Friday, February 29, 2008

Day 27 - Nemesis (160 m, V, WI6), Stanley Headwall

Since my first ice climbing trip to the Canadian Rockies in 2004 I have dreamed about climbing a route on the notorious Stanley Headwall. However, since the easiest routes are graded V, WI6 I frankly never thought that I would acquire the necessary technical and fitness level to climb one of these routes!

I was thus thrilled when Carlos suggested to climb the route Nemesis (160 m, V, WI6) as this is probably the most famous waterfall ice route in the Canadian Rockies with a rich history. When it was first climbed in 1974 it was the hardest ice route in the world and Carlos had several attempts on the route until he finally finished it 20 years ago. It was thus kind of an anniversary climb for Carlos and I was glad to go with him.

We skied up the slopes towards the Stanley Glacier for 2 hrs taking a good rest to talk to two Slovenians who had bailed from the final snow slope up to the neighboring route Suffer Machine. The snow slope had whoomped and with the current avalanche hazard they had decided to retreat. Luckily, the slope up to Nemesis is less risky and we thus decided to continue. It was, however, a bit unnerving to ski up the final snow slope towards Nemesis while looking at the impressive and difficult looking route.

At the base of the climb we discussed which line to climb, where to make belays and whom would lead what. The climb is divided into two sections with a bolted belay halfway up under a rock overhang. Carlos had led the lower section on his previous ascent and it was thus a given that he would lead the upper section this time. I contemplated whether to use my leashes or not, and then decided against it. Later, negotiating the traverses on the second pitch I am once again happy for this decision.

I began leading the lower section which consisted of 70-75 meters of a vertical ice sheet about 1-2 meters wide. The ice to both side were of bad quality/non-existing but luckily the ice sheet provided surprisingly good ice with largely good ice screw placements. Often I was able to stem out with a foot to ice left or right of the sheet which provided some rest for my calves and forearms. It was not possible to find a good sheltered belay as the narrow ice sheet provided the only good ice around and I thus decided to continue climbing. When I reached the end of the ropes 60 meters up I put in an ice screw and rested for a minute while Carlos got ready to simul climb the last 10-15 meters to the bolted rock anchor. It is always a bit unnerving to simul climb – in particular on WI6 ice (!) - but I was certain that Carlos would not fall and drag me down – and I on the other hand was extremely careful not to dislodge any ice while leading the last section.

I quickly clicked into the bolt anchor and put Carlos on belay. Now I could relax for a bit and take in the awesome position halfway up the headwall. Soon Carlos got to the belay and we then discussed the logical line of the next section which starts with an unnerving traverse on funky ice. However the ice had formed a bit different than usual and Carlos thus took an alternative start climbing directly up the side of the icefall while stemming out on the rock. Soon he reached the rock overhang where he was forced out on the traverse in an interesting and ackward ice ledge/cave. Finally, he could climb upwards on mainly good albeit vertical ice until he reached a good ice belay after 50 meters of climbing.

It had been overcast and grey all morning and it was beginning to snow. As Carlos was leading the second pitch enough snow had accumulated on the upper snow slopes to initiated constant spindrifts. I thus tugged in under my hood and began following his lead. Absolutely great climbing on featured ice.

Leading the third pitch I traversed back to the left and climbed a logical line of ice in a grove. Climbing in the groove was both good and bad. Good as I could stem out with my feet to the sides while placing my ice axes in the center of the groove (in effect reducing the angle of the vertical climbing) – bad as the groove funneled the spindrift in my direction impairing my sight! At times I thus had to stop climbing while waiting for a pause in the spindrifts in order to see what I was doing.

After 20 meters of climbing I reached the top of the route. I had been wondering if I would stick my head into a snow storm, but it was surprisingly calm at the top. What a great feeling to stand here on top of Nemesis!

We quickly rappelled the route and began our ski descent. The initial slope was the steepest part with very loose powder snow, which was quite hard to ski in my leather climbing booths. I would loose control if I skied too fast and dive the ski tips into the powder if I skied to slow! I choose the slow version and thus dove into the deep powder a couple of times. It was so loose and deep that it was hard to get up again, but luckily I soon reached the donkey trail at the bottom of the slope which provided a good ski base for the remaining part of the descent.

Back in the car I was so happy. This was the perfect ending to my one month ice climbing trip – a true alpine experience with the ski approach, the classic Stanley Headwall route and the spin drifting. I actually couldn’t think of a better way to end this trip!

Stanley Headwall seen from the road. The visible ice is French Reality (right) and the Monsieur Hulot Area (left). Nemesis and Suffer Machine are not visible from the road.

Carlos approaching Nemesis. The front of the Stanley Glacier is visible above him.

Nemesis (160 m, V, WI6).

The author resting in a screw 60 meters up the first pitch waiting for Carlos to get ready to simul climb the last 10-15 meters to the bolted rock anchor.

Carlos taking a mixed start of the upper half of the route.

Carlos topping out in spindrifts.

A look up at the spindrifts on the route after we rappelled down. Click here to see short QuickTime video of Carlos and I discussing the climb after the rappel.

Previous posts.


Day 25 - Rehab Wall, Evan-Thomas Creek

Today I went with Carlos Buhler to a newly discovered area just 45 min walk upstream of the Moonlight crag, Evan-Thomas Creek. Quite amazing that this area had not been discovered until this season given that people have been climbing Moonlight for the last 20 years!

The new area is similar to Haffner Creek and Bear Spirit and sport single pitch WI3-4 ice routes and bolted mix climbs. Carlos would obviously like to try climbing in an area he had not visited before, so we went there albeit quite late in the day.

Initially I led the route The Treatment (35 m, M5, WI4). It had a fun start with 3-4 moves on rock until I reached the ice with my axes - then followed by fun bridging with one foot on rock and the other on an icicle. All in all a fun route - and my first lead on a bolted mix climb! So far I had only led trad protected mix routes - so I was not sure if this was a step forwards or backwards......

Next Carlos top-roped the route to warm up for the test-piece of the area Physio-Therapy (50 m, M7, WI5). I then belayed him for 2 hours while he was figuring out the moves. The crux of the route was to get from the rock to a large overhanging icicle. Pieces had broken of recently making this move very hard as he could not bridge out with his feet to the icicle anymore. He was thus pretty pumped when he topped out and it was getting quite late so I decided to save my energy and not attempt to follow.

So what's out verdict of this new area? Well, we quickly agreed that the quality of the rock & ice did not merit the longer approach (1 hrs 45 min total) compared to the shorter distance to Haffner Creek and Bear Spirit. However, if you go up to the popular Moonlight area and find a big queue it is certainly worth going the extra 45 min rather than wait for hours or go home!

Carlos approaching the Rehab Wall. The mixed wall is right above him flanked by WI3-4 ice routes on both sides.

Carlos top-roping The Treatment.

Carlos on thin ice below the crux of Physio-Therapy. The crux is to get from the rock onto the broken icicle.

Previous posts.


Day 23 - Curtain Call (125 m, IV, WI6)

"On the first pitch you have to climb up these 'psycho' bobbles of unconsolidated ice two feet deep and then sacrifice an arm to put in any protection" - is the start of the route description for Curtain Call (125 m, IV, WI6) in the guidebook. When Carlos Buhler suggests to climb the route today I thus have to swallow a couple of times. I like my two arms! However, as the route remains to be one of the test-pieces of the Canadian Rockies, I am obviously tempted to climb the route!

Thus, Carsten P. Cooper-Jensen, Carlos and I drive up there and when I see the route I have to swallow once again. The construction of a thin weird looking free-standing pillar on top of a heavily mushroomed free-standing curtain looks pretty unstable! However, as we get closer the route starts to look climbable - it IS possible to find a reasonable line up this thing on closer inspection!

When we climbed Weeping Wall yesterday (read that story here), Carsten hurt the finger that got severely frostbitten on our climb of Bourgeau Left four years ago (read that story here). The hit on the finger has left it very sensitive and it is quite cold and weird reddish looking. After leading the first step up to the start of the free-standing curtain he thus decides wisely to retreat from the climb and go back to the car.

I climb out of a hole in the curtain on its right side and climb a vertical pitch of very interesting ice. Big mushrooms are negotiated by traversing back and forth, but most of the time I can climb in a groove which provide good stemming to the sides for my feet. Above I traverse to the left side of the upper free-standing pillar which looks to be easier than the right side. Most importantly, it was possible to find good ice screw placements without sacrificing my arms!

Soon Carlos joins me at the belay and start to climb the pillar. He chooses to climb it on the backside until he reaches the overhanging rock at which point he traverses to a groove on the outside of the pillar. Soon it is my term to follow and I easily climb the backside until I reach the rock overhang. At that time the climb changes psychology as I (1) notice a big 2-3 cm wide crack in the pillar where it connects with the rock (2) soon get a lot of air under my feet when I start climbing the groove on the outside. My forearms gets a bit pumped from climbing this section as the crack and air makes me grip my leash less ice axes too hard, but once I am in the groove I take the necessary time to get a rest and shake out where after I continue to the anchor.

What a climb - can highly recommend it - when the upper pillar is not cracked......

Carlos approaching Curtain Call. Note the climber far up on the upper pillar.

Carsten leading the "step" up to the start of the free-standing curtain.

Carlos seconding the traverse to the belay left of the upper pillar. Note the beautiful surrounding of the Icefields.

Carlos at the mental crux of the route where the pillar was cracked and you had to leave the relative safety of the backside of the pillar and get "airborne".

The crack in the pillar.....

Previous posts.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Day 22 - Weeping Wall Right-Hand (180 m, III, WI5), Icefields Parkway

After climbing three routes in one day yesterday, Carsten P. Cooper-Jensen and I decided to climb a route with short access in order to save a bit of energy. The Lower Weeping Wall with 5 min walk-in is arguably the routes with shortest walk-in at the Canadian Rockies and we thus decided to go there.

As I had climbed the Central Pillar (180 m, III, WI5+) four years ago (read that story here) we decided to climb the Right-Hand side (180 m, III, WI5) this time. We slept to recover from the long day yesterday and thus got to the wall pretty late. However, we were lucky and got the route we wanted in spite of several other teams on the wall.

The Weeping Wall is south facing and as it was a warm and sunny day we got to climb the route in our upper underwear. Much to my surprise the ice was still firm from the cold night and it was thus extremely nice climbing. Carsten led the first pitch up to a bolted rock anchor under an overhang. Next it was my term to lead the crux middle pitch of a full rope length of vertical ice. Luckily I could choose a line in a groove with structured ice which provided good foot rests. The climbing was thus fun, technical and not too hard. Compared to my last time on the Weeping Wall the ice was much better and provided reasonable protection. Maybe I had also become better at choosing where to place ice screws!?

As Carsten got to the second belay we were just a short pitch from the top. Last time I had opted out of climbing this pitch as it looked easy and it was late in the day. However, this time I would like to finish the route. Carsten offered me to lead the pitch as he was a bit pumped from the crux pitch. A line to our left looked easiest, but I choose to go right in order to get directly to the tree belay of the rappel piste. The crux of the pitch was a 10-15 m long vertical curtain on questionable ice. I thus put in two screws (one for each rope) just before this section on what looked to be the last good ice I would see for a while and then climbed the curtain. Safe at the top I put in another screw and traversed to the anchor. I have to say that this last pitch offered more resistance than I thought it would and I can thus recommend to finish the climb rather that skipping this last "easy" step to the top!

Albeit the route itself was reasonably dry despite the warm weather we got totally soaked on the rappel. The bolted rappel anchors have been positioned under small overhangs which is good as it protects from falling ice and rock but bad as the it was raining from the overhanging rock! Luckily we had brought over Gore-Tex jackets on the route which now came in handy.

First time I led WI5 leash less and first time to ice climb in underwear! Well, there is a first for everything!

The Weeping Wall with our route and belays marked with green/red.

Carsten leading the first pitch.

Carsten at the bolted rock belay after pitch 1.

The author at the second belay, with the "easy" last section above.

The author leading the third (and final) pitch.

Carsten seconding the last pitch. Note the beautiful view.

Previous posts.


Day 21 - Anorexia Nervosa (130 m, III, WI4 R), Weithering Heights (100 m, III, WI4) and New Route (60 m, III, WI4 R), Planter's Valley, South Ghost

Today, Carlos Buhler, Carsten P. Cooper-Jensen and I went to Planter's Valley, South Ghost. We had heard that the rarely formed Anorexia Nervosa (130 m, III, WI4 R) was formed this season and it was thus the main goal of the trip. The route was indeed "fat" and Carsten led the first pitch consisting of two thin ice steps separated by a snow field. I then led the second pitch on thicker ice which was quite hacked out - we were clearly not the only ones that had heard the rumors of the good conditions on the route. Never the less, it was an enjoyable route.

We had spotted a potential new thin ice route 25 meters left of Weithering Heights. Carlos led a long 60 meter pitch which climbed the steep sections of the route. We found ice screw holes and an abalakov anchor so this was clearly not a first ascent. However, it was still fun to climb a route not described in the guide book and even more fun to climb a route with almost untouched ice in contrast to the hacked out ice on Anorexia Nervosa and Weithering Heights.

As we reached the bottom of the route we discussed whether to call it a day or also climb the neighboring Weithering Heights (100 m, III, WI4). Albeit the route looked kind of boring as it was very hacked out, I was eager to climb at least the first crux pitch. We had talked about climbing the route for weeks and I would thus like to "get it out of my system". In spite of the late hour, Carsten and Carlos agreed to belay me on the first pitch where after I would rappel the route. The climbing was very easy as I hooked most of the way and I was thus quickly at an anchor. And obviously Carsten and Carlos could then not resist the temptation to climb the route! They thus quickly followed the route climbing next to each other.

I had climbed a full 60 meter rope length and made my own anchor of ice screws rather than stop at abalakov anchors below. Carsten thus suggested that it would be easier to finish the route and use the existing anchors rather than make a new anchor. A sketchy excuse for wanting to lead the last pitch! Never the less, we then finished the route and could thus make another tick in the guide book.

Anorexia Nervosa (130 m, III, WI4 R).

Carsten leading the first pitch of Anorexia Nervosa.

Carlos at the crux of the first pitch. A narrow gully which is often without ice. We were lucky as there was enough ice to make it relatively easy to pass.

The author leading the second (and last) pitch.

Weathering Heights (100 m, III, WI4) [right] and New Route (60 m, III, WI4 R) [left].

Carlos leading the new route.

Carsten seconding the new route.

Carsten leading the second (and final) pitch of Weathering Heights. As always, the surroundings in the Ghost is just beautiful.

Previous posts.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Day 19 - Whiteman Falls (95 m, IV, WI6) and Red Man Soars (55 m, IV, 5.10, WI4+), Opal Creek

After our warm-up climbs at Haffner Creek and Evan-Thomas Creek, Carsten P. Cooper-Jensen was now ready for a real adventure. Together with Carlos Buhler we thus went to Opal Creek to climb two difficult routes: Whiteman Falls (95 m, IV, WI6) and Red Man Soars (55 m, IV, 5.10, WI4+). This was to be my first Canadian WI6 lead (had previously led WI6 in Norway and China), so I was pretty excited!

The approach to Opal Creek is a beautiful adventure in itself. First we skied 5 km along a winter-closed road with stunning views of the Kananaskis mountains made even more beautiful by clouds hanging in the valley below us. Next we walked into the creek itself with beautiful narrow canyons.

Carsten walked in front of me and suddenly yelled "I hope you have good nerves today!?". A littler later I could also see Whiteman Falls with at first looked pretty intimidating with its huge ice flakes and mushrooms. However, upon closer inspection it was possible to find a reasonable line through the maze of ice features and we thus geared up and began climbing.

Carsten led the first WI4 pitch which was supposed to go halfway up the waterfall to a cave on the right. However, the traversing back and forth to negotiate the huge flakes and mushrooms at the bottom created so much rope drag that he eventually made a belay on top of one of the big mushrooms shelter from falling ice by another mushroom above him.

Next it was my turn to lead the crux WI6 pitch. It was actually nice to start from the mushroom rather than the cave as it gave me the opportunity to put in a couple of good screws before the going got tough. It was the wildest ice pitch I have ever led. The route is reputed for sporting running water below the ice you climb on - and today was no exception. Pretty wild to look at running water 10-15 behind crystal clear ice. Very beautiful but also a bit unnerving! I was thus very careful not to place ice screws into the running water as I didn't want to repeat the mistake on Murchinson Falls where I created a water shower for my followers! The route got increasingly difficult and climaxed with overhanging mushrooms at the top. Luckily it was possible to circumvent them by traversing back and forth, and once again I was very happy for my leash less tools which made these technical maneuvers easier (albeit not easy!).

I was extremely happy when I reached my anchor. Leading a Canadian WI6 route has been a goal for me for years and it was thus fantastic to finally reach this goal :-)

Next Carlos Buhler led the mixed route Red Man Soars (55 m, IV, 5.10, WI4+) on traditional gear. We were running out of time and Carsten was so generous as to offer me to clean the route. It was super entertaining climbing with good holds on rock and thin ice. The crux was to traverse from the overhanging crack system to the slab and the initial moves on the slab which offered absolutely no holds for the right crampon! Great lead by Carlos and happy that I got to second it.

We then skied out with the mountain bathed in moonlight which was equally beautiful as the morning approach in sun light.

Whiteman Falls is one of the most beautiful ice climbs I have ever done and is thus very recommendable. The only climb that I have climbed which equals it is Rasterfarice (250 m, WI6) in China - but that is not so easy to get to ;-)

The ski approach to Opal Creek offered stunning views of the Kananaskis mountains with clouds hanging in the valley below us.

Carsten at his belay on the mushroom in the middle of the picture. The "correct" belay is in the cave further up to the right.

Carsten at his belay on the mushroom with his legs hanging in free air. Great exposure!

A Spaniard leading the crux WI6 pitch. The blue clear ice to his left is the pipe with running water below 10-15 cm ice. He is right under the crux consisting of overhanging mushrooms.

A happy Hans at the belay after his first Canadian WI6 lead. Great view as well!

Carlos leading the overhanging rock of Red Man Soars.

Carlos on the slabs above the crux of Red Man Soars.

Previous posts.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Day 17 - Snowline (100 m, III, WI4) and Moonlight (100 m, III, WI4), Evan-Thomas Creek

My regular climbing partner, Carsten P. Cooper-Jensen, arrived late Friday night. In order to get him warmed up we spent Saturday playing around Haffner Creek and today we then went back to Evan-Thomas Creek to climb Snowline (100 m, III, WI4) and Moonlight (100 m, III, WI4). I missed both climbs on my previous visit were I ended up climbing a potential new mixed line left of Moonlight (read that story here).

It was thus nice to come back and climb the two classic ice routes. Both climbs were very enjoyable. Not too hard as they we pretty hacked out, but interesting as the ice was quite thin and we thus had to consider where to place ice axes, crampons and ice screws.

Carsten leading first pitch of Snowline.

Carsten at the first belay of Snowline.

Carsten leading first pitch of Moonlight.

Carsten at the first belay of Moonlight. The crux of the route was to traverse from the belay out on the near vertical curtain on the left - a couple of awkward sidewards movements which, however, were made a lot easier with my leash less ice axes.

Previous posts.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Day 15 - Marion Falls (100 m, III, WI5) and Caroline Falls (50 m, III, WI5), Johnson Creek, The Ghost

For the last two weeks Carlos Buhler and I have wanted to climb Marion Falls (100 m, III, WI5) in Johnson Creek which is located in a remote part of The Ghost. On our first visit we hiked into the wrong valley (the Hydrophobia valley) and thus didn't have time to climb the route when we finally found it (read the story here). On our second visit four days later we drove all the way into the correct valley with Carlos' 4WD truck suited with snow chains, parked right a the foot of the neighboring Caroline Falls (50 m, III, WI5), but then retreated due to bad weather before we even left the car (read that story here).

Today we made our third attempt on the route and were finally successful. Carlos once again managed to drive his truck all the way to the base of the climb (3.5 hours from Canmore) which left us with just 15 min approach. We initially soloed a short ice step at the base of the canyon where after I led a WI3 pitch to the base of the crux pillar. The overhanging mushrooms looked pretty scary and the 4-8 °C and bright sun on the route created a rain shower on the route. However, the warm temperatures also created very plastic ice which was easy to get good ice axe placements in. I made a solid anchor with two ice screws in shaded ice and a threaded icicle where after Carlos came up.

He took a good look at the overhanging mushrooms and visualized the easiest route past them. He was thus able to navigate past them leaving only one overhanging move. After the 15 meters of mushrooms followed a vertical sheet of ice of 20 meters. The relative shortness of the crux pillar probably account for the low grade of WI5 - hard Canadian grading as always!

Soon it was my term to follow and the mushrooms offered some of the most enjoyable ice climbing I have done so far. Very technical climbing and it was just awesome to stand on the mushrooms and look down into absolutely free air. Newer tried that on ice before! The only problem was the water dripping from the mushrooms which fell into my eyes each time I looked up - certainly didn't make the climbing easier!

After the crux pitch we saw another WI3 pitch further up the ice flow which was not described in the guide book. We looked at each other and said "why not - we will probably newer come up here again!". I thus lead another pitch of enjoyable climbing.

It had taken us less time to climb the route than anticipated and back at the car we thus quickly agreed to give the neighboring route Caroline Falls (50 m, III, WI5) a go. However, on the short drive to that route, we high centered the truck on rock and snow and thus had to get the shovels out. 20 min later the car was free - great for a second I feared that we lost the chance to climb the route.

Another 15 min later we were at the base of Caroline Falls which is just one long pitch of 3 vertical ice sections intersected by easier steps which provided good rests. The first vertical section of 10-15 meters was on thin half rotten ice which was detached from the rock. Ice screws would thus not provide any protection and I thus chose to take comfort in the snow field below working as a crash pad. Luckily, the ice was plastic and thus relatively easy to climb. I was however relieved when I got to the step before the next vertical section which finally provided good ice for protection. Nice feeling to put in the first ice screw! After that section the pitch was easy going with good ice for my tools, crampons and ice screws.

It was really nice to climb these two routes. It was quite obvious that the routes were not climbed very often due to the remote location (my guess is that we were the first this season). That's too bad as both routes are of a very high class. So go climb 'em!

Marion Falls. The crux is the overhanging mushrooms in the middle of the route.

Carlos at the top of the initial WI3 pitch looking for the best line past the mushrooms.

Carlos leading the mushroom crux.

The third WI3 pitch of Marion Falls, which is not visible from the base of the route.

Carlos preparing an abalakov anchor. Note the beautiful surroundings!

Carlos at the base of Caroline Falls.

The author above the crux of Caroline Falls - relieved after just having put his first ice screw in.

Previous posts.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Day 13 - Murchinson Falls (180 m, III, WI4+)

10 years ago Martin Ploug took a 3-month mountaineering course with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures. During the course they attempted to climb Murchinson Falls (180 m, III, WI4+) but had to turn around halfway up due to lack of time. Thus like my craving to return to complete Louise Falls (read story here) he had craved for 10 years to complete this climb. As it was the last day in Banff for him, David Brauner and Line Antoft (who took a rest day) we decided to give it a go.

Carlos Buhler and his friend Wade wanted to attempt a neighboring route and we thus decided to drive as a convoy up the Icefields Parkway. As we turned onto the highway in Lake Louise we were unpleasantly surprised to find 10-20 cm fresh show on the road. Both parties were in “normal” 2WD cars and we thus debated for a while whether we should turn around and drive to Fields instead. However, David, Martin and I all longed after doing a long route as our last climb together this season so we decided to drive in the tracks on the Icefield Parkway.

15 km before our destination Carlos’ car suddenly stopped working. David (who loves to modify his truck back home) went up to have a look at the engine, but without tools it was hard to do much. The engine room was full of snow and we thus thought that it was either water in the electricity or gas that had caused the problem. After one hour of trying to get the car going Carlos suggested that we drove ahead so we still had a chance to climb the route. He and Wade would then continue the efforts to get the car going – or hitch a ride home.

The access to Murchinson Falls was a bit hard as we were the first to re-break the trail after the recent snow fall. It thus took us 2 hours to reach the base of the climb. We had been a bit concerned about the open snow field leading up to the climb as it is potentially avalanche prone. With the current high avalanche risk we had thus brought beepers, probes and shovels (first time for me on a climb!) and snow shoes (to spread our weight over a greater surface and thus reduce the risk of triggering an avalanche). However, when we got to the snow field we were relieved to see that most snow had blown AWAY and that the remaining snow was bonded by rock boulder and ice from the route. Newer the less, it was nice to use the snow shoes to walk across the snow field and it was thus not a complete waste to bring the snow shoes.

We soloed the initial easy ice step which enabled us to complete the climb in three pitches. David lead the first pitch into an ice cave on the left. These caves always look so nice from below, but it is becoming my experience that they are often a wet experience with unpleasant traverses when leaving them again. This cave was no exception as it rained with water just outside of it. David leading the route had thus become soaked (wearing soft shells), but luckily I saw the disaster coming and thus speed traversed by the rain and got almost dry into the cave.

The crux of the route is the third pitch (which I got as they had led the crux of our last climb This House of Sky) but the second pitch lead by Martin turned out to be equally hard. First it was awkward to get out of the cave and then lead the wet traverse back to the main line. Next followed 15 meter of almost vertical climbing which appeared very exposed as a major piece of the route had fallen of below leaving overhanging ice (which David had circumvented on the left). The overhang made it looked as we were climbing in free air when looking down at the feet. Great exposure!

I quickly climbed the pitch in order to get out of the way of David climbing below so he wouldn’t be hit by ice. As I reached the belay, Martin and I looked at each other with an uncertain look – will we be able to complete the route? The car accident, time consuming approach and climbing three together had all taken its time. When David reached the anchor it was 17:30 and we thus had 1 – 1.5 hours of sunlight to complete the route......

However, we quickly decided to give it a go – we didn’t want Martin to turn around halfway up again! I climbed the crux pitch as fast as possible, trying to avoid the wet ice sections, and swore when I reached the end of the rope thus a couple of meters from the final rock anchor. Why had we chosen to climb with my 57 meter cut-off rope!!!!???? Well, I down climbed to a plateau a few meters down and began making the anchor. As I drilled in the first ice screw it hit a hidden water stream under the ice resulting in a 10 cm high water fountain coming out of the hole. Bugger!!! I tried to plug the hole with snow, ice and a screw but it was impossible to stop the flow completely. I put in two other screws in good ice and cut a hole in a ice curtain which I threaded.

When Martin and David had come halfway up the pitch it became too dark to climb without a headlamp. They thus hung from ice screws while putting on the headlamps and then continued climbing. As they got near to the belay I could hear them swearing from getting drenched with water. As Martin’s headlight shined on the lip of the belay plateau I could see why – there were two 1 cm wide streams of water running over the lip. I had clearly not been successful in stopping the water from running out of the ice screw hole!

As they got to the anchor they were thus wet, cold and in a slightly bad mood. I on the other hand was dry, warm and in a great mood. It had been spectacular to stand at the belay watching the sunset and moon rise over the spectacular icefields. It was a clear night and the moon light reflections in the ice formation was just fantastic.

As we began rappelling in the dark, Martin and David regained their good spirit and also enjoyed the spectacular venue and 12 hours after we left the car we were back in its comfort. On the way home we quickly agreed that this had been an awesome route (in spite of the water shower on the last pitch) and a great way to end our two weeks together in the Canadian Rockies.

This route became a breakthrough in my ice climbing career. Carlos has for a long time advised me to drop the leashes of my ice tools and climb leashless. I have experimented with leashless systems for a while on easy route and on top-rope, but this time I finally climbed a full "real" route leashless (including leading). For me the breakthrough was to find an ice axe that I liked (Petzl Quarks with pinky rests rather than various new school axes with ergonomics grips) and to get new crampons with horizontal front points (Black Diamond Sabretooth Pro), which in my view give a much better grip on structured/vertical ice than mono/dual vertical front points. A set-up contrary to the current media hype (= ergonomic tools and vertical front points), but this works for me and finally led to the leashless breaktrough :-)

P.S. Carlos and Wade eventually got the car going by cleaning the snow out of the air intake and then went to Field to climb a mixed route behind Pilsner Column.

Driving in the snow behind Carlos on the Icefields Parkway. One of the most beautiful mountain ranges on the planet!

David looking into the snow filled engine room of Carlos' car trying to figure out whats wrong.

Our first look of the route during the approach though the forest.

Martin snowshoeing up the snow field below the climb. Luckily, the was only little snow bonded by rock boulders and ice on the potential avalanche slope leading up to the climb.

Murchinson Falls with our belays marked. Note the visible rock in the middle of the climb - a big chunck of ice had fallen of.

David leading the first pitch.

Martin climbing the wet traverse with the "hole" in the ice route on the right.

The author in the cave belaying Martin while enjoying the spectacular view.

The author leading the final crux pitch.

A wet and ice covered Martin building an abalakov rappel anchor in the dark.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Day 11 - This House of Sky, The Ghost (750 m, III, WI3-4)

Today Line Antoft, Martin Ploug, David Brauner, Carlos Buhler and I wanted to climb a long route together. It is not an easy undertaking to ice climb long routes with five people as falling ice etc. makes it potential dangerous and slow going. However, the route This House of Sky is ideal for this purpose as it mainly consist of short and easy ice steps and snow fields which can be soloed which increase the speed dramatically. Furthermore, the two steep passages which need rope and protection are wide enough to allow two simultanous climbers.

The route is located in North Ghost and is thus quite remote - unless you have a driver like Carlos which is not affraid of putting his 4WD truck to the test! He thus managed to drive us all the way to the base of the climb with 10 min walk in! After that interesting 4WD drive it was a very enjoyable climb, where we just took it easy and soloed the WI2-3 ice steps carefully until we reached the WI3-4 ice pillar which many consider the end of the climb. David and Martin won the slots to lead the pillar after which we actually continued up to a WI3 section which was so long that we decided to use the ropes again. Carlos saw an interesting thin variation to the left which we climbed whereas David lead the thick and wide ice on the right followed by Line and Martin.

Initially the climb follows a narrow canyon which gradully widens which dramatically increased our exposure to the wind. As we got to the top of the WI3 section it certainly felt like a true alpine experience with spin drift and hard wind gusts that threw us a bit out of balance. After 750 vertical climbing from the car we thus decided to call it a day and began rappelling. After approximately 7-8 rappels and some down climbing we reached the car.

A great route if you like to just get some mileage on your ice axes in a very beautiful setting!

Carlos managed to get his 4WD truck all the way to the base of climb which is in the valley behind the car!

A typical situation on the route - soloing short WI2-3 steps which were pretty hacked out and thus very easy.

Another typical situation on the route - walking up snow fields and easy ice. Note the beautiful sorroundings.

Carlos walking up to the crux WI3-4 pillar (middle of picture) and the final long WI3 pitch (upper right hand corner).

David (left) and Martin (right) leading the crux pillar.

Carlos leading the interesting thin variation of the last WI3 pitch (seen to the right).

Carlos rappelling from an abalakov anchor from our high point above the WI3 pitch.

On the way out we noted this rock cave with wood braches at the bottom. We were quite sure it was a bear cave but none of us had the gust to go up and look into it. Also we didn't want to disturb the bear so we just hurried out of there.

Normally you are safe when you get back to the car - but not in The Ghost where you are not safe until you are back on the highway! Here we hacked ice away in order to cross The Ghost River. Driving in The Ghost is always an interesting experience in itself!
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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Day 10 - Mix climbing at Bear Spirit

The cold weather yesterday had taken its toll on our energy and we thus decided to take an easy day mix climbing at Bear Spirit. Compared to Haffner Creek the drive is shorter whereas the approach is longer which might make you wonder why Bear Spirit is worthwhile!? The answer is easy - the longer approach keeps most people away and it is thus a much more pleasant place to climb!

I initially climbed the large free-standing WI4 pillar which was a lot of fun. The right side had been climbed a lot whereas the left side was quite virgin which sported a fun climb on structured ice. Afterwards Carlos Buhler and David Brauner top-robed the climb in order to warm up for the mix climbing.

Carlos then led the mixed route Spoiler (M7+), which I subsequently top-roped albeit with two rests. It had great holds all the way, but the overhanging route soon emptied my forearms for energy! I also suck at free climbing rock overhangs so my rests came to no surprise to me.....

The ice pillar grows all season and thus covers several of the central mix routes this late in the season. Carlos thus had to improvise when he attempted to start on X-Mass Chopping (M8-) and then traverse left towards Unleash the Frogs (M7+) under the ice curtain. It proved to be pretty exposed and finally he had to retreat from the bolts.

David had never led a free-standing WI4 pillar and had thus struggled mentally all day on whether to lead it or not. Just before we left the area he decided to give it a go - and got to the anchor. A great day for him!

Most of the 1 hour approach follows this beautiful creek.

Carlos on the final approach to Bear Spirit. A small but great area. The route Spoiler follows the overhanging crack system just left of the ice curtain.

David leading his first free-standing WI4 pillar.

David leading the pillar.

Carlos leading Spoiler (M7+).

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Day 9 - Louise Falls (WI4-5)

On my first ice climbing trip to Banff in 2004 I tried to climb Louise Falls (110 m, II, WI4-5) with Carsten P. Jensen but none of us had the guts to lead the crux free-standing pillar (read story here). This has annoyed me for all these years and today I thus returned with David Brauner to finish the climb. Our agreement was that he would lead the first two pitches and I would then lead the final crux pitch.

It was freaking cold (approximately -30°C) when we got out of bed. When we arrived Lake Louise a couple of hours later it was not much warmer and we thus quickly agreed to start out with a Starbucks coffee and wait a bit for it to warm up a bit! 30 min later we were on the way along the lake which provides the easiest access of the Canadian Rockies along a horse sledge track.

Although it was Saturday we only had to share the route with one other party. Despite the popularity of the route, the freaking cold kept people away (it got up to a high of -21 °C) - great for us! As planned David lead the first two pitches up to a belay left of the free-standing pillar. Much to our surprise the ice was quite good and not brittle as we had feared. Probably, the previous warm temperatures were still "stored" in the ice.

In spite of the cold it rained down with water between our belay and the pillar. I thus quickly traversed the waterfall and got myself established below the pillar. The water was undercooled and thus turned into instant ice as it me. Nice as it didn't penetrate the clothing but the ropes soon got covered in thick ice. Put in two good screws for each of the half-ropes and then began climbing the vertical pillar. I climbed with my axes in a narrow groove with good hook holds for the axes which allowed me to place my feet on the outside of the groove which reduced the angle of the climb. I thus found the pillar surprisingly easy. Soon, I was at the belay in the trees. It was quite hard to pull the ice covered ropes through the belay device - probably the hardest part of the climb!

A great route which I can highly recommend and a great feeling finally to complete the route!

The ice skating ring of Chateau Lake Louise. The ice flow of Louise Falls can be seen in the forest on the right above the ice castle.

David in front of the route. The grade varies between WI4 and WI5 depending on how the crux pillar has formed. This year it was fat and easy - I would say WI4.

David leading the first pitch in the most beautiful surroundings.

David leading the second pitch.

Hans getting ready to lead the crux free-standing pillar.

David covered in ice rappelling the route.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Day 8 - Marion Falls, Johnson Creek, The Ghost - Part 2

Four days ago Carlos Buhler and I tried to get into the remote Johnson Creek, The Ghost to climb Marion Falls (WI5). We got a bit lost and thus didn't have time to climb it once we found it, but it looked great and we thus wanted to come back and climb it. This time we brought snow chains in order to be able to drive all the way into the creek (last time we stopped before a steep hill just before the bog as we were unsure if we would be able to get back up without chains). My Danish friends Line, Martin and David also came along as they wanted to climb Caroline Falls next to our route. The drive into the creek was quite an adventure in itself. First we followed a snow covered 4WD unpaved track in the forest which turned into a narrow Quad track. Next we drove across the bog including the creek crevasse and then finally we dove into the frozen Johnson Creek which was a maze of stones and Quad tracks.

We actually managed to get all the way to Caroline Falls which was quite an achievement! Unfortunately, it began to snow more and more as we drove into Johnson Creek and we were thus nervous if we would be able to find our way back though the stony creek. We didn't want to get stuck with a broken truck this far into The Ghost and thus debated what to do for a while.

It was really difficult to turn around once again without climbing the route, but we chose the safe option and drove out. Given all the snow that fell later that day it was probably a wise decision.

Well, I hope we will get a third try on the route as it really looks awesome!
Road closed - wonder what that means.....

This time we brought snow chains in order to be able to drive all the way into Johnson Creek (last time we parked just before the bog).

Crossing a frozen creek was sketchy as we broke through the ice. However, luckily the creek was shallow!

The truck got high-centered once and we thus all had to go out and dig it free.

Carlos' 4WD in front of Caroline Falls in Johnson Creek. Quite an achievement to get that far into the Ghost with a truck!

Previous posts.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Day 6 - Evan Thomas Creek

Evan Thomas Creek is a very nice climbing area with just 1 hour approach along a beautiful creek and no avalanche danger. Today I went there with David Brauner, Martin Ploug and Carlos Buhler to climb in the Moonlight area. I had expected to climb some of the three routes in the guidebook [Moonlight (WI4), Snowline (WI4) and 2 low 4 zero (WI3 R)] but when we got there Carlos spotted a potential new mixed route left of Moonlight..... We went up to look at it and decided to give it a go.

Even before we began climbing the route it was obvious that the crux would be to protect to rock sections as the rock was of poor quality with few cracks to put pro into. However, the climbing was newer difficult - just mentally demanding. As I led the first pitch which climbed a rock corner for 10 m with reasonable small ledges but poor rock and lousy protection I took comfort in the deep snow field below - a nice crash pad! The rock led to an ice smear that gradually got thicker for 10 m until I reached a thick vertical pillar. I put in a stubbie ice screw as soon as the ice go thick enough which was a really nice feeling - the first pro I trusted! I then established a hanging belay on the top of the ice pilar.

Carlos then led a sketchy traverse on poor rock and moss (!) with lousy protection until he reached a thin ice smear which gradually got thicker. He also put in a stubbie as soon as he could, but had to tie it off as the ice was not thick enough! I liked his comment "You have to be pretty desperate to climb on that!" where after he put in another tied-off stubbie and continued upwards! He established the second belay at the top of the ice under a rock overhang from where we rapped the route.

After we returned home we asked around whether the route was new or not. Sean Isaac commented that it might be Cry of the Snow Lion (M5, 55m) which was climbed in 2005 but as we didn't see the pin anchor they had made we don't really know. We also suggested the grade M5 (but with a R due to the lousy pro) and called the route Luna with reference to the Moonlight area and my dog!

New route or not - it was a great adventure with a Scottish alpine feel to it!

You can read about the new route or not discussions here.

David in front of Moonlight (left), Snowline (middle) and 2 low 4 zero (right)

Carlos in front of the route we climbed with line shown in red.

Carlos on thin ice on the second pitch just after the sketchy rock/moss traverse.

Previous posts.


Saturday, February 9, 2008

Day 4 - Marion Falls, Johnson Creek, The Ghost - Part 1

Johnson Creek is a remote part of The Ghost which is rarely visited in the winter. Carlos Buhler had never been in the canyon so we decided to go in there in order to climb Marion Falls (100 m, III, WI5) if it looked good. We drove as far into Waiparous Creek as we dared without snow chains. It was quite a challenging drive as the road turned into snow covered Quad tracks.... Just before the bog we parked the truck and hiked into a canyon which we believed was Johnson Creek. However, we couldn't really find a creek and ended walking up into a forest which didn't seem right..... Suddenly, we could see Hydrophobia and we then knew that we had walked too far south and had ended up in the wrong canyon. Bummer! Albeit we knew that we wouldn't be able to climb a route in Johnson Creek, as it would be too late, we decided to do the hike which we did not regret. It was beautiful over there and we saw that all three climbs over there [Venus (WI3), Caroline Falls (WI4-5) and Marion Falls (WI5) all looked great! We thus decided to come back another day with snow chains so we could drive across the bog and get closer to the climbs. More on that another day......
Driving on Quad tracks in the forest with Carlos' 4WD was quite challenging.

Carlos on the approach on the bog. The canyon to his right in the horizon is where Hydrophobia is located.

Hydrophobia (150 m, V, WI5+) - an awesome looking climb, which however was not our goal of the day. We had hiked into the wrong canyon!

Venus (50 m, III, WI3)

Caroline Falls (50 m, III, WI4-5)

Marion Falls (100 m, III, WI5) - our goal of the day. However, when we finally found it, it was too late to climb it!

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Day 3 - Haffner Creek

Sunday Crista-Lee and Carlos were going with their two kids and some friends to the mixed sportsclimbing area Haffner Creek which is a very popular place due to the easy access (20 min walk), lack of avalanche danger and lots of bolted mix climbing routes. There are also a couple of easy ice routes (WI3) which we used to warm up. Carlos then led the mix route Half 'a' Half (M7) so we could try it on top rope. It was a great day, but I was taking it easy to save my energy for the next day where Carlos and I had planned to return to The Ghost for another WI5 route.....

The huzz and buzz of Haffner Creek. A popular place due to easy access and no avalanche danger.

Daniel Brauner leading an interesting ice corner with good bridging.

Carlos Buhler leading "Half 'n' Half" (M7).

Line Antoft taking care of 6 month old Manuel while Crista-Lee and Carlos were climbing. Better train those kids while they are young!

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Day 2 - Grotto Canyon

After climbing The Sorcerer I drove to Banff to meet up with my Danish climbing friends Line Antoft, Martin Ploug and David Braüner. They were at the final stage of their road trip which began in Colorado a month ago when we climbed together at the Ouray Ice Festival. We wanted an easy start where we could all climb in the same area and I thus suggested Grotto Canyon which I had previously visited on a trip in 2005.

Grotto Canyon sports three ice routes of various difficulty (Grotto Falls WI3, Hers WI3-4 and His WI4-5) and several mix routes including Mental Jewelery (M6+) and Sketch and Sniff (M6+). We climbed all these routes albeit we only led the two easiest ice routes. I am still learning to mix climb and thus need more experience before I begin leading M6+! However, I was pleasantly surprised that I toproped both mix routes without falling and hanging which is much better than my previous visit to Grotto Canyon. See pictures of the routes below and click here to see video of me negotiating the crux of Mental Jewelery (which is to move from the rock to the free-hanging ice curtain).
David leading Hers (WI3-4) seen from the top of His.

Line top-roping Sketch and Sniff (M6+).

Martin top-roping His (WI4-5).

Hans top-roping Mental Jewelery (M6+).
Click here to see video of the ascent.

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Day 1: The Sorcerer (210m, IV, WI5), The Ghost, Canada

January 31 I traveled to Banff, Canada to begin a 1 month leave without pay to go ice climbing! I crashed at my friends Crista-Lee Mitchell and Carlos Buhler the first night and to my luck Carlos was eager to climb with me the next day. He asked if I was in good shape which I acknowledged and he then suggested to go to The Ghost and climb the super-classic route The Sorcerer (210m, IV, WI5).

Next morning we thus got up at 5 AM and drove for 2 hours on increasingly bad roads. Glad Carlos had a 4WD truck and know how to use it! Eventually we crossed the Ghost River and parked the truck. Next we walked for 2 hours in increasingly deep snow which was hard work. It was kind of difficult to find the route as we walked in thick forest which obstructed our view, and we were close to giving up when we reached the ridge of the creek from the waterfall - and there in the back of the valley was The Sorcerer. I had to swallow a couple of times as it looked pretty difficult from this distance.....

We walked along the ridge as far as possible but soon had to dive into the knee-deep snow of the creek. As we reached the base of the climb Carlos offered me the crux fourth pitch as I would otherwise have to come back and climb it another time! Accepting his logic he started of on the first pitch. I climbed the second pitch which led up to the crux pillar of which Carlos led the first half up to a gave. The ice was kind of airy which gave good deep sticks with the ice tools and occasional good foot holds. However, given the air in the ice the screw placements were a bit questionable. However, I have tried worse and thus happily took the lead on the fourth pitch. Nevertheless I was happy when I reached the end of the vertical ice as my forearms and calves were getting busted!

We rapped the route and just got to the base of the climb as darkness fell upon us. 2 hours walk-out and 2 hours drive later we were back at the house. What a great day in a great setting!

Carlos' 4WD truck parked in The Ghost River.

Standing on the ridge seeing The Sorcerer for the first time.

Carlos on the final approach to The Sorcerer.

Carlos traversing left to lead the third pitch.

Carlos leading the third pitch of airy ice. In my view this pitch was just as hard as the fourth crux pitch.

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