Saturday, December 17, 2011


One of the cool things about playing in one's home mountain range is going back to familiar places and seeing them in a new light. Like, say, tiptoeing up delicate mixed ground and thin ice right next to the massive Weeping Pillar. Contrived? You could say so. Fun? You bet!

2008. Eamonn Walsh and I took a few days off and went on a little road trip up the Parkway. Our friend Dana Ruddy was away, but that did not stop us from crashing in his basement in Jasper. From there on the first day we climbed "No Use In Crying", an unlikely four-pitch line well left of the Upper Weeping Wall. On the second we took care of some unfinished business on the left margin of Curtain Call, calling the result "Cyber Pasty Memorial" in honour of a perennially untanned friend who had recently given up ice climbing. On the third we headed back up to the Upper Weeping Wall to try a line to the right of Weeping Pillar we had spotted two days earlier. The first pitch went up an intimidating crack with the occasional ice smear: more Alaska than Rockies. I was in the moment, torquing and tapping away, when from the belay Eamonn drew my attention to the increasingly large chunks of snow and ice flying overhead from the sun baked walls above. We ran away and headed home just as the Parkway was being closed for avalanche control.

Always a good time: the classic Lower and Upper Weeping Wall. Photo: Pierre Darbellay.

Attempting the first pitch of Pussycat in 2008. Photo: Eamonn Walsh.

An avalanche thunders down the south face of Mt. Wilson.

2011. "I asked my landlady about her pussycat last night. Did I say something wrong?" the ever polite Swiss asked anxiously. "No, not really. But just be sure to keep the 'cat' in there." replied the adopted Canadian. And so it went as we sped north along the snow-covered Parkway. We did not feel like freezing in the shade, and so headed to the Upper Weeping Wall. Even in deep, dark December that fine wall basks in the sun. The objective? The crack to the right of Weeping Pillar, and then whatever looked good to the top of the wall.

Bring on the Swiss! Bertrand Martenet and Pierre Darbellay running up the Lower Weeping Wall.

Approaching the Upper Weeping Wall, with the line of Pussycat obvious (?) right of the Weeping Pillar.

The crack was just as good as I remembered, even though the ice was not very user friendly, and once or twice I found myself wishing I had brought some big cams. But I was glad to have a rock hammer as I rooted around for a solid belay in a maze of snow-covered rock. We exited the second pitch on a thin veneer and slogged up and right across the big snow ledge running across the Upper Wall.

Splitter. Just like the Creek, eh? Photo: Pierre Darbellay.

Interesting mixed climbing up a classy line. Photo: Pierre Darbellay.

There is something perverse about scratching up rock next to fat ice. Photo: Pierre Darbellay.

Enjoying the December sun on the Upper Weeping Wall, with the Icefields Parkway below in deep blue shade, and Athabasca and Andromeda in the distance. Photo: Pierre Darbellay.

The ice strip enticingly marked 'Unclimbed' in the guidebook (thought who knows for sure?) petered out a few metres above the snow. So much for just running the rest of the way to the top. But the Swiss put on a fine performance, bouldering the unprotected start above a crash pad of deep powder, then gently tapping away at the ominously booming sheet of detached ice, with screws that were more Christmas decoration than protection. Fittingly, we topped out just as the last bit of daylight faded in the west. It had been a good day.

The icicles hanging from the roof were not much help... Photo: Pierre Darbellay.

... but at least the deep snow at the base doubled as a bouldering crash pad. Pierre Darbellay starting up the finishing ice strip.

Pierre Darbellay gently taps his way up an ominously booming and vibrating sheet of desiccated ice.

A figure in a landscape: the right side of the Upper Weeping Wall, with Mt. Amery in the distance.

Pussycat, 180 m, M7 WI5R. FA: Pierre Darbellay, Bertrand Martenet and Raphael Slawinski, December 4, 2011. The route parallels Weeping Pillar on the right, with interesting mixed and thin ice climbing. Climb the obvious crack some 15 m right of the fat ice for two pitches, with a belay on a narrow snow ledge on the right (no fixed gear). Slog up and right across the snow ledge to the base of the upper ice strip. Climb the strip on improving ice for two pitches to a tree on the right. Gear: cams to #4 Camalot with doubles of #1 and 2, half a set of nuts, a few pins and screws (including stubbies).


  1. Hey man, I am trying to find good beta sources beyond the Doughrty guidebook on canadian rockies alpine routes. Any suggestions?

  2. Eitan,

    unfortunately there is no single resource that will do the trick at the moment. A few places to look are back issues of the CAJ, on-line forums like Gravsports, people's personal web pages, etc.

    I am slowly plugging away at a revision of the Selected Alpine guide, but with work and climbing and life in general getting in the way (excuses, excuses!), the emphasis is definitely on "slowly". But if there are particular routes you are interested in, let me know and I will see what I can dig up.