Friday, December 16, 2011

Man Yoga

Raphael and I finally got around to synchronize a day off, which gave us a chance to try out the latest addition to the Stanley Headwall. Man Yoga is predominantly a rock route with a mix of bolt protection and lots of good natural gear. 4 pitches of this give you access to very aesthetic finish on steep ice. The picture below show the route on the day of our ascent, as you can see the rock is pretty snow covered, which resolved in a lot of time consuming cleaning and hard to find placements. Despite the less than ideal conditions Raph managed the first onsight ascent of the route, gratulations!
leading the all natural gear pitch one.
pitch 2 was probably the hardest lead of the day, due to the snow covered, slabby nature.

pitch 3
pitch 4
pitch 5
All the smaller images or the ones you can see a yellow jacket are curtesy of Raphael Slawinski.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Anorexic Queen

Last weekend I finally made it out to the mountains again, and for the first time this year into Stanley Headwall. My partner Jon Walsh had to get a rope from the base of 'Men Yoga', so with no specific goal in our minds we skied up to the base. On route we looked around for options to climb, and it seemed like we both were attracted to the very skinny looking 'Uniform Queen'.
Below a few examples of how different this route can form, if it actually forms at all. This time around we had it obviously pretty thin, and 4 years ago I had it very fat. According to the guides book description I guess the first ascent was somewhere in between.
Above you can see pitch one as almost pure rock pitch, although the white spots are actually frozen snow. The pitch protects well on rock gear and is 50m long.
Jon following pitch 2, delicate climbing on a thin layer of ice with less than stellar protection.
Flash back to November 2007, this is when the route formed the last time to my knowledge. The same pitch was a walk in the park. Here is Marc Hammer enjoying his first time at the Headwall.
Jon leading out on the incredible 3rd pitch, something really rare to get as a Rockies Winter climber. Perfect rock and very fragile ice with great, natural rock protection. Already out of sight at the top of the pitch was the first and last ice screw placed on the first 3 pitches.
Flash back again to 2007, the entire pitch was iced over, I could only get one piece of rock gear in, the rest were bad screws. Still a great climb then, but an entirely different experience.
Suffer Machine in the center and the skinny pencil of the Uniform Queen to it's right, as of Dec. 10th. Fiasco is left and looks pretty thin too, but also got climbed last week. Game on!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Trophy Wall

Almost a month ago, just after our Zion trip, Lisi and I planned to climb something on the Trophy Wall. We packed our gear the night before, but contrary to the forecast, temperatures in Canmore at 7 a.m. showed a way too warm +11 degrees with the wind threatening to uncover the roof of my house and blow it towards Exshaw. After a long breakfast, fruitlessly discussing alternative options, we decided to go for the hike anyways. If nothing else, Lisi would get to see the approach trail and we get some fresh air and exercise in. We used bikes for the dry golf course road and barely had to pedal with the wind in our back. The warm weather made me (unfortunately not my partner) strip down to my last layer an soon we arrived at the base of our goal, with little intentions to actually climb it. After a closer look with no visible running water and other climbing parties, it was hard to argue against "not giving it a go".
It's always amazing how different the Trophy wall forms each year, and how regularly you can climb there already early season. We initially wanted to climb the Replicant (center line) since it had not been climbed yet this season and appeared to be relatively fat. At the base I realized that I forgot my helmet (what else is new), so we decided to go for the Terminator (left line). At least from below it looked like that this climb had more sheltered belays to offer than it's neighbor to the right.
First pitch was surprisingly easy, the few rock moves are protected by 2 bolts and one pin, and the overhanging pillar is short and offers plenty of no hand stances, like it often is the case with mushroom features. The wind was annoyingly strong, but it was warm and the belays at least were sheltered from wind and falling ice, which were both plentiful.
Lisi arriving on the first belay and leading out the "false" amazing second pitch (below). This pitch uses a cool ice ramp out left and was really a variation between the Replicant and Terminator that avoids the continuos steep pillar of the latter. We later named it the "Termi-Cant", unbeknownst to Lisi what the second syllable might stand for.
The holy tree on the approach, just before the scrambly rock steps under 'ten years after'. I always give him a hug on the way by for good luck, so far it seems to work.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

images of a mountain

Mt. Rundle is probably the most photographed peak in all of Canada. Although by far not the highest - it's not even a ten thousand footer - it seems to attract the eye of any viewer. It even lacks a pointy summit, shear rock faces and a glacier, which should be classic trademarks of a stout peak.
The reason for the mountains popularity probably lies in the simplicity of the shape, something artists often strive to achieve but rarely succeed in.
My wife is gone for a few days and I got the kids, so before she left I went for a quick morning stroll up Mt. Norquay to catch a few more images of Rundle with the ever so important chinook clouds as a backdrop. As a reward I got some nice powder turns in down the Great American Chair. This was the last time I had a chance to be alone up there, the hill is opening tomorrow, by far the earliest in years. Ski season is upon us, even in the Rockies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Because there is nowhere else to go?

Recently we had some pretty bad avalanche conditions all over western Canada, and the roads were just a horror to drive. Naturally we had to stay away from the bigger stuff and hide either in a Pup, Haffner or Bear Spirit. It's somewhat strange that I never have the huge desire to go there, but after so many times I still have a good time playing around on those routes. It's actually a way better workout than climbing on the 'big' routes, and therefore gets you perfectly prepared for them. And on top of it you get to sleep in, which is not a bad thing since party season is amongst us.
Both areas, Haffner (above) and Bear Spirit (below) are formed almost perfectly right now for mixed climbing, with nice daggers and challenging transitions from rock to ice. But now let's hope the avi hazard goes away, so we can slowly get out in the 'real' mountains again.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The "unwanted" point of no return-part two

Compared to part one, we had a bit of a bigger goal this time. My partner Jeff Relph and myself had never climbed Virtual Reality and we knew she's formed. Lisi and her friend Felix, both from Austria, joined us for the drive and climbed the mixed version of "but my daddy is a psycho". A brutal drive with lot's of new snow brought us to the trailhead. More snow and strong winds accompanied us for the approach, but nevertheless we started out climbing in these marginal conditions, thinking we can bail anytime.
Above you can see us on the approach with the fat 'Murchinson Fall' in the center and "Virtual Reality" to his right. When we reached the base of the fragile top pillar the winds increased to hurricane force, and the gusts were almost constant. Neither Jeff or myself had a big desire to make a mandatory sideways rappel past the overhanging mushrooms below us. Our "return" was cut off by a bad anchor, off fall line rappelling in gale forced winds with the high likelihood of stuck ropes and/or getting 'shroomed'. Therefore the only way out was past this hollow pillar with bad sticks and even worse pro. Frozen wood fingers and flying ice crystals which barely allowed us to open our eyes, a lead I'm not looking forward repeating. From the top we had to crawl in paralyzing winds over to the top anchor of Murchinson, which provided a still exciting, but much safer rappel.
On the way out the weather did improve a bit, and for the first time we could see the mountains on the other side. The drive home turned out to be another adventure with a maximum of 50km/h.
I know that in my 18th Winter in the Canadian Rockies I still haven't seen it all, but before this me fool assumed that at least wind wise I've had the worst already. Maybe that is why after all those years we still have the urge to go out there with our sore bodies, in the hopes of experiencing the unexpected.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

the "unwanted" point of no return-part one

Rather unintended I found myself in this classic "point of no return" situations in the last couple of days. What was supposed to be an "easy" day out on grade 4 ice turned out to be a thin lead on de-laminated styropor and 20m ground fall potential. The first picture below shows the point of return, the second shows the no return situation. I'd thought I'll get a screw in the fatter looking ice, but there was only air below a half inch layer. So the only way out of this was up, on a very thin smear of verglas.
Both pictures Marc Piche

Thursday, November 17, 2011

From sand to ice

A snow storm chased us home from Utah, just in time for some great early ice conditions. I find that every year it gets harder and harder to get used to the colder temperatures. This time around even more so, since we enjoyed T-Shirt days in the desert up until the beginning of November. -5 degrees Celsius seems unbearable in the fall, then in the winter it feels like a hot day. Early season ice is usually a challenge, but this fall it seemed a bit easier than usual, at least so far. Lisi and I had a very pleasant day on the Terminator about a week ago, and today I got my mandatory annual solo ascent of Bourgeau left out of the way, so now I'm ready for a few more multi pitch outings, before the ski season really kicks in. It sounds like some great early ski conditions already out west, I can't wait to get my first face shots.
The pictures today date a few years back, since my small camera, the Canon S95 is in repair the 3rd time this year, still under warranty but now they want to charge me for the same repair they have not been able to fix to begin with. CANON sucks, don't ever buy anything from this company!
Anyways, below the legendary Joe B. well into his fourties, still cranking at the Killer Cave.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


There is climbing and then there is sandstone multi pitch crack climbing. I understand that once in a while you have to step over your comfort- and pain level as a rock climber, but in crack climbing I have to do this all the time and I have not found sanity yet. Makes for exiting days though, there is never a dull moment.
A friend of mine, Lisi Steurer, finally made it over from Austria for a visit. After a couple of warm up days on Grotto Mountain we hit the road for the search of warmer temperatures and adventure, we would find it 2 days and 2000km later in Zion National Park.
Every climber we met down there told us that they have been in Indian Creek prior to Zion and that it was so much better quality. But Lisi and I were mesmerized by the shear beauty of the Canyon and the unbelievable amount of big walls surrounding it. Sure, there was some sand to be had, and the cracks might not be as "pure", but for our part we fell in love with Zion's "adventure" climbs for 11 days, and I hope I make it back down there again in the future. So much more on the wish list now, below and here a few impressions from down there.
"Freak Show" was one of those climbs. You've got to negotiate some pretty crappy terrain to gain two fantastic pitches up high. (above and below)

The endless layback on the 3 pitch Lab Dance, and the incredible 7th pitch of "Shunes Buttress" on Red Arch Mountain below.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Last week I tried to spend as much time as possible with my kids with outdoor activities. As you all know, if you play hard, you can crash hard. Here are a few snap shots of moments before the impact, all of them resulted in tears.
Below Luka bike jumping, he learned that one hand on the handle bar and both feet off are not beneficial for the landing.
Bella misjudged the distance of this jump, or her jumping abilities. Not a soft landing either!
At least this landing was in the grass, and not in the gravel behind.
This time around it was not Luka crying, but the poor hoody kid got a soccer shoe right at the spot where it hurts most.
The last week was also still very climbable here, I was lucky to finish up all my projects at the Bellavista area. Both are hard to grade, but I think "Zeitgeist" is 12+ and "The show must go on" is 13-. They are both on excellent stone and ready to go, I left a few fixed draws on the bolts that are hard to clip.
I'm off to Zion for the next 10 days or so with Lissi, a friend from Austria. Looking forward for a little escape from the cold before I fully surrender to the upcoming Winter activities.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Five Fourteen for Echo Canyon

On Turkey Monday me and Greg Toss (who bolted and cleaned the route) were lucky to witness the first ever red point of a 5.14 in Echo Canyon. Derek G. fired the 45m long "Stone Temple Pilots" in great style. If confirmed, this will be the 8th route in the Bow Valley with the exclusive 14th grade at the end, and it is the one with the longest approach, the longest fourteen without a no hands rest, the highest altitude and the shortest drive (if you live like me in Canmore).
Since I was belaying I show you a couple pictures of the climb from 2 years ago, when Derek came already close but got shut down by the early arriving Winter.
After this we moved up another 10 minutes to my "new" area called "Bellavista", where I almost send a new route called "Zeitgeist". My foot slipped off during the last move, but it was almost better for me going for the "flight" than finishing it. I have not fallen for some time now and it was good for my confidence. When finished, it will be the best route I ever drilled and climbed in Canada, and somewhere in the 12+/13- range.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Turkey Weekend

We could not complain about the fall so far, pretty moderate temperatures and very climbable for the most part. But just before Thanksgiving Weekend we got a couple days of really bad weather, which dropped a lot of snow at and above tree line. A true test of the patience of those climbers who were not able to go on a trip with a 180ish degree bearing. But as soon as the front moved through, about 20 climbers did not shy the hike up to Echo Canyon enjoying some sun and a well deserved Vitamin D fix after the gray days. It feels good to know that I'm not the only wing nut out there who enjoys a long walk combined with good climbing and even better company. Happy Thanksgiving and let's praise the lord or whoever you believe in for all the good "moves" we were able to do this year.
A few of the main developers for new routes this year are Greg Toss (above), Ross Suchy (bottom) and probably the most active, Matt Pieterson (no picture since he is gone right now). Also a big thanks to Derek Galloway and Jon Jones, who put their drill and sweat into the fame less but long overdue retro fit of Upper Acephale and Carrot Creek respectively.