Monday, August 8, 2016

Climbing in the Canadian Rockies

Canadian Rockies - Alpine test ground

The Canadian Rockies are the real deal, loose shattered rock, snow, ice, bad weather, rock fall, avalanches, seracs, glaciers, cornices. Its got it all, its a training ground for alpinists. 

After our tour in the Bugaboos, we planned to spend a bit of time in the Rockies. We ended up only climbing 3 mountains, all 3 of them were spectacular, and each was different and interesting in their own way.

Once out of the Bugs we spent a day in Canmore, doing laundry, and recuperating. 

Kyle recuperates 
We stayed for a couple of nights at the Hostel Bear, this allowed us to shower (9 days with no shower for me before this...) and being equipped with a kitchen allowed for quick cooking in the morning.

Kitchen facilities. Nice.
After our rest day, the weather forecast was not looking so great, so we decided to hang up the harnesses, and do a non-technical scramble. That way if the weather was foul, we could simple walk back down and hit up the pub. There are a variety of peaks located very close to Canmore, and we decided to climb one of the "Three Sisters" a Canmore landmark. We chose the larger objectives, Big Sister (9,632'), about 4500' elevation gain from the low elevation trailhead. The scramble ascends the southwest slopes, and is a moderate class 3 affair.

Three Sisters. Big Sister on the Right. Photo Credit -
There was very heavy cloud cover, so we could not actually see the mountain, and after some aborted starts, we found the correct trailhead (its not a marked trail).

Kyle near the start of the route.
After slogging up timbered slopes, we busted out onto a rocky ridge

Start of the ridge line
There was an easy 3rd class down climbing crux, some loose rock, more ridge, and then the summit! The clouds were swirling around,  sometimes it would clear, other times a near whiteout, but no rain.

Break in the clouds on the ridge

Cool views

Down climbing crux

Patriotic summit

Summit shot
We headed back down, enjoying the views.

Views on the way down
It was not long before we were back at the car. About 5 hours car-to-car. Not bad for a rest day. We headed back to Canmore, hit up the pub, and planned for our next day.

Our next objective, the NE face of Ha Ling Peak (III, 5.6). The climb ascends to the left of the prominent prow of Ha Ling, and involves 12 pitches of moderate climbing on "quality" rock. Kyle had actually climbed this route 10 years ago in a 16 hour mini epic.

Next climb - NE face of Ha Ling Peak

We had an early start, scrambled up some scree and found the base of the climb. The beginning was a scramble up some choss, before the pitched rope climbing began.

Up we go
The climbing was actually pretty good, but you really needed to watch where you put your feet so not to send loose rock crashing down on parties climbing below us. The best pitch was a beautiful exposed dihedral, very nice. The view of the Bow valley from the climb were also not half-bad, and the weather was terrific.

High spirits on this one


Up the delightful dihedral pitch

It was not long before we topped out the climb to a thong of tourists. The peak is a very popular walk-up, and there were hordes of tourists standing on top. They seemed a bit surprised with 2 rock climbers popped up from the steep cliff side of the mountain!

Another summit! 
We ran down the trail, and jogged back to the car. We stopped to say hello to the mountain goat. We made really good time, just 6 hours car-to-car. Not bad for 12 pitches of technical climbing (~1500'), a hour long approach, and lengthy descent. 

Good time
Hi goat!
Then back to Canmore, and you guessed it, a pub. Its really nice climbing out of Canmore, a bit like being in Bishop, easy access mountains, only 15-20 min of driving and you are at the base of 2000' faces!

To continue sampling the mountains, the next day we headed north. Originally we had planned to climb the North Face of Mt. Athabasca. However, while we were in the Bugs we discussed our plans with alpinist and guide Barry Blanchard and he told us that with global warming and glacier retreat, the North face had become "real".  

We drove by it on our way North, and decided to leave it for another trip. We continued further north to Jasper National park

We'll climb you next time Mt. Athabasca. Unless global warming has killed all your glaciers
We landed in Jasper, took a rest day, then had an aborted alpine start because of some rain. We entertained ourselves at camp with pointless contests (who can land the car bumber 1st, Kyle nabbed the FA on that one).

I didn't get the FA on this one

This is how the Brooks brothers do climbing trips

We tooled around on some super easy sport climbs and finally were rested and ready to tackle our next, and last climb of the trip, the east ridge of Mt Edith Cavell (III, 5.3, 11,034'). 

The mountain dominates the Jasper skyline and is considered a easy route in dry conditions, and a excellent moderate mixed route when snow is present. We hiked into the base the day before our ascent to check it out, and it certainly was in mixed conditions, with clearly lots of snow on the ridge, and giant cornices hanging on the summit ridge. 

Mt Edith Cavell, our route ascends the ridge line to the left. 

Kyle below the east face of the mountain
I had been to the base of the mountain about 6 years ago, and was shocked by the changes I saw. The lake below the hanging glacier had quadrupled in size, and a large portion of the glacier had fallen off. Anyone who does not believe the climate is warming should visit the Rockies every few years, and see the vanishing ice. 

Climate change in action. Disappearing glaciers.

The next day we woke up at 3:30 am, chowed down some coffee and breakfast then drove to the trailhead. We were there a little bit before 4:30 am.

Alpine start

It took about an hour to traverse the moraine and then we climbed a steep snow slope to gain the col and the start of the ridge. We started up the ridge, which involved steep 3rd class scrambling on loose rock. We then gained a snow couloir, put the crampons back on, and followed it to more rock. The weather was great, and we enjoyed the early morning light.

Snow couloir

On the ridge. Quality rock?

Contemplating where to go

Awesome views

We were not alone on the climb, another pair of climbers were very close to us for most of the route. Very nice guys, a young guy from Michigan, and an older guy from the Okanagan who we had actually met in the Bugs the week before. It was nice to have a bit of friendly company on the route.

We continued up, as we got higher on the ridge, clouds began to coalesce on the summit, eventually obscuring our view of the mountain. 

Our last views of the summit before the clouds came in

Whiteout forming
By the time we reached the crux rock pitch it was a total whiteout, and we could not see anything. We headed up the 60 meter crux pitch, which had the best rock on the whole mountain, rock solid quartzite, almost as good as granite.

Rock quality is improving
Above the rock crux we still had over a thousand feet of ridge to climb in the cloud. As we got higher the amount of snow increased. Eventually we were sitting below the east summit which was guarded by an overhanging cornice. 
Climbing into the whiteout.
Above the cornice, we reached the long summit ridge. It was covered in cornices that were hanging over the east face. Amazingly some tracks led near the edge of the cornices, super dangerous. We travelled the ridge, staying as close to the ridge proper as possible, in case one of those snow cornices decided to peel off!

Travelling the summit ridge

See the overhanging cornice above Kyle's axe?
We found the main summit! Our companions took a nice summit shot of my brother and I.

Brothers on the summit!

Then the long descent down the west ridge and around the mountain. This involved descending thousands of feet of loose scree and talus. Ugh.

At least the views were nice, and the clouds cleared as we lost elevation.

ice axes are good for scree as well
Looking back towards the summit
Views on the way down
Almost through the talus on the way down. Notice the now clear skies.

We headed back to town for some food. Then it was back to Calgary and home.

Such an awesome trip, the climbing was out of this world, and it was so great to do it with my brother! Looking forward to some rest, and then my next adventure!

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