Friday, September 7, 2012

New Routing Adventures

Given that I started my climbing career in Nordegg, and there were a grand total of 3 existing rock routes that I had information on when I moved there, finding new routes to do has always been a priority for me.  I love the adventure & excitement that goes along with venturing into new terrain.  There are however some major downsides that keep most people from exploring new routes.  First of all, you fail most of the time, which would be especially hard to accept if you only have limited days to climb in the first place.  Secondly, many of the new routes you do succeed in climbing are gonna suck, that's just the reality of it.  Black boogers from cleaning dirt out of cracks, long stretches of rubble covered slabs, loose rock, you get the idea.  Finally, it can be downright scary at times, especially, if like me, you rarely bother to carry a bolt kit.  However, at the end of the day there is something extremely rewarding and satisfying about having climbed a new route, and every once in a while you find a true gem. 

Over the last six weeks or so, many of my personal climbing days have focused on exploring new terrain.  Everything from a 20 meter sport climb in Cougar Canyon I named "Bronies" (google it!) which goes at about 5.12a, to a wildly adventurous new route (almost!) up the South Ridge of Mt. Alberta that went at V, 5.10+R.  Here's some photo's from those and other adventures.

Back in early August, my friend Cory Boschman & I headed to the backside of Castle Mountain to see what we could find.  I'd always wanted to take a look back there, and the hike to Rockbound Lake is quite pleasant.  It turns out that there are numerous crack systems on nice solid rock.  We chose a line near the middle of the cliff band and set about the climbing.  Most of the rock was very good quality, and the climbing continuous in the 5.8 to 5.10a range with nice cracks.  However, the dirt just didn't relent!  There was so much dirt on the rock that the climbing felt quite insecure and I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone, unless you wanted to clean if first!

Our route on Castle followed the mysterious thin red line...

 Shortly after that I headed into Mt. Robson with Aaron, but I will write a separate post for that adventure.  A few days after that I hooked up with Mr. Mount Alberta himself, Raphael Slawinski (, who has 7 ascents to his name, undoubtedly more than any other climber.  I guess he really likes loose rock!  Anyways, our route tackled the unclimbed South Ridge which is the left-hand skyline as seen from the hut.  It only ended up having 3 hard pitches, but they probably took us about 8 hours!  I led the first pitch, which was horrendously loose 5.9 for about 60 meters.  Raph headed up the next one which was mostly good climbing on better rock, although it had it's moments too.  Although he tried to talk me into letting him lead the third pitch, I decided to give it a go.  After 20 meters of hard but good climbing I pumped out and lowered off.  So, Raph had his way and started up the pitch.  After passing my highpoint, he promptly removed a hold from the wall and took a 20 foot fall onto the same piece of gear I had lowered off.  Kinda like a scared squirrel who has fallen from a tree, he started climbing again the moment the fall ended.  40 truly terrifying meters higher he managed to build a belay.  Following the pitch I couldn't believe some of the spots he managed to get pitons in, only the smallest Knifeblades however.   A short step from there brought us to the ridgeline, which we followed for a number of ropelengths on easy 5th class but very exposed climbing.  Eventually the ridge dead ended before joining the normal Japanese Route (V, 5.6), so we did two rappels to intersect that route.  Neither of us felt like doing the descent in the dark, so instead of scrambling for an hour or two to the summit we decided to start rappelling.  Although it was probably a good call, a couple weeks later we both admitted that we now regretted turning around so close to the top.

 Raph on the endless scree slopes that make up most of Mt. Alberta. 

Looking up at the steep part of our route.  We started just right of center, then continued more or less up the middle to the top.  

Me leading the first steep pitch, trying not to disassemble the entire mountain in the process.  Photo: Raph Slawinski

Raph nearing the belay on the first pitch.

Raph starting up the second pitch, which had some good climbing as well as some sketchy bits.

Continuing up the second pitch.

Raph posing for the camera during the long ridge scrambling section.

Mt. Alberta from near the hut.  Our route climbed the left-hand skyline.  

 The North Ridge & N. Face of Alberta.  Both of which are excellent hard routes. 

The most recent new routing adventure I've had was on the Windtower near Canmore.  A couple weeks ago Steve Holeczi & I climbed the 5.10a route up the NE Face and found it to be some of the best climbing I have ever seen in the Rockies, very highly recommended.  Inspired by this, we figured we could probably find another good route on this large wall.  The only other routes I know of up there are the Quebec Route to the right (5.11) and the Iron Butterfly, an unrepeated 5.11 A4 horror show up the main face to the right.  Raphael got wind of our plan and took a day off work to join us.  Unfortunately, this ended up being a more typical first-ascenting adventure and after 6 crappy pitches of mostly easy but runout & loose rock, we decided to bail.  There is still something satisfying about trying though!

 Looking across at the NE Face of the Windtower at dawn.

 Steve leading one of the brief harder sections, trying not to knock too much rock on our heads.

With these new routes & attempts, only 99.999% of the rock in the Rockies remains unclimbed.  I think I should be able to keep myself busy for many years to come.

J. Mills


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