Thursday, December 9, 2010

Faux Alpinism

What is alpine climbing, exactly? At what point is one no longer just rock or ice climbing, but alpine climbing? For me, it comes down to a number of things. Any one of them does not make an outing alpine; rather, a few combine to push one over the threshold and into the alpine. In no particular order, here are some things that help make alpinism what it is:
  • Slogging. Most alpine climbing, especially in the Rockies, requires some.
Slogging up the east face of Mt. Alberta in the winter of 2005. Photo: Scott Semple.
  • Heavy packs. Sure, sometimes you get away with a daypack, but most alpine-climbing packs make you wish you'd never picked them up.
Climbing with an overnight pack on the Dogleg Couloir on Mt. Chephren in the winter of 2008. Photo: Pierre Darbellay.
  • Summits. Not all alpine outings have to end on a summit, but they should at least pretend to try. This often involves slogging (see above) past the end of so-called difficulties.
"Past the difficulties" on the Drip at the Centre of the Universe on Mt. Birdwood in the winter of 2009... Photo: Jen Olson.

... and on the summit of said mountain.
  • Difficulty. Speaking of difficulty, you should have to bust a gut somewhere along the way, otherwise you're just peak bagging.
  • Being miserable. Let's face it, if at no point you didn't wish you were somewhere else, you were probably not alpine climbing.
Dreaming about being somewhere else on a single-push ascent of the Wild Thing on Mt. Chephren in the winter of 2009. Photo: Eamonn Walsh.
  • Getting up into some of the coolest places imaginable. This, to me, is the essence of alpine climbing: wild climbing in wild places.

Why am I going on about alpine climbing and raiding my photo collection for old images? First, I needed content for my blog. As such, empty drivel and gratuitous alpine imagery are not to be discounted. But what got me thinking about the subject in the first place was last Sunday's outing. With the northern hemisphere approaching winter solstice, days are too short to try to squeeze in a big outing without excessive headlamp use. To deal with this situation, Simon Parsons and I simply made up an alpine outing. It involved climbing Spray River Falls, then continuing up to the ridgeline and walking off along it. Contrived, you say? Ah, but how often does a simple ice-climbing day end with a free gondola ride down?

The sun rising over Mt. Rundle.

The ice was surprisingly cold and hard. OK, maybe it was not that surprising, given the -17 C overnight low.

When faced with depth hoar, no holds are barred.

Looking up the Bow Valley from Sulphur Mountain.

Now that's what I call civilized!


  1. You know it! I am still holding out for a gondola to the top of Grotto Mtn, so we can walk down - not up - to Bataan.

  2. Forget the North Face ads. This is what alpine climbing is really about. Nicely done.

  3. Nice!

    @DaveSonnen, right on with the North Face ads comparison- make the above photos a slideshow and add semi-house/techno music and this would easily blow the North Force commercials away!