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. 

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