Monday, January 12, 2015

Beowulf (WI 4) and Grotto Canyon - Ice Review (sort of)

The annual ACC Ice Review took place this past weekend. Its amazing to think that I only tried ice climbing for the first time at this event last year. It is amazing what can change in a year! As an unofficial trip for this years Ice Review, Kyle, Alex, Cat and I decided to go into the Ghost Wilderness Area to climb Beowulf (WI 4, 6 pitches, 450m). Road reports were not optimistic, and neither were trip reports from the week prior, but nonetheless we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best as we rolled out of Calgary at 6:30 am. I had woken up feeling terrible so was only semi-conscious for most of the drive to the Ghost access road. I was not going to let a cold stop me from climbing, so I put on all my layers and snuggled up with a blanket and pillow in the backseat. Once we arrived at the big hill, it was too exciting (and rough) to continue dozing and I stared out the window eagerly at this amazing area that I had only heard stories about as the sun slowly rose.
An amazing sunrise welcomes us into the Ghost
The road was fairly easy to find thanks to some new tracks, and we had little trouble with the river crossings once the chains were on the car. We took our time and Kyle got out to scope out a few of the ice sections and crossings first but everything seemed to be going right and we were able to make it through without an issues. The road got really rough after we passed the Good, the Bad and the Ugly climb but we made it all the way to the Beowulf parking area and were the second car there. It had taken us about 4 hours from Calgary.
Getting ready for another river crossing
Snowy tracks as we blaze further into the North Ghost
Cat wasn't climbing with us that day, she was just happy to be along for the off-roading part of the trip. Alex, Kyle and I left her at the car with lots of sleeping bags and snacks and started the approach to Beowulf. The canyon that contains this climb is amazing with steep sided cliffs that made us feel very small. Suddenly we were able to see the start of the climb and I was stunned. It looked colossal but incredibly fun. We could see another group high above just finishing the first 50 m pitch of vertical ice. 
Alex starts up the first pitch
Alex approaches the next section of steep ice on Beowulf
Beowulf's majestic first pitch 
Alex nears the top of the first pitch
Once Alex, our fearless leader, reached the belay, Kyle and I simul-climbed. It really sped the process up and climbing side by side prevented us from dropping ice onto each other. It was a tiring pitch and by the top, my calves were screaming for a rest. The last few meters were wet and slushy from running water so we moved quickly through to try and stay dry.
Kyle and I simul-climbing after Alex's lead
After the first pitch, the climbing was not very technical for quite some time. We followed the canyon unroped, solo climbing the small steps of ice that we encountered. There was one WI 2 pitch that I lead, but Kyle and Alex just soloed after me to keep us moving quickly.
Making our way up the canyon
Kyle in the steep walled canyon on Beowulf
Alex doing some free soloing up a steep section
The only other technical climbing was the final two pitches. When we arrived, the group we had been following was working their way up, so we decided to continue up the canyon past them to explore the Devil's Punchbowl which we believed was only about 10 minutes beyond. I am not sure if it was because we were breaking trail, or rather Kyle was while I lagged behind, because we were not moving very quickly (again due to me feeling tired and sick), or because we were misinformed, but we never did get to the Punchbowl. Apparently it is hard to miss, so we must not have gone up high enough. We turned around after 30 minutes so that we would have enough time to finish Beowulf. I guess that area will have to be another days adventure.
Walking down from below the Devil's Punchbowl
Back at the final flow of Beowulf, the other group was rappelling down. Their leader had taken a fall at the top of the last pitch and wasn't feeling very well. We offered to help but he was still smiling (sort of) and walking so they said that they would just take their time on the way out. They were able to get out from the Ghost and we later found out that he had broken some ribs and torn his shoulders. Ouch! Alex lead the final pitches with Kyle and I climbing together once again. Kyle took a chunk of ice to the chin but was fine and I slammed my knee into the ice. We were getting tired. It was past our turn around time at this point, but we were so close to the top that it would have been heartbreaking to head down without finishing. It just meant that we would be driving out in the dark which wasn't so bad.
Alex starting up the 2nd last pitch, our 3rd real pitch of technical ice
Cold and tired at the belay, almost at the top
Kyle is happy, despite his cut chin
We didn't take much time to sit around at the top since we had a long descent ahead of us and not much daylight left. We were able to do 60 m rappels down the large pitches and 2 single pitch rappels down some of the steeper WI 2s, and down climbed the rest of the route. We made pretty good time and got back to the truck at about 5:30, just as the light was fading. We had been climbing for about 7.5 hours and I was exhausted. Despite the route being pretty wet in places, we hadn't got too soaked. There were some soggy post-hole boot prints, but we managed to avoid most of the really wet stuff.
Kyle starting the long 60 m rappel off the top of the route
The drive out was uneventful. It had started to snow and by the time we approached the big hill, the tracks from other vehicles were starting to disappear so we made it out just in time! It was a long slow drive to Banff to meet up with the ACC for the Ice Review social. We arrived at 9 pm and lots of people had already gone to bed. Luckily there was plenty of beer and snacks left, although not too much chili which was unfortunate. Setting up the tent in the snow took a lot of willpower but crawling into my sleeping bag was a great reward after a long day.

Sunday morning we slept in a bit before packing up and heading to Grotto Canyon for the day. It was busy in the parking lot and we passed two large hiking groups on our way in. Once we arrived, there were a couple of groups of climbers and a line-up for Grotto Falls. Alex lead Hers (WI 4) to set up a top rope and collect some gear for another group who had bailed. Kyle and I did a top rope lap on Hers before heading over to Grotto Falls (WI 2) while Alex did some mixed climbing and Cat top-roped.
The rope may have got a bit wet, it was totally frozen when we pulled it out of the truck
Alex leading Hers (WI 4)
Kyle playing on the snow mushrooms at the bottom of His

I lead the first pitch of Grotto and Kyle took the second. There was another group on the route but they climbed it as a single pitch and then let us rap off their ropes (thanks!). The second pitch was incredibly wet. Water was running down the entire thing and seconding it was drenching. Luckily this was our last climb for the day because my gloves were frozen and I was cold!
Rappelling Grotto Falls

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