Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Learning to Ice Climb; Dec. 4-7, 2015


Last weekend Mike and I and Mike's friends Chris and Greg took an extended weekend getaway out to Canmore, AB to take some ice climbing lessons. I have been ice climbing before but have never had instruction and have always felt like I was simply flailing at the ice and not trusting my gear. Since Mike and I had been planning to go to Colorado to ice climb in the New Year I wanted to have an idea of what I was doing before heading out on that trip -  I did not want to spend a week in Ouray on a frustrating flail-fest.

King Creek Approach

To accomplish this we organised a 3-day ice climbing trip to the Canadian Rockies, hoping to practice the efficient use our gear and hopefully help us (i.e. me) gain some confidence when it comes to ascending frozen waterfalls. I was not disappointed!

Mike belaying


We left on Friday night after work and flew to Calgary where we rented a car and drove to Canmore. We stayed in a town house that we rented at the Canadian Rockies Chalet, which I'd recommend for its affordability, spaciousness and reasonably good location. And it has a hot tub!

Amber Climbing, Mike Belaying


On our first day of climbing we organized the gear we would need for the weekend and drove out to King Creek in Kananaskis Country. Tom Wolfe, a friend and mountain guide from Canmore, joined us. This was his first day back ice climbing after breaking his leg last January and he was keen on seeing if he could still do it in an easy environment. The area was busy but it worked out just fine as Tom was friends with some of the other guides that were there and we all shared ropes which allowed us to spend more time climbing and less time setting up ropes.

We started our day by playing with the gear on the ground and learning how to move effectively in crampons and how to properly swing our ice tools. From there we climbed various routes in the area while Tom gave us suggestions to improve our technique, climb more efficiently and conserve energy. As a brand new climber, Chris also received a crash-course in belaying and was a pro by the end of the day. After a full day of climbing we celebrated with some post climbing beers (Thanks Tom!), had dinner at Boston Pizza and enjoyed a relaxing trip to the hot tub.

Evening Shenanigans

The next day we headed to the Junkyards in Canmore and we spent the day getting some more mileage on the ice. We played around for the day climbing a gully with some thinner ice and we also did laps on a shorter but steep pitch of ice around the corner. We also tried a few moves of mixed climbing on one of the routes near the gully and we worked on more efficient foot/crampon placements by climbing some of the routes with either one or no ice axes. It was a fun challenge with surprisingly successful results!

Junkyards approach

View from the Junkyards

Mike climbing the gully

We also practised V-threads and rappelling off of the V-threads we made so we would all know what we were doing for the multi-pitch climbing day planned for tomorrow.


We ended the day by browsing the gear store in town and enjoying a beverage at a local pub before driving out to the Calgary Airport and saying goodbye to Greg.

Ha Ling Peak from the Junkyards approach

On the last day of the trip we hired Tom and Joe McKay to do the coolest climb of the weekend. We climbed the 3-pitch, WI4 Guinness Gully in Field, BC.  Mike and Chris climbed with Joe  and I climbed with Tom.

Guinness Gully Approach

The morning started early with a 5am wakeup call and 1.5 hour drive to Field, but the early start paid off as we were the second and third parties to the base of this popular route. Several other parties showed up after us and had a bit of waiting in store throughout the day in order to climb safely.

Joe leading the first pitch

The climb started with a short, snowy hike up a side-hill and a short step of ice to approach the base of the first pitch -  a steep looking 30m pitch. I was a bit intimidated by the first pitch and struggled a bit climbing it due to my nervousness, especially when I was cleaning the ice screws in the steeper section and trying to stay in balance, not get too pumped and not peel off the climb. But I took a deep breath, sorted myself out, and after a breather while Tom led the second pitch I was good to go and enjoyed the challenge of the rest of the climb.

Chris and Mike at the base of the 1st Pitch
Mike and Chris climbing the 1st Pitch

The second pitch was steeper and slightly harder than the first pitch and about 20m long. It was really fun and probably my favourite pitch of the route. This time I focused on enjoying the challenge of trying to figure out body positions to climb in balance  and efficiently without pumping out - The nervousness was gone and the rest of the climb was fun and awesome!

Joe cruising the 3rd pitch on lead

Mike and Chris Killin' it! 

After a bit of a hike up a snow slope we arrived at the base of the 3rd and final pitch. This pitch was also pretty awesome - a full 60m of fun climbing! We got a bit cold at the base of this pitch waiting for some rope shenanigans to end so we could climb safely without having ice, snow, ropes, etc knocked down on us from the party above, but it gave us a chance for a snack break before climbing this sweet pitch of ice.

Chris Rappelling

From the top we did 3 or 4 rappels and/or lowers off of fixed stations and trees to descend the route and after a quick hike back to the cars we enjoyed some beverages to celebrate another sweet day of climbing and a kick-ass weekend full of adventure!

 Down climbing the lower step

A big thanks to Tom Wolfe for organizing an epic weekend of ice climbing for us and for convincing me that winter climbing actually can be fun! (I was doubtful before this trip....) Looking forward to more adventures together in the future!

Post-Climb Wrap-up beverages

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Friday, December 4, 2015

Joshua Tree Climbing Adventure, Finale (Part 7) - Red Rocks, Vegas and Travelling Home - Nov. 10 - Nov. 16

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Day 32, Tuesday Nov. 10, 2015 - Climbing in Red Rocks

Today we packed up and said goodbye to our J-tree Home and headed for Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Las Vegas with Aaron.

Red Rocks

The drive took about 4 hours through flat, desert landscapes. The weather was questionable as we drove, we left a sunny (but cold) J-Tree and drove through several pockets of rain on the way to Las Vegas. You can't climb in Red Rocks for a couple of days after hard rain due to the rock getting fragile when it's wet, so we were getting a bit worried.  We arrived at the Pine Creek Trail Head in Red Rocks at 11am and it was very cold and windy, but it looked dry, so we thought we'd hike in and attempt to give "Cat in the Hat", an uber-classic 5.6 Red Rocks Multi-pitch route, a go. 

Hiking to "Cat in the Hat"
We embarked on the 45 min. hike into the base of what we thought was "Cat in the Hat". Aaron led up the first pitch and after some terrible climbing that was harder than the expected 5.6, with many portable holds, we investigated around the top of the first pitch a bit and then determined we were off route. We rigged a rappel off of some slings on a boulder and retreated. There was a bunch of random gear left behind on the "route", and numerous other pieces of tat, so we weren't the only ones who had made this mistake it seemed!

Rigging a rappel to bail off what we thought was "Cat in the Hat"

 Mike and I were both relieved to learn that this was not an actual route we had been on. Neither of us had climbed in Red Rocks before and we were not impressed by the amount of loose and fragile rock and sketchy pro encountered on a route that was suppose to be a classic. When we learned we were off-route, it all made a lot more sense!

The actual "Cat in the Hat" - Way more solid! Not a single hold broke on me! 

We found the base of the actual "Cat in the Hat" route after a bit more hiking but just as we go there the weather turned for the worse. We managed to climb one pitch and then got soaking wet rappelling in the rain and hiked back to the car; a bit of a defeating day. But at least we got one quality pitch of climbing in before bailing and now we know where the route starts to go back another time.

Weather turning for the worse

That afternoon we checked into the La Quinta Red Rocks Hotel and laid out all our wet gear to dry for tomorrow's climbing. The rain was a short event, so there was still hope that the rock would be dry enough to be safe to climb tomorrow. We were surprised though when we looked back at the canyons after the weather cleared and noticed the snow line was not much higher than where we had been climbing. We were definitely not expecting snow! We spent the evening enjoying dinner at the Chicago Brewing Company followed by some hot tub time to rest up for tomorrow's climb.

Hiking back to the car - Only in Vegas!

Day 33, Wednesday Nov. 11, 2015 - Climbing in Red Rocks

Cat in the Hat, 5.6+, 5-Pitches

Today we decided to head back and try "Cat in the Hat" (5 pitches, 5.6+) again now that the weather was looking better and we knew where the route started. We had heard that the route is extremely popular and today was a holiday so we got up at 5:30am had a quick breakfast in the hotel and were on our way to Red Rocks by 6:30am.

We hit the trail at 7:00 and after a 45min hike in we started climbing at 8am. The start this morning was cold, 3 degrees Celsius in the shade! Brrr!!!!  But luckily we were in the sun by the top of the first pitch making the rest of the route a comfortable climbing temperature.

It turns out it was a good thing we got up early. We were the first party to the route but we were very quickly joined by 2 more parties within a few minutes of beginning our climb. By the time we reached the last pitch there had to have been about 8 other parties behind us. Crazy!

"Cat in the Hat" was a fun, moderate multi-pitch route with some good crack climbing, comfortable belay stances, and a great position with wonderful views of the park and the Las Vegas strip. I can see why it's so poplar!

We got back to the packs at about 2:30pm after completing 4 rappels, which required a bit of patience and shenanigans to negotiate around at the rappel/belay stations given the number of people on the route.

Since it was still fairly early we hiked up and checked out the start of tomorrow's climb so we would know where were going in the early morning. We ended our day with some celebratory beers and hot tub time back to the hotel followed by a tasty Mexican  dinner with Debbie and Dave, who had just arrived in Vegas that afternoon.

Day 34, Thursday Nov. 12, 2015 - Climbing in Red Rocks

Birdland, 5.7+, 5-pitches

We had learned from yesterdays craziness that it was key to get up early for classic climbs at Red Rocks so this morning we were up at 5:00am had a quick breakfast in the hotel and were on our way to Red Rocks by 6:00am. We hit the trail before 7:00am and after about a 45min hike arrived at the base of the route. It was a good thing we got up early as we already the second party at the base of the route with others quickly lining up behind us. By the end of the day there had to have been at least 10 other parties on the route or waiting to climb. It was absolutely insane!

For today's route we chose to climb another Red Rocks classic multi-pitch -  "Birdland" (5.7+, 5-pitches). The route was awesome! It was a lot more vertical than "Cat in the Hat" with less rambly secitons and more sustained climbing. A very enjoyable route.

The belay stances however were not as comfortable as several were semi-hanging belays, which got interesting with the amount of people on the route. There were some points where we had up to 5 people on one hanging belay, it was cosy!  Another bonus about this route is that it is in the sun in the morning so the temperatures were quite pleasant for climbing even though it was another cold morning.

Descending the route was a bit of a gong-show given the number of people.  We had to practice a lot of patience and efficiency in sharing anchors and setting up rappels to try and keep moving without getting in to way of climbers leading up the route below us. I will not elaborate, but there was a lot of questionable set-ups and systems being used by various parties on the route that often made setting up rappels a challenge and had us shaking our heads in amazement and/or frustration more than once. 

We were happy to arrive safely back on the ground and get away from the madness above. We got back to the packs after completing 5 rappels at around 1:30pm and after hiking back to the trail head we conveniently had three beers left over in the cooler which we enjoyed in the park to celebrate the end of a full month of climbing adventures.

After our climb we headed to the strip, checked into The Treasure Island Hotel and got ready for party time! We met up with Debbie and Dave and Karen at the TI hotel and enjoyed an over-indulgent dinner at the TI Buffet before heading out and wandering the strip for the night while we caught up with family and friends. 

Day 35-36, Friday Nov. 13 - Saturday Nov. 14, 2015 - Las Vegas!

The next couple days were slated for fun on the Las Vegas strip.  Mike and I  enjoyed a glorious sleep-in after a month of early morning wake-ups for climbing and then headed down stairs to the buffet breakfast at Treasure Island (we had a free buffet pass with our room package).

Newly spruced up Fremont Street

We spent the rest of the morning wandering through the hotels on the Northern end of the strip all the way down to the Stratosphere, where we watched someone "Speed Rappel" i.e. plummet face-first towards the ground on some wires, off the the top of the tower. Not in this lifetime!

Fremont Street Light show

From there we wandered back to Mike's favourite hole-in-the-wall casino, Slots-of-Fun, and played some dollar craps and blackjack. Aaron and Karen and Dave and Debbie met us there and when we got bored of gambling we entertained ourselves with a round of  bowling followed by a riveting game of Beer Pong!


We did have to class it up a bit though for the beer pong. There was no way any of us were going to drink beer that a dirty ping pong ball that had been rolling around on the casino floor had just landed in. So we put water in the cups instead of beer and just took drinks out of separate beer glasses when someone scored a point. No need to play the game in true frat-boy style. ;P

Beer Pong!

After our awesome game of Beer Pong we walked back to hotel to have cheesecake from Carnegie Deli. It was Delicious! Thanks for the treat Aaron and Karen!

Flower Carousel

After a short rest we headed out to Fremont Street for the evening. On the way we had the most interesting bus ride ever where the guy sitting behind us went on a 30min monologue talking about how he was a witch hunter who attacks witches with rainbow power.....Interesting!


We had dinner at the Main Street Station Hotel Brew Pub in Downtown Las Vegas and then spent the rest of the night on Fremont Street watching the light show, listening to the live music and people watching followed by a few rounds of craps at the El Cortez Casino before heading back to the strip.

Out of control tigers

The next day we had another buffet breakfast and then met up with Aaron and Karen at Madame Tussauds to check out the wax museum. It was a fun mix of iconic figures and celebrities to check out with lots of fun costumes to take silly photos.

Evil Knievel

After the wax museum we wandered the strip down to Mandalay Bay and back and explored some more of the hotels along the way. That night we enjoyed dinner at Margaritaville and finished off our Vegas trip with a Hypnotist show where Karen got to go on stage! It was a fun few days in Vegas and a great way to end a stellar trip!

Random boobs hanging on a wall - Only in Vegas!

Day 37-38, Sunday Nov. 15 - Monday Nov. 16, 2015 - Drive Home

The next 2 days were uneventful and a bit of a blur full of over 20 hours of driving. We went for breakfast with everyone before saying goodbye to Vegas and then began the long drive home. The first day we drove to Boise, Idaho, (where it was snowing!) and spent the night. The next day we got up early and drove the rest of the way home, and were warmly greeted back to Vancouver with a crazy rain storm and a two hour drive to get back to North Van from the Peace Arch border. Welcome Home! :)

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