Monday, July 31, 2017

Takakkaw Falls (Weekend Double Header - Part II)

So excited about Takakkaw Falls!
Following our amazing day on Achilles Spire, Kyle and I made our way to Field, BC where we found space in the overflow camping at the Monarch Campground. Too exhausted to do anything useful, we milled around and contemplated just sleeping on the ground, until we were basically adopted by a group of older ACC'ers that were camped nearby. They force-fed us beer and smartfood popcorn (with very little resistance on our part) while we tried to figure out what time they were getting up to climb Takakkaw Falls in the morning so we could beat them to it. They even let us share a campsite so we didn't have to sleep on the incredibly uneven tent spot we had chosen in our fatigue. Eventually they caved and told us when they planned on climbing, so we got up and out of the campground an hour before them. A nice sleep in until 5:30 had us at the approach to Takakkaw Falls for 6:40 am. Shockingly, we were the only ones there (not).
Kyle on the traverse pitch to the large corner
The Takakkaw Falls route is a mostly bolted 12 pitch 5.6 that climbs directly to the left of the falls. The start of the route is quite a ways over to the left at the top of the scree slope, but there is a long traverse that brings you right up beside the falls for the upper pitches. The rock quality was nowhere near that of Achilles Spire the day before and the route-finding proved challenging, especially following the traverse. Initially, we unroped after a very short traverse that we thought was the 3rd pitch. We walked out along a ledge to the base of a huge left-facing corner. What we should have done was continue past the bolted station that I thought was the top of the third pitch, and trended up and right to another station above. From that station, it was sparsely bolted but very easy scrambling up and right to a higher ledge that took you across to the same left facing corner, only higher and protected with a belay station. The route we had taken appeared to be the descent route (and was much less terrifying to traverse in reverse). I had a bit of a freak out with the unroped traverse, but was able to get my composure back enough to lead the next pitch once we got back on route.
Happy/stressed out Jenny after completing the traverse and getting ready to lead
When you reach the top of the corner, you are right beside the waterfall! There were 2 pitches up the corner that you may want some gear for (we placed 3 cams the entire route - a #0.75, #1 and #2), but all the gear was pretty well optional if you are comfortable with being run-out on 5.6. The pitch above the corner was really cool as the waterfall was thundering down beside us. Every so often we would get sprayed by mist when the wind picked up.
Pretty spectacular belay stance beside the falls
Kyle on his way up the 8th pitch
Good belay ledges and views of the falls
If it were not for the cool views of the waterfall, I don't think that this route would get climbed very much. It is chossy and run out, but the position makes up for it! One other unique feature of the route is the 100m of cave that you get to crawl through for pitch 11. We left most of our stuff in a pack at the cave entrance and put everything else in my bag to take with us. The cave is a narrow tunnel for which I would highly suggest a headlamp. It was pitch black in there. Maneuvering with the backpack while trying to keep it clean proved a bit challenging, but crawling through the cave itself was really fun. We had brought knee pads on recommendation from others, which made it much nicer. Your only choice is to crawl on hands and knees or army crawl in the tighter spots so if you are claustrophobic, this may not be for you.
Trying to keep the pack clean on our way through the cave
The cave pops you out right at the top of the waterfall. We had brought our ropes with us so we could climb a final pitch and top out on the cliff above. The pitch was cool because you get to climb an arete right above the river. Not as cool was the single bolt that protected the pitch! Good thing it was pretty mellow.
Close to the top out, above the waterfall
We topped out and followed a small trail that led to a belay tree marked by a cairn. Using our 60 m half ropes we were able to do a 50 m rappel back to the cave entrance to pick up our backpack, then continue down the route with 3 more 60 metre rappels that went very smoothly. This took us to the bottom of the large corner and we joined up with the traverse trail we had mistakenly taken earlier in the day. On the way down, we rappelled past our new ACC friends as they were starting up the last few pitches and dropped a few rocks towards them as a friendly gesture. Two more 30 metre rappels had us at the base and it was a quick 20 minute descent down the scree back to the parking lot.
New alpine club friends on their way up the route
We were back at the truck before 1 and high-tailing it to Calgary in no time. Feeling utterly destroyed from a 25 pitch weekend, we chilled out with take-out chinese food and the most recent episode of Game of Thrones before a well deserved early bedtime.

Achilles Spire (Weekend Double Header - Part I)

Achilles Spire is a 300m, 13 pitch 5.8 sport route on Mt. Andromache (beside Mt. Hector) off the Icefields Parkway. Tiff and Connor invited us along for a big day out and we all stayed at the Mosquito Creek Hostel (3 km from the trailhead) on Friday night for an alpine start on Saturday. Kyle and I arrived at the hostel early enough to scrounge some free wine, cheese and mustard left over from previous guests. Score! We enjoyed the addition to dinner and also took advantage of the hostel's wood sauna, interrupted by brief plunges in the frigid Mosquito Creek. Feeling very relaxed post-sauna, we were in bed early.

The alarm went off at 4 am. I apologize to our hostel-mates but we didn't want to get scooped on the route by the hypothetical people driving up from Canmore who had got up at 3. Luckily our concern was all for naught, and we didn't see another party until mid afternoon when we were most of the way back down the route. We were on the trail at 5:30 and got to watch the sun come up illuminating the mountains of the Wapta Traverse and the turquoise Hector Lake. The approach climbs steeply up past a waterfall before turning towards Mt. Andromache, crossing rocky ledges. When Achilles Spire came into view, we got really excited, but we still had 45 mins of approach to go. All told, it was a 1.5 hour grunt up 710 m of elevation (over 2.7 km if Kyle's watch is trustworthy).
Following cairns on the sunrise approach to Achilles Spire. Lake Hector to the left
Achilles Spire positioned directly above the boys (not the cool pointy thing). Route starts around the left side of the buttress
We were on route by 7ish. Nobody had scooped us and we had the place to ourselves. Kyle and I swung leads and Connor and Tiff did the same behind us. We had gained a ton of elevation on the approach but as we started up the route, views of Little Hector and the glacier of Mt. Hector came into view. The position was excellent, the rock was very solid and the route was well bolted. The route description was very helpful and we were able to make great time. We climbed with a 70m rope and 14 alpine draws so were able to link 8 pitches (1+2, 5+6, 8+9, 11+12) with minimal rope drag. It was all around incredibly enjoyable. I even led pitch 10, one of the 5.8 cruxes, and was totally stoked!
Kyle on his way up to the belay station at the top of pitch 4
Kyle leads away on one of the 5.8 crux pitches (pitch 5)
It wasn't too warm in the shade. Perfect temp for climbing in a hoody. Looking up the Icefields Parkway to the North
Sunny belay station at the top of pitch 9
Kyle on pitch 10, the super fun 5.8 crux
We topped out at 10:30 am and got to chill out on the summit for an hour and a bit in the sunshine. It was beautiful. As we waited for Tiff and Connor (who hadn't been able to link pitches as they only had quickdraws), we ate an early lunch and napped on the warm rocks.
Kyle on the broken rock of the final pitch
Eating lunch with views of Mt. Hector

Very pleased with ourselves
Connor bringing Tiff up the last pitch
The team!
The descent was 12 rappels back the way we came. The sharp limestone caused some issues with stuck ropes, but it was nothing we couldn't get unstuck with some strategic rope flicking. It was a slow descent with rockfall hazard from the loose rock on the ledges. Surprisingly, after being alone all day, we passed 2 parties who had started much later than us as we rappelled. They had a long day ahead of them! Finally, 10.5 hours after leaving the car (with a 1.5 hour break at the top), we had completed Achilles Spire. Its a committing day because of the approach, but it was by far one of the most fun multi-pitches I have ever done. Definitely the best one I've climbed in the Rockies. Highly recommended!
Achilles Spire standing proud (left-most large spire)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Wheat Kings on Cascade Mountain (5.7 sport, 7 pitches)

What does one do when you finish a 24 hr shift? If you lucked out and got to sleep for 6 hours, you get in the car and drive to Banff to go climbing for the day! I met Joseph at the carpool just before 10 am and we zipped out to Wheat Kings, a 5.7 sport multi-pitch on Cascade Mountain. Phil had climbed it about a month ago and his write up made it sound like a wonderful way to spend a post-call day. Not too challenging and all around enjoyable with great views. See his post here: Mountain Wagon Blog - Wheat Kings.

As described by Phil, the Gripped article does not give much detail on the approach. Using Phil's beta, we were able to make it to the base of the climb in 30 mins with minimal confusion. Thanks Phil! Another note is that this was most definitely a sport route (some confusion in Gripped article). We brought no trad gear and did not require any.

Approach as I remember it
1. Park at the Cascade parking area (take 1st Banff exit, turn right, parking is on the left by the air strip) and follow the jeep road that parallels the air strip on the right past some old buildings. There is a cairn along the way. 

2. Stay right on double track that narrows to single track in the forest. You will pass 2 obvious trails on your right but keep going. 

3. When you reach a cairn on your right, follow the trail up the hill and contour left. You can also continue along the single track to the next trail which is also marked with cairns. Either way you will get to the same main trail. 

4. Keep contouring, past an obvious trail that switchbacks, until you get to a large boulder on the left side of the trail. The steep up trail is marked with a cairn just past the boulder. 

5. Cairns and some old orange flagging tape mark the way to the base of the climb (which is also marked with a large cairn). 

70 m rope
~10-12 draws (bring some alpine draws to minimize rope drag)
The cairn marking the up trail to the bottom of the route (as seen from the single track)
Large boulder on the left and cairn on the right marks the start of the steep climb
The climbing was low angle limestone, mostly 5.5 and 5.6 with one 5.7 pitch. The entire route is bolted and we did not need any trad gear, nor did we want any. All the belays were on large, comfortable ledges and route finding was very straight forward. Some of the pitches were slightly run out, however all the difficult moves were well protected.
Joseph arrives at the chossy finish of pitch 2 with the Bow Valley and Rundle in the background
There are a few places along the route where it easy to drop loose rocks onto the belayer. Unfortunately the belays seemed to be right where the rocks were falling, but luckily it was mostly pebbles. We also had wind to contend with and despite shouting, Joseph and I couldn't hear each other all day. Radios would have been a nice addition to the gear. The wind was blowing some of the pebbles down too!
Joseph leads away on the crux pitch
Good views and even better company
It was very windy! 
Top of pitch 6
Rambling up the last pitch
 As I had left straight from work and was a generally disorganized mess, I had not packed any food or water for the day. Fortunately, it only took us 2 hours to climb the 7 pitches and Joseph was kind enough to share his lunch with me at the top. We rappelled down the route, which is outfitted for 7 rappels with a 70 m rope. The 3rd rappel takes you straight down to a rappel station that is climbers right of the main route and makes the rappel line more direct. We did get off track on the 5th rappel and got the rope stuck due to the low angle nature of the route, so try and follow the bolt line out to the climbers right to reach the station!
Awesome views of Tunnel Mountain, Sulphur Mountain and Banff 
Despite the great weather, we had the entire climb to ourselves all day. This is in contrast to Mother's Day Buttress (also on Cascade) which had about 5 parties already on it when we arrived at the parking area. Wheat Kings made for a very pleasant day. It was pretty much stress free with great views of the Bow Valley. I did notice much exposure, probably thanks to all the ledges along the way. I definitely recommend it for people wanting a chill day, to practice multi-pitch skills or as a first multi-pitch. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Day on the Fluffy Goat Butt Face

Last year, Tyler Kirkland and Mark Carlson put up a new route on the Goat Wall, Fluffy Goat Butt Face. Numerous friends were recruited to help build trail, ferry ropes and gear and bolt the 21 pitch, 605 m sport route. Kyle spent a day on the wall helping clean the route and was excited to hear that Mark and Tyler had recently climbed the complete route. When Tyler invited us on a day on the Goat to test out the route descriptions and beta we couldn't say no, despite the new official grade of 5.11.
Morning light on all the goats. Goat buttress is far right, 1/2 in shade, 1/2 in sun. We climbed the sunny face on the right side
The route is big, burly and long. This is likely one of the few opportunities I will have to get on it, with Tyler as a guide and his friend Khrisna rope gunning. We went in with no expectations other than to have a fun day out. Nonetheless, we got up at 4:50 and left the car at 5:45 to start walking in. We wanted to give ourselves the best chance to get high on the route.

The approach starts at the dump by Exshaw (same parking as for Kidd Goat). Follow the single track trail around the right side of the dump and continue onto double track. At the double track fork, take a right. Continue taking right forks until reaching a meadow. Leave the main trail and cross the meadow diagonally, aiming for the far corner (in the direction of the Goat Wall). You should come across a small trail with orange flagging tape. Follow this to get to the Goat Wall.
Following the trail through the meadows. Hopefully it won't get too overgrown!
Sometimes the trail wasn't super obvious, but it was well flagged and marked if you kept your eyes open
 The trail crosses a creek bed (look for flagging on the far side). When you get back in the creek bed a few minutes later, continue up the creek until a cairn marks a flagged trail on the right hand side. We missed this and continued up the creek. It was pretty obvious that we had gone the wrong way when we reached unpassable snags a few minutes later. After backtracking we easily found the trail. The trail crosses 2 more creek beds before heading straight up the hill to the base of the route. 
Do not continue up the creek after this cairn. Instead, turn right and head up the trail. Its easier that way
 The trail is steep and narrow, but pretty easy to follow thanks to the orange flagging tape and well placed rocks and logs. Don't walk over piles of logs. They are there for a reason!
Approaching the Goat Buttress. Fluffy Goat Butt Face picks its way up the sunny face
An hour and forty-five minutes later, we arrived at the base of the route. It starts down in a gully to the left of the rock face so don't be fooled by the distinct path heading up to the trees on the right. This is a bivy site that was used during route setting and could probably come in handy for parties looking for an early start. We met Tyler and Khrisna at the bivy, and they put on coffee for us so we took our time getting ready to start. The route is in the sun from sunrise to about 3 pm this time of year, which puts it in a good spot for early and late season ascents!
The full Goat Buttress and Fluffy Goat Butt Face route as seen from the start of the route
Kyle and Khrisna jumped on first and swapped leads up the lower pitches. I teamed up with Tyler and lead the first 4 pitches of low grade climbing (5.6/5.7) as 2 linked 60 m pitches. Pitch 5 was where things started to get steep, challenging, and slow which was the theme for the rest of the day.
Even from the lowest pitches, you can see the top of the route! It doesn't look so far... Khrisna leading a scary pitch 5
This route is massive. There are many times during the day that you can see all the way to the top. It never really looks that far, but it also never seems to get closer. You are reminded of how high you are at the exposed traverses and hanging belays though!
Tyler is pumped to have convinced his friends to climb his route, and put up the rope!
Tyler top-rope soloing pitch 5, currently rated 10+ and open to interpretation
 Tyler has been on the lower pitches of the route many times; bolting, cleaning, top-roping and leading. He knows the beta and was happy to share. It was nice to have someone who knew exactly where we were supposed to be going as some of the moves are pretty cryptic. The route is well protected though and it was pretty obvious where to go next. My favourite pitch was pitch 7 (~5.10a). This came after an exposed traverse and a seated belay in a cave. It climbed up a chimney that you could stem the entire way up before traversing left back onto the face for a thin finish.
Tyler leads the traversing pitch 6 as Khrisna leads the chimney pitch 7
Fun in the sun on the Goat Wall
 It was slow going for our fearless leader, Khrisna, who was leading the more challenging pitches. The style is is hard to describe as there is a bit of everything, but the majority of the harder pitches we climbed were steep or off vert with sharp edges, bulges and tiny feet. I was happy to be on top rope and have the option to pull on draws when I lost my balance and was about to peel off. As the route has seen little traffic, there are still many loose rocks and holds. Some of the moves are through crumbly sections where you need to really pay attention to what you are using. On the 10th pitch (5.11), Khrisna pulled off a handhold as he was moving through a crux, resulting in a fall, but everyone was fine.
Great views from the belay stations
Hanging out at the belay
Kyle starts up pitch 8
 The best part of the day were the views. As we got higher, we were able to see Yamnuska and hikers hanging out on top. We also had great views down into the prairies. There were other sight-seers out too. We must have seen at least 15 helicopter tours fly by as we were climbing. One disadvantage of climbing on the Goat Wall is that the weather all seems to come from behind the mountain and you can't tell what is coming until it is over you. We had a few dark clouds moving through but fortunately everything just passed us by.
Ominous clouds over Yamnuska
Kyle climbing into the sky on pitch 9
 We hadn't planned on a turn around time or pitch, but by 3 pm, everyone was ready to start heading down. At this point, we were all at the top of pitch 9 and Khrisna was just climbing pitch 10 (the first 5.11 pitch) because he wanted to try it out. Everyone was pretty happy with the day and there was no problem starting the rappel down once he was done. There had never been a goal to get to the top on this trip. It was more of a fun day out climbing with friends, checking out a new route. Even after only 9 pitches (not even half the route), I was tired, sore, bleeding and bruised. The sharp limestone is not very forgiving!
Khrisna crushing the first 5.11 pitch (pitch 10) and a crowded belay station peanut gallery looks on
Waiting for my turn
 The route has been bolted for 30 m rappels all the way down. Some of the stations are the same as the anchor stations, but some are not. The rap line takes a more direct route than the climbing route. We had 9 rappels to do but it went pretty quick. Tyler recently rappelled the entire route in about 2 hours (21 pitches).
 Starting the rappels, lots of exposure
Tyler rappelling
Car to car for 9 pitches of the Fluffy Goat Butt Face took us just under 14 hours. We were not moving quick but it really shows how much commitment this route is going to be. I was climbing at my max on some of the pitches, even on top rope and it only gets harder up higher. If you are heading out to give this route a try, be prepared to turn back before the top and be ready for some scary leads.

Thanks to Mark and Tyler for all their hard work!

Gear (as recommended by Tyler)
-60 m rope
-12 sport draws
-6 alpine draws

Stay tuned for the route description