Friday, October 15, 2010

A Long Weekend, Part II: Saturday

One of my favourite corners of the Rockies is Kananaskis Country. I love its dry conifers, wind-swept ridges, gray crags and, in the winter, ice dessicated by Chinooks. Eamonn Walsh shares my fondness for K-Country, and so it is often with Eamonn that I explore obscure front-range peaks and routes.

The Opal Range is a 40-km long spine of dramatic if somewhat crumbling peaks. Tectonic forces have stood originally horizontal strata of limestone on end. Erosion completed the job, leaving a chain of vertically-tilted bedding planes. The result is a range of peaks with narrow ridges running north-south, and steep faces falling to the east and west. The Opals naturally lend themselves to multi-peak traverses, with the number of peaks one takes in on any given outing limited mainly by one's tolerance for scrambling on chossy knife edges with big drops all around.

A fine position on the south ridge of The Blade, with the southern Opals behind.

Since returning from the Bugs in mid-August I have focused exclusively, not to say obsessively, on sport climbing. It was satisfying to feel myself getting stronger, walking up routes I used to struggle on. But I missed getting up into the alpine - that, plus my elbow tendinitis was starting to get out of control, demanding that I take a break from pulling down. And so Eamonn and I found ourselves parking at the King Creek lot just as the sun was rising. The objective for the day was clearly outlined by dawn breaking behind it: the well-known Mt. Blane, and its obscure but dramatic satellite, the Blade.

Mt. Blane on the left with The Blade on the right.

I had tried The Blade a few years earlier with Rich Akitt. It was fall, too late for rock climbing but too early for ice. We scrambled up scree ledges, sketched up verglas-covered rock, and busted hard-feeling 5.7 moves onto the final ridge leading to the summit, only to turn around when faced with slabby rock covered in fresh snow. This time the mountains looked much drier, but a keen wind ensured that it was not any warmer. Soon after gaining the ridge we donned the last of our layers, and kept them on for the rest of the traverse.

Chilly climbing on an earlier attempt on The Blade.

We started by following the old Pat Morrow-Chris Perry route up the south ridge of The Blade, retrieving the rappel anchors from my earlier attempt as we went. There was some scrambling and a pitch or two of roped climbing getting up to the col below the south ridge, but the ridge was definitely the main attraction. Once again I was reminded of how hard 5.7 can feel when your hands are freezing, you are wearing boots, and the protection is less than perfect. Fortunately on the last bit of ridge we climbed mainly on the lee side, and so were able to enjoy moving over good rock in a spectacular position.

A stairway to heaven on the last bit of the south ridge of The Blade.

From just below the summit we made two steep rappels down the north side of The Blade into the gap between it and Mt. Blane. We scampered easily up the south ridge of Blane and were rewarded with a sheletered lunch spot just below the summit. I fondly thought back to the last time I stood here, in the depths of winter. The descent down the standard North-West Ridge went quickly, with the wind blowing the rope into a graceful arc over the drop to the east. A last downclimb in a short chimney, and we hit the scree gullies leading down to the valley. It had been another good day in K-Country.

Windy downclimbing on Mt. Blane, with the northern Opals beyond.


  1. Hi Raphael,

    Thanks for the recent post. I suspect many bloggers labor under the uncertainty that perhaps their words serve little purpose, however, I would like to say that I really enjoy reading about your adventures in high places. I'm a father, a teacher, and a "normal" person, not a sponsored super-climber, but somehow you really capture what it is to love the mountains, love's inspiring, and helps me remember to make time to get out there. Thanks again, and have a great season.

  2. Bruno,

    thank you. It is great to hear I have managed to convey why, twenty years later, I remain passionate about climbing. For the record, while I do have some sponsorships, I also like to consider myself a normal person. Come to think of it though, what normal person would wade across a stream at 5 a.m. in -12 C temperatures like I did yesterday - and consider it good fun?

    I hope you manage to get out this winter. All the best,