Friday, January 22, 2010

Polar Circus & Murchison Falls solo linkup

Taking advantage of the low avalanche hazard, I got up early yesterday and headed down the Icefields Parkway to try a solo ascent of Polar Circus (V, WI5, 700m). I'd simul-soloed all but the last pitch of it almost 10 years ago with my friend Mike but hadn't tried soloing it again since. On that occasion we had taken nearly eight hours round trip, which felt really fast at the time! Since then I have climbed it half a dozen times, always guiding, and still love the route as much as I did the first time.
Polar circus from the highway (picture from last year).
My main goal was to have a fun (and safe!) day out by myself but I also thought it would be nice to try and complete it in under 4 hours round trip as I knew that this had been done by a few other climbers in the past. I went super light, only taking one 70m rope, 2 screws, some cord, 1 jacket, and a bit of food & water. I could see from the road that the ice looked nice and blue but it exceeded even my highest expectations. The ice was fantastic quality throughout, and there was a good trail in the snow to the halfway point beside the 'pencil'. From here, the tracks ended but the snowslope around the pencil was in really good shape so I made good time despite breaking trail. Soon I was cruising up the finishing pitches to the top, which wasn't hooked-out for a change. I didn't carry a watch on route but I felt like I had been moving really fast and my energy levels had stayed high. From the top, I immediately started rappeling and running down the snowslopes between rappels. I figured I might as well give it all I had, so I ran as fast as I could along the last part of the trail to the car. Looking at the watch in my car I was suprised (and pleased!) to see that I had managed to complete the route in just under 3 hours, less than half of my previous fastest time on Polar Circus. To make things even more perfect, the sun had come around and I was able to relax in warmth while eating and chugging water. After a few minutes I climbed back in the car and headed towards home, but...
Murchison Falls. Picture from a previous year.
Driving along, my energy started to return and it was a beautiful day so I started thinking about doing another climb. About that same time, I was driving past Murchison Falls (III, WI4+, 180m) and decided that it would be the perfect way to spend the afternoon. After re-packing and changing into dry socks, I ran into Murchison. It was also in great shape, although quite wet in spots, so it went smoothly and I was soon on top. Back at the car, I really was tired now so I had a celebratory beer while enjoying the views and then made my way home to Canmore in time for dinner. J. Mills CRAG Owner & Head Guide


  1. You are a freakin' wildman!!!! Right on J, right ON! Sounds like a rad day out! (Maren)

  2. I could probably have done it faster.
    When are we going quading?

  3. J you are a fiend. No wonder all the other guides in Canmore have man-crushes in you. Keep on killin it.