Monday, November 27, 2017

Cline River Gallery Ice Climbing - David Thompson Highway

Cline River Gallery: "the approach is as difficult to describe as the climbs are to find," - Cyril Shokoples. Well, it would help if the description started you off in the right direction... We spent about an hour wandering around on a mossy hillside in search of ice before backtracking. Ignoring the directions from the Jo Josephson book that sent us left up a hill, the opposite way from the river and any sort of ice, we found a set of bootprints that we decided to follow. Shortly after we saw a party of climbers far below us who actually knew where they were going, which was lucky because I don't think we would have found the climbs otherwise, even though we were very close. We descended a steep hill and arrived at the climbs, making a mental note to not go back the way we had come. We returned the following day on the trail that we found on our hike out (read on for approach instructions).
Taking a nice mossy detour up the "hill to the left with a faint draw"
Cline River Gallery Approach
Park at the Pinto Lake parking area just south of where the David Thompson Highway crosses the Cline River. There is a gravel pit with lots of space to park. Follow the double track up a hill from the gravel pit, past a sign that says "no motorized vehicles beyond this point." 

The trail passes through a number of campsites (and a well hidden backcountry toilet to the left) and continues along the double track on a flat bench for a few hundred metres before you reach a fork. Take the right fork on a single track that is marked by orange/pink flagging and yellow duct tape. This trail descends steeply to a lower bench on the southern bank of the Cline River (left side as you walk up the river). Continue along the bank, passing occasional flagging for about 20 minutes, eventually passing a few ice flows on the other side of the river, until the Cline River Gallery comes into view. 

Keep following the trail to yet another fire pit. Here the trail forks again and you can descend right down an easy gully to the edge of the river and the bottom of "Pure Energy." Alternately, keep left and contour the hillside to access the top of the climbs where you can set up top ropes off various trees.

Approach time: ~30 mins in low snow conditions.
Double track up from the gravel pit. Sign visible from parking area
Wide "double track" along an upper bench. Small trail marker on the tree - there were a few of these (inconsistent)
Fork in the trail marked with flagging and tape. Take the right fork down the hill
Single track down the hill - orange flagging on tree
Cline River Gallery comes into view from the bank of the river (Sentinel Mountain rises up above the river on the left)
We spent two days doing laps on the climbs at the Gallery. Our first day was spent on some of the short, steep upper flows on the left side, and we had a few ropes going to give us lots of mileage. Day 2 was spent on Pure Energy, climbing different lines and waking up the ice climbing muscles after a nice long summer.
Kyle on the short, steep ice pitches on the lookers left of the Gallery
Connor rappelling into the ice, Mt. Stelfox in the background
Jenny just hanging around
Connor is so excited to be ice climbing again
Views of the Cline River from the riverbed below the Gallery
Connor on Pure Energy (the icicles of the unformed "are you afraid of the dark" to the left)
Kyle on the hard left line of Pure Energy (WI 4+ vs WI 5?)
Sopping wet and having fun ice climbing in the rain
View looking over the gravel pit and Abraham Lake in the distance
We really lucked out. I don't think there was much ice anywhere else this past weekend. Despite some rain on Sunday afternoon, we had a great time! There was plenty of ice to play on and it was in great shape. It was also super fun to check out a completely new area that I knew nothing about. I will definitely be back for some of the classics in the area, once the temperatures drop and things start to form up again.
Hungry ice climbers in their natural habitat

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Cascade Falls Ice Climb WI 3

After a great time at the Night of Lies in Canmore on Friday night, we were psyched to get on some ice. The plan was to go cragging at Bear Spirit with Tiff and Kevin, but we had also tossed the idea of Cascade (WI 3) around so we pulled over to check it out on the way by. I was so excited and really wanted to climb it. This is such a prominent route that I check out every time I drive through Banff, but there have been so many times when conditions were not quite right with its southern exposure and overhead avalanche hazard. On Saturday however, there wasn't too much snow in the bowls above, it was cool and overcast without too much sun or snow in the forecast, and to top it all off, there was nobody on the route! Needless to say, we decided to go for it. 
Looking up at Cascade Falls from the airstrip
Since it is still early season, we were expecting some areas of thin ice. We roped up at the first ice pitch and split into 2 teams, me with Kyle and Kevin with Tiff. Kyle and Tiff got to practice their guiding by leading all the pitches for Kevin and I! The initial pitches of ice weren't very steep but it was thin and we were hitting rocks with tools and screws. Flowing water out to our left made it hard to hear our climbing partners, and increasing wind through the day made for a very introspective climb as it was difficult to communicate much beyond a few tugs on the rope back and forth.
Kyle starting up the first pitch beside running water
 We pitched out the first 120 metres as two pitches of low angle, thin ice. We passed bolted anchors near the top of the first pitch but kept going to use all the rope. Next, we walked up the snow through a semi-frozen creek to the bottom of some more ice that also wasn't particularly steep. We climbed this as two more 60 m pitches. It was a good warm up for me as this was the first ice I had been on this year. It was thin and you could see water flowing under some of the ice. It was pretty spectacular and spooky at the same time. Fortunately, the route wasn't wet and we were able to make good time through the lower sections.
Thin ice on pitch 2 with the upper pitches in sight
On my way up pitch 4 to the bottom of the steep ice
By the time we had arrived at the bottom of our 5th pitch of ice (a station protected by a single bolt) a few other parties had started up the route below us. Tiff and Kevin were a bit behind us and another party of two was right behind them. Kyle led out onto the crux pitch of the route and two more parties arrived! It was a busy day on cascade and I was thankful to be out in front despite our leisurely 10 am start. Pitch 5 and 6 are the real money pitches of Cascade. They are both long WI 3 pitches with great exposure over the highway and there were bolted stations at the top of both pitches. You would need 2 ropes to rappel off from the stations as the pitches are close to 60 metres each. The top of pitch 6 appears to be the top of the waterfall from the highway. There was a large bulge that you had to pull over and water was flowing right below a thin layer of ice. It was pretty nerve-wracking looking at the water below your picks and trying not to break through on the last steep moves below the anchor!
Kyle starts up pitch 5 - the crux of the day
Getting into steeper ice on the crux pitch
Pitch 6 goes up through the narrow notch
Sun was low in the sky by the time we got up high
Looking down at Tiff from pitch 6 and the route we had climbed down below
Tiff finishing off the crux pitch
Either we had been really sheltered on the route, or the wind picked up a lot when we reached the top of pitch 6. Kyle was frozen and we threw all our layers on to warm up. We had briefly considered waiting for Tiff and Kevin who were a pitch and a bit behind us so that we could use the two ropes to rappel.  We quickly decided against it because we knew the walk off and didn't want to be dealing with passing the 3 other parties on the way down. Plus we figured the walk off would get us into the trees and out of the wind and that it would just maybe be faster than rappelling.
Cold but happy in the canyon
To access the walk-off, you have to walk up the gully for about 5 minutes then climb one more pitch of ice. The ice was actually quite sustained and steeper than it looked. Kyle was getting really tired after leading all day and freezing at the belays but he pulled off one more awesome lead up the left side to top us out.
Last pitch before the walk off (pitch 7)
Looking up the gully to top of Cascade and Kyle at his tree belay
Tiff and Kevin were still below us so we started walking down along the descent trail on lookers left of the gully just below Kyle's tree anchor. It was well trodden and easy to follow, with the one short rappel about 2/3rds of the way down. After that, it was smooth sailing back to the trailer where we fired up the stove to celebrate with some hot food and cold beer. The route had taken us just under 7 hours.
Strong winds were blowing snow and clouds over Rundle all day
Descending the walk off from Cascade (same as the walk off for Rogan's Gully and Mother's Day Buttress)
Tiff and Kevin showed up a while later in the dark. They had also suffered from the cold wind and Kevin was a bit delirious from the long day. He muttered something about how we shouldn't have taken someone onto the ice that wasn't meant for the ice, before having to rush off for dinner with his family! But after a warm meal and a good sleep, I think he was feeling a bit better about the whole experience!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Bow Hut Remembrance Weekend

After our trip into the Bow Hut 3 years ago for Remembrance Day, I was pretty convinced it was never going to happen again. Last time, we had to hike in with our skis on our backs the entire way in and out from the hut along the summer trail. It really wasn't that fun. But, when Kyle saw Alex's post about heading back up there, it just seemed like the right thing to do (funny enough, we actually met Alex on the original Bow Hut trip as the result of a very similar facebook post). To our surprise, we were able to ski right across Bow Lake and ski all the way to the hut along the winter trail that follows the canyon. It made for a much more enjoyable approach.
Touring up the recently frozen canyon. The winter route is in
Once we arrived, we had a quick lunch then made our way up to the practice slopes for some laps. The light was flat and the snow was a dense wind crust, but it was great to get some early season turns in. We didn't find any crevasses, but there was a cave that tunneled down under the glacier with the entrance at the bottom of the practice slope.
Touring up above the Bow Hut to get some turns in on the practice slopes
Guillaume, Kat and Kyle getting ready to ski
Alex goofing around on the practice slope below Mount St. Nicholas
Checking out the cave was the highlight of the weekend. We spent some time in there on the first day, then returned on Sunday to do some crevasse rescue practice out of the entrance. In the evening, the entire group of people that were staying at the hut skied up to the cave and we lit it up with headlamps, cranked the tunes and enjoyed the ambiance. Its not often you can say that you had a party in a glacier!
Kyle at the entrance to the ice cave
Checking out the beautiful ice cave below the glacier
Beautiful ice
Cool reflections and Kyle crawling out the exit
 We attempted an ascent of St. Nicholas on Sunday morning, but with whiteout conditions and thin snow-bridges (snow was about 50 cm - 1 m in most places), we were having trouble navigating the crevasse field below the St. Nick - Olive col. Instead, we skied back down the glacier and did a quick run up the Onion before finishing up the day with a few more laps on the practice slope.  
Saskatchewan boys skiing down the glacier
The only summit of the weekend, the Onion
It was a fun weekend of catching up with old friends and making some new ones. One of the best parts were the new boots I had acquired this fall. Thanks to Landon at Surefoot in Whistler for all the bootwork, its going to be a fantastic season of backcountry shredding!
My new boots all punched and ready to go - thanks Landon!
Big raven on the deck at the Bow Hut
The ski out was quick but there were lots of rocks. We still need a few good dumps of snow before the lower elevations will be truly ski-able, but I am pretty hopeful that this is going to be a great ski season.
Massive Yaminuska group heading in as we make our way back to the car