Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bow Valley obscure

A few people have asked me recently about some rather obscure routes I did over the years. Rather than just emailing out topos and letting the climbs languish in the obscurity they perhaps deserve, I thought I would post the information here in case others might be interested. Note that the routes in question are somewhat more adventurous than most, lacking such user-friendly amenities as bolted belays. For all that they do offer some excellent climbing, the Windtower and Rimwall routes in particular being - in my opinion, anyway - among the best long climbs in the Bow Valley.

Marcus Norman high on the Stanley Headwall.

Le Jour Le Plus Long, Northeast Face of the Windtower, ~550 m, 5.11 or 5.10d

This outstanding route was established on summer solstice in 2000 by two Quebecois climbers, Remy Bernier and Francois Roy, in just about the best style possible: on-sight and hammerless. Rolando Garibotti and I made the second ascent in 2003 and added a two-pitch variation, making for easier but more consistent climbing. I hope that others will respect the pure style in which the route was put up and leave their hammers behind when enjoying one of the finest long routes the Front Ranges have to offer.

Murder By Numbers, East Face of the Rimwall, ~450 m, 5.11

Dana Ruddy and I finished this project in late summer of 2007, although some other people accompanied me on my two earlier attempts - hence the name. So many Rockies' routes are "good from afar but far from good." This climb is very much the exception, with excellent rock essentially throughout. Unfortunately good rock is often compact rock, and a small selection of pins, especially knifeblades, is needed for both protection and belays.

La Bastille, North Face of the Second Buttress of Rundle, ~500 m, 5.11-

While numerous routes crisscross the face of EEOR, the guidebook showed but one red line on the Second Buttress - and none on its impressive north face. It was all the motivation Eric Dumerac and I needed. Over three trips in early summer early in this millennium (I don't remember the year) we climbed to the top of this feature. Our final push came on July 14th; given the auspicious date and the forbidding, fortress-like aspect of the buttress, the route practically named itself. There are a few bolts along the way but once again, pins are needed for both protection and belays.

Lightning Bolt Crack, North Face of the North Summit of Mt. Edith, III 5.11a

After repeating the extraordinary Le Jour Le Plus Long, I got fired up about that style of climbing: hammerless on big limestone routes. While repeating Exacto, another such route the Quebecois put up on the North Summit of Mt. Edith to the right of The Kaffir Strikes Back, I noticed a possible line to the left of the Kaffir. A few weeks later, leaving our iron behind, Jeff Nazarchuk and I came back to make the first ascent of Lightning Bolt Crack, a fine addition - if I say so myself - to the shady side of Gargoyle Valley. I hope others will have fun playing at the same game we did, and leave their hammers behind.

Stanley Headwall, IV 5.10a

Toward the end of the winter of 1998 I was skiing below the Stanley Headwall with Vera Wong, a visiting Australian climber. While that day we were going ice climbing, Vera, the rock climber she truly was, kept asking me where the summer lines on the Headwall went. I was embarrassed to answer that in fact there were none. The following summer Marcus Norman and I came back to remedy this situation, and over two trips climbed a route to the top of the Headwall. Topping out, we scrambled up to the ridgeline and ran down scree on the backside. Luckily the rain held off until we were below treeline, among wet greenery and slick deadfall. And no, this Rockies' class-eek! (to borrow an expression from Eamonn Walsh) is definitely not a hammerless affair.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Yam fun

"I noticed a long time ago that with the arrival of the spring rock climbing season the soul of a climber migrated from the left side of the body into the fingertips..." - Voytek Kurtyka, Lamaniec.

It's been a while since I spent an entire summer in the Rockies. For the past three years the pull of exotic places like Alaska and the Karakoram had prevented me from experiencing the whole of the season in my favourite mountain range. And so I was understandably excited at the prospect - at least until the June monsoon arrived. As day after day dawned grey and sodden, I remembered why I often arranged to be somewhere else during this, the wettest month of the year. Even overhanging cliffs became unclimbable, as rainwater percolated from above and turned crimpers, slopers and sidepulls into a seeping mess. Then I remembered one cliff that (almost never) seeps: Yamnuska. In particular, I remembered a route that I had played on some years ago: Yamabushi.

It was around the end of the last millenium that Will Gadd and I walked up to Yam intent on leaving our mark on the cliff. We scanned the cliff for the steepest rock we could find, and quickly zoomed in on the bulging buttress immediately right of the Balrog gash. After following Balrog for a pitch we veered right, straight into the first set of roofs. We mixed free and aid climbing, with a power drill swinging awkwardly over one shoulder. I think from the start Will had a clear vision of what kind of a route he wanted, namely a hard sport climb. For myself, I had a rather more difficult time letting go of my old-school hangups. After all, Yam had long been a bastion of traditional climbing, and even the more recent routes still mixed nuts and cams with bolts. But after placing just one token wire on the second pitch, I began to realize that given the nature of our chosen line, my original insistence on only placing bolts when absolutely necessary was a bit silly. After all, what is so traditional about clipping a dozen bolts and placing one wire?

Putting up the route was hard work, and as a weekend warrior I wanted to play on the weekends, not work. As a result we made slow progress, only going up on the line once or twice a year, laboriously adding pitch after pitch. We even experimented with rap bolting, then still somewhat anathema on Yam. But while going top down gave us the last two pitches on a shield of wildly exposed vertical limestone, it did not help on the stacked roofs halfway up the buttress. It was also around that time that I realized that, given how little I was sport climbing, the line was simply too hard for me. When other people volunteered to help Will with the project, I gratefully withdrew from the enterprise and headed off into the snowy mountains. Freed of the ball and chain of a reluctant partner, Will raced impending winter to fire the line and establish what quickly became a hard (a relative term) classic.

It might be a sign of advancing age, but in recent years I've found myself enjoying rock climbing - safe, athletic, unencumbered movement over stone - more than ever before. Hell, I've even become a regular visitor at my local gym. Perhaps not surprisingly, rock climbing a lot has been good for my rock climbing. Who knew? And so last month, with every cliff in the Bow Valley and Kananaskis Country either rained out or seeping, I thought, "Why not Yamabushi? At least it will be dry." And it was. I'm not done yet, but with first individual moves, then sequences, and then entire pitches starting to come together, I am having a blast playing with the ravens on old Yam like I haven't in years. Not that it's all fun and games. Just the other evening, due for another session on the route the following day, I typed "climbing with split tip" into Google. Dave MacLeod's advice seemed best: "don't get them in the first place!" In the end my index fingers looked like miniature mummies, as I crimped, smeared and stemmed my way up pitch after pitch of some of the best climbing on Yam. I'm looking forward to reaching my destination, but I'm having a great time on the journey.

The Yamabushi buttress wreathed in June monsoon clouds.

After the recent rains the Yam approach, usually a dry affair, resembled a walk through a rain forest.

Juan Henriquez heading up the first pitch (5.10), with the rest of the route looming overhead.

"Right undercling, left long reach to horn, feet up, right to crimp..." Working out the crux second pitch (5.12+) in the rain. Photo: Juan Henriquez

Another, altogether more sunny day on the fourth pitch (5.12-). Photo: Jen Olsen.

Jen Olsen stretches up the fourth pitch...

... and crimps on the fifth (5.12-).

"I think we can rap straight down from here and swing into the cliff..." Rappelling from the top of the fifth pitch. Photo: Jen Olsen.

Marcus Norman grabs a handful of prickly limestone on the sixth pitch (5.12).

Puzzling out the intricacies of the seventh pitch (5.12) after blowing the onsight. Photo: Wiktor Skupinski.

A reminder that good old Yam can be a serious place: an evening helicopter rescue on a nearby route.