. A compression test produced the low end of hard results (CTH 21) and was quite resistant (not planer). HS was 220cm. Ski pen was 15cm with the top of the gully providing good powder but the lower section turning wind crusted. In general, good quality skiing and a classic line.
Instead, of continuing down the open bowl (traditional descent), we traverse skiers right and donned crampons for a 1.5 hour (600m) boot pack up the S-couloir on the east side of the North Face of Lawrence Grassi Peak. The gully (which occasionally gets skied) is steep (up to 50 degrees) and narrow (2m wide in places). We managed to stay on old debris most of the way but had to climb over some thin spooky slabs (2-10cm thick). We topped out at 2700m on the ridge not far below the summit.
Upon seeing the route over Ship's Prow, we immediately shit-canned the plan without need for discussion. It looked too exposed and sketchy so we skied the SE aspect down to below Ship's Prow for 1100m vertical of skiing. The snowpack was thin (HS = 80-100 cms at the top) but supportive with a variety of laminated crusts being the dominant layers. Good skiing near the top turned to frozen sun-crust. The lower angle terrain in the lower bowl was perfect dust-on-crust. A size 3 (last 36 hr) out of the steep rocky wind-loaded ledges (NE aspect @ ~2500m) ran across the lower bowl.
We were surprised at how far we could ski down the narrow gully. The snow was well frozen allowing us to keep skis on (mostly) down to 1600m leaving only 200m vertical to walk to reach the Peak's of Grassi neighbourhood. Nothing beats a big adventure within spitting distance of your front door. In total we had about
5000' of ski descent.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
We had day 2 planned for touring above the Bow Hut and maybe bagging a peak but that night, the wind reached extreme values. With the glacier scoured, Brian made the call to drop down and spend the day on Crowfoot Mountain which offered a bit more shelter from the Patagonian-esque weather. We worked up the moraines to the toe of the small glacier on the backside of Crowfoot Peak where the snow became more wind affected and crusty.
Day 3 dawned calm but the wind picked up again once on the glacier above Bow Hut. Glaciers seemed well covered with 240cm of HS at lower elevations and 300cm+ at upper elevations. With heads down, we trudged over the St Nicholas - Olive Col then cruised down the Vulture Glacier to Balfour Hut. The ceiling lifted enough to give us a quick view of the crux of the traverse, the Balfour High Col. Friends had warned that a large crevasse has been causing many groups to turn around as it bars the safest route pushing you close to the steep face and ice cliffs on Mt Balfour. This crevasse combined with poor stability due to strong-extreme winds for 4 days and poor visibility the next morning, made Brian decide to turn around and return to the Bow Hut. Everyone else at Balfour Hut agreed and bailed as well. GPS and Compass work got us back to the Olive-St Nick Col where we "enjoyed" some flat-light skiing back down to the Bow Hut. Of note, cornices were growing rapidly with the wind and new snow. We observed a 4-5 meter layered cornice on the Onion and other lee features.
The final night it was snowing (straight down as opposed to sideways) steadily (almost 4cm / hour). Almost 30cm of HST but over night the incessant wind returned blowing most of it towards Saskachewan. From the hut we observed a few new slabs (up to size 3) that must have pulled out over night with the new load. All was not lost, as the best section of the slope was sheltered enough to preserve the fresh snow. 4 laps of knee deep goodness made up for all the headwind slogging of the previous 4 days. Brian rated stability on March 25 at P / F / G.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
On a side note, Kicking Horse Pass has been closed all day due to an avalanche closure so no though traffic to Golden via the Trans Canada Highway. A detour by Highway 93 South and Radium is required if Golden and beyond is your destination.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
The climb is still in great condition with good plastic ice and solid screws. The new snow plastered to the ice (even the vertical ice) made finding placements awkward but this should melt off quickly. There was also two groups on the left side. Snivelling Gully looks to have lots of open water now. I wouldn't even use it as a rappel route.
Beware of raven's. We left a pack at the base which they managed to un-zip and pull all the contents out. My wallet was lying beside my pack with everything pulled out of it. Luckily I had no cash for them to steal. I have even heard of raven's relieving their bowels on packs just to add insult to injury. Needless to say, it's better to fully rack up at the car and not leave anything at the base.
There was a car parked at Polar Circus but today did not seem like the day to be up there. With "considerable hazard" in the alpine posted then the heavy wet snow combined with warm temperatures, I would avoid big terrain trap routes like Polar Circus and similar.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Carlsberg is in its usual big blue condition; however, it has not seen as much traffic as usual (probably due to the fact that many people think the road has been closed) so it requires a lot more swinging and less hooking. Use caution on the 3rd class approach/descent. Last weeks avalanche cycle combined with recent cold temperatures has made the snow surface very hard. A small slip traversing across the slopes could easily turn into a tumble (with major consequence).
Of note, when rappelling from the small tree on top, it is very easy to get the knot stuck at the lip. This has happened twice this season to me. The solution is to rappel to the lip then feed the rope so the knot is beyond the troublesome lip. With 60m double ropes, this leaves just enough on the ground. Both times, I pulled the ropes from way over to the right and used a small tree to set a 3-to-1 Z-pull (with my ATC-Guide and Tibloc) to pull the rope.
From the road, Pilsner Pillar looked fat but has a brown streak down it which is probably a ruminant of the heavy rains last weekend. Guinness Gully is still big and fat and had two parties on it today.
The weather today in Field was more wintry than the Bow Valley with temperatures maxing out just below zero and snowing lightly all day.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
My opportunity to visit the Ben's and Corrie's of Scotland came in the way of the BMC winter meet which is a week long event where 2 climbers are invited from various countries around the world. This unique gathering occurs every 2 years and has been going on for 10 years now. I represented the Alpine Club of Canada as part of a late Centinnial project along with 40 or so other climbers from all over including most European countries and as far away as China, Japan and South Africa. Yes, South Africa has ice.
Our basecamp for the week was Glenmore Lodge near Avimore in the Cairngorm Mountains. The first evening, Mr Scotland himself, Simon Richarson gave a short slide show on the various areas of Scotland as well as lecturing us on proper Scottish winter ethics. He warned, "If you are caught climbing rock without a good coating of white, you will be sent home". To me coming from the Canadian Rockies, this seemed contrived and silly. Why wait until the rock is caked in snow then have to go and scrape it all off so you can climb the rock underneath. Why not simply wait until the rock is snow free? The answer is simple. Winter is Scotland is different than here. We do not have to fake winter since it begins in earnest in October and sticks around until late April. Even if our rock is dry, the frigid temperatures still dictate winter techniques as opposed to summer rock shoes and chalk. Conversely, the weather changes hour to hour in this maritime climate so certain rules are self-imposed to keep "winter" ascent legit.
The first day, I was paired up with Ollie Metherell, a climber from Sheffield. We headed into the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms to Coire an Lochain home to classic mixed routes like Fall-Out Corner, Savage Slit and The Vicar. Thinking mixed climbing, I underestimated the weather and dressed in my normal rockies winter garb of softshell jacket and pants. By the time we completed the 1.5 hour approach (this is their "roadside " crag) I was soaked to my underwear from the horizontal slashing rain.
The following day Ollie and I went to Ben Nevis and climbed the classic Indicator Wall which ascended 3 pitches of moderate ice topping out right on the summit of the UK's highest peak. The ice was thin but very soft making for enjoyable climbing but useless for ice screws. It is given Scottish IV 4 which is like WI3 but felt more serious due to the thin ice and run-outs.
Simon Richarson tempted me with a plan for the next day: A new route in a remote corner of the Cairngorms called Braeriach. The next morning we arose at 4am and set off on bikes for a 1.5 hour ride up a valley. This was followed by 3 hours of hiking up and over a pass in whiteout conditions. Simon's map and compass skills got us across the high plateau and we dropped down the other side to our objective. an unclimbed buttress on Corrie of the Chokestone Gully. Simon graciously took the first pitch so I could have the crux mixed pitch. His lead entailed almost vertical grass climbing. Nothing beats a good stick in turf and we occasionally encounter this nebulous medium in the Rockies. This was different as all four contact points were embedded in solid frozen flora. My lead started up a steep rock corner decorated with rime. It was perfect mixed climbing. one foot on rock, one on snow. One tool in sunk into a blob of grass while the opposite hand stuffed into a verglassed jam. Pure ecstasy. The corner was topped by a roof which was pulled onto neve covered rock. At home, low-angled snow covered rock instills fear since it typically consists of powder over slabs with no gear. In Scotland, the snow thaws and freezes all winter forming squeaky neve offering quality pick and point placements. One more short pitch of steep snow through the cornice and the route was in the bag. Now for the grueling return trip back to the car. In total , a 12 hour day with 3 pitches of climbing (really only 2 real pitches). We named the route "Slovenian Death Water" (Scottish V 6 or M5) after Rok Zalokar's grandmothers homemade schnapps she sent him to Scotland with for getting us all wasted. I definitely prefer single malt scotch whiskey.
The next day was a wash due to extreme avalanche hazard and hideous hangovers we all suffered from Rok's grannie's moonshine. I felt human enough by the afternoon to go on a whiskey distillery tour. Nothing like the hair of the dog that bit you.
Day 5 also posted high avalanche hazard but Viv Scott and I managed to sneak safely up to Coire an Lochain to do the classic steep chimney, Savage Slit (V 6). I lead the first 2 pitches as one resulting in one of the best pitches of mixed climbing I had ever climbed. Perfect pick slots and bomber nuts and hexes almost whenever you wanted; all of which was nicely coated in frost and verglass. Dreamy.
The final day, everyone gunned for Ben Nevis with big goals. Some locals guessed it was probably the most productive day of Ben Nevis ever (check out this news link). Testy Simon Richardson routes like Darth Vader and Cornucopia saw 3rd and 4th ascents in addition to 3 new routes being established. Ian Parnell gave me a gnarly dose of hard Scottish mixed with a first ascent on the Sioux Wall. Last winter he and Ollie made a winter ascent of the summer Sioux wall route at VIII 8 naming the mixed version Sue Wall after Sue Nott who Ian climbed the Colten-MacIntrye on the Grand Jorasse a few years back. Freddie Wilkinson of the USA and Rok were gunning for the 3rd ascent of the Sue Wall making for social belays. Our line took the steep arete to the left. After a moderate first pitch of snowy rock, Ian spent 2 hours unlocking the tenuous crux second pitch. It was technical and bold compounded by route finding difficulty. By the time I reached the belay, Ian was already shivering so he launched off on the next pitch which was still hard but had better gear. This deposited us at the Sue Wall finish which was climbed in 2 more pitches to the top. I pulled over the cornice on top of the Ben just as it got dark. Without headlamps, we carefully worked down the ridge trying not to fall off the cornice. It was easy to locate the top of the #4 Gully descent due to all the traffic from the busy day. We didn't get back to the car until 9pm and immediately drove to Fort William for greasy Fish and Chips.
I already can not wait to return to Scotland. The Haggis sucks (bad texture, no flavour, nasty ingredients) but the excellent single malt and classy climbing more than makes up for it. Scotland's no bolt ethic and ground-up onsight style provides big adventure from little mountains. It is no wonder why some of the best alpinists in the world hail from the UK. My four days of climbing were some of the best mixed climbing I have ever done. As the saying goes: "If it ain't Scottish, it's crap!"
Monday, March 12, 2007
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Friday, March 9, 2007
Thursday, March 8, 2007
Long time friend, Darcy Chilton, is the mountain manager and he was my in. I spent the entire week tagging along and learning the art of downhill ski guiding and snow safety forecasting. My first 3 days were helping as a tailguide. Darcy was the lead guide. Simon Robbins the tailguide. Me the practicum guy aka the assistant tail guide. The week began with a huge dump of cold smoke. It was my first experience with over-the-head blower. I will never forget my first face shot and cliff drop.
Needless to say, after 8 days straight of skiing (remember I am a skinny legged climber), my poor chicken legs were toast. I am already looking forward to heading back next winter as an official tail guide.
I would avoid rappelling down Snivelling Gully as there are lots of free-hanging icicles baking in the sun ready to crash down and sweep the gully. The bolted rappel descent immediately right of Right-hand Weeping Wall is a less hazardous option.
Even though Weeping Wall does not have much in the way of Avi terrain above it, the warm temperatures (+7 C at 12:30) has turned the snow isothermic causing wet slides from seemingly benign features. We witnessed a size 2 avalanche release off of the treed ledge between Weeping Wall and Mix Master that dusted the highway.
By the time we were driving home at 1pm, light rain was sprinkling the windshield. It's getting a little too warm for ice climbing. Need to find high, north facing routes with no avalanche hazard.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Grotto Falls: It's a waterfall in the truest sense of the word. There is lots of surface water flowing over the ice and it is impossible to keep ropes and gloves dry.
Hers: Very white and sun leached. Lots of rock showing through and closer inspection reveals that it is all detached from the rock behind. Seemed too sketchy to climb safely so we gave it a miss. I think it is done for the season.
His: The ice is in better condition than Hers; it is blue and well attached. A big ice umbrella / roof has formed halfway up but is well protected by bolts on the left. I think these bolts are new this year since I have never seen them before.
Mixed routes: The 3 bolted mixed routes are very wet with lots of water flowing over the rock. I'd avoid them until temperatures get colder or you'll just end up ripping unfrozen rock holds off.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Immediately after, Rob Owens and I hosted the ACC Rockies Ice Camp. This is an annual trip offered by the Alpine Club of Canada which tours the best the Canadian Rockies has to offer. The first three days we based ourselves out of the Beauty Creek hostel which is located on the Banff-Jasper Highway just north of the Columbia Icefields. This rustic hostel is closed in winter but they open it up for one week every winter specifically for this trip. Juan, Jim, Lynda and Gene joined Rob and I for an outstanding week of waterfall hunting. Our mission was to sample the entire range in one week so we started with Maligne Canyon (Jasper National Par) just outside of the Jasper town site. After everyone did a few laps on the Queen and The Last Wall to fine-tune their technique, we embarked on the Original Route. The Original Route is primarily horizontal but is a neat adventure that works up the entire length of the canyon negotiating open pools and interspersed with short steps. A final 30m pitch of WI3 accesses the very top of the gorge depositing you at the parking lot. It feels very similar to the slot canyoneering one might do in the Utah desert except it is winter and everything is frozen.
We then travelled south to the Weeping Wall (Banff National Park) where we enjoyed stellar "blue-goo" conditions; "one hit shit" as we call it. Day 3 was the classic beer climbs of Carlsberg Column and Pilsner Pillar in Field (Yoho National Park). Day 4 we split up with Rob heading into Wicked Wanda in the Ghost with Gene and Lynda while I climbed the uber-classic roadside Cascade Waterfall (Banff National Park) with Juan and Jim. It was a super cold day and I actually ended up with "Screaming Barfies" in both feet while belaying the boys up the last pitch. The final day we all went cragging at Haffner Creek (Kotenay National Park) so the team could test their mettle on some steep funky pillars and get a taste for mixed climbing. Rob and I are already signed up to guide the ice camp again next year in mid-February 2008. In the meantime, we are also doing the ACC Ghost Rock Camp at the end of June. The plan is to camp in the Ghost for a few days of multi-pitch limestone then return to the civilization of the Bow valley to finish off the week with classic big faces like Yamnuska, Chinaman's and EEOR.
This past week I worked a Yamnuska Hot Ice with fellow guides and friends, Steve Holeczi and Pat Delaney. Again, another fun week of multi-pitch ice including Snowline, Louise Falls, Weeping Wall and GBU. Neil, Keith, Ari, Martin, Rod and the youth, David were keen so we stuffed them full of steep ice. The last day we climbed GBU in the Ghost en mass. The previous couple days we received 20-30cm of new snow accompanied by strong winds. In the Ghost, this means truck-eating snowdrifts. One of the best parts of climbing in the Ghost in winter is that you are able to get in touch with your inner red-neck. Neil did a proud job of negotiating the deep drifts. The only way to not get stuck is to keep forward momentum. This means keeping the foot on the gas and redlining the engine so you can keep speed. We managed to suck back half a tank of gas in approximately 3km but at least we did not have to shovel (well, not too much...).