Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Rockies Recap, Part 2 (August 2015)

This August Mike and I headed over to the Rockies to do some climbing. We had a list of objectives, some of which we've been looking at for years. With a solid year of training under our belts and fingers crossed for good weather we were hoping to get a chance to attempt a few routes from our tick-list over our week-long vacation.

Day 4 : Rest Day

Chillin' with the Mountain Goat at the Columbia Ice fields

Today we decided to take a rest day so we could re-locate our camp and be ready to go for the rest of the weeks adventures which promised to be more involved than the first two climbs.

Mountain Markers at the Kicking Horse Campground

Mt Stephen

We enjoyed a bit of a sleep in and then packed up camp and drove out to Kicking Horse Campground near Field, BC.  We lucked out by arriving just before check-in time and snagged the very last campsite.

Castle Mountain
After setting up camp we went for a drive down the Icefields Parkway to explore the area and to look for the trail head for tomorrow's objective, Achilles Spire. The drive was a bit longer than we had expected, it took us a couple hours to get from our camp site to the Columbia Icefields, but luckily the  whole drive is amazing and scenic with huge mountains everywhere! It was really cool to see parts of the Wapta Traverse that we had skied a few years ago and see how different things look in the summer.

We stopped at the Columbia Icefields to take in the view and check out the mountains in the area that are on our tick-list for a future trip. It is an amazing area, but we didn't linger too long as the huge crowds of people were a bit overwhelming, especially after spending the last couple days up the sides of mountains with very few other people around.

Columbia Icefields

On the drive we also checked out the hard-man routes on the spectacular looking Howse Peak and Mt Chephren and took a look at the Weeping Wall and Polar Circus, which looked cool, and I can only imagine how awesome they are in the winter as ice climbs!

Howse Peak and Mt Chephren

Driving the Ice fields Parkway

Driving the Ice fields Parkway

Our final stop for the day was the side of the highway across from Mt Hector.  We located Mt. Hector and after a bit of exploring around surrounding drainages we found Hector Creek and the trail head for the next day's approach.

Trail Head recon for Achilles Spire

We ended our day with some grocery shopping in Lake Louise (ouch! If you can, shop somewhere else…), a BBQ dinner and some rest day slack-lining to entertain ourselves for the evening.

Slackline Fun
Mike and his circle of sausage love

Daily Gear Sorting

Day 5: Achilles Spire

13-pitches, Grade III, 5.8, 300m. Fully bolted alpine rock climb on a spire adjacent to Mt. Andromache on the Icefields Parkway. Banff, AB. 12hrs car-to-car. 

Click here for a route description of Achilles Spire

Achilles Spire - Largest tower in the middle of photo (as seen on approach)
The most dangerous part of the day - walking down the Ice Fields Parkway to the trail head

For the 3rd route of our trip we climbed Achilles Spire; a 13-pitch sport route up a spire located on Mt Andromache, next to Mt Hector, on the Icefields Parkway.  I had read about this route a couple years earlier and was stoked to finally get a chance to try it.

Waterfall about 1/2 through approach

We started our day with another early morning 5am wakeup call and after a quick breakfast we were on our way to the trail head. We geared up and began our hike in at 6:30am. The approach for the climb was fairly easy to figure out with a well-worn trail to the top of a small waterfall and then several cairns to lead the way through scree and cliff bands to the base of the route.

Top of the waterfall

It took us about 2 hours to get to the base of the spires and then a bit of wandering around to locate the bolt that marks the start of the route. There is a small black roof to the right of the start of the route and a cairn directly below the start of the route, for future reference.

1st Pitch

The climbing on the route was really fun and varied. It is very much an alpine rock climb even though it is bolted; there is loose rock to be aware of and some spots where you wouldn't want to fall due to the blocky nature of the pitch. Although, most of the climbing is quite vertical with very little wandering around to link the pitches, which was awesome for an alpine climb. I led both of the crux pitches, which were by far the best climbing on the route. The  8th pitch is a perfectly vertical pitch of 5.7 balancy climbing and the 10th pitch, the 5.8 crux of the route, has some fun crack climbing in parallel grooves followed by a traverse above a small roof.

We reached the summit at around 1:30pm, about 4.5 hours of climbing, and took a short break to admire the view. There  are wonderful views of Mt Hector, Hector Lake and the peaks and ice fields of the Wapta traverse across the valley.

Mt Hector across the Valley

The descent from the route is a bit tedious, it involves 15 rappels, some of which involve rapping around corners and a couple rope-stretchers. It took us about 3 hours to rappel back to the  base of the route and then 1.5 hours to hike back to the car. We arrived back to the car at about 630pm, making for a 12 hour trip, car-to-car.

Summit Shot

Overall, Achilles Spire was an excellent route with fun climbing in a beautiful area. It's challenging enough to be interesting, but not overwhelming and is remote enough to feel wild, even with the  bolts.  Well worth checking out if you get the chance. It was my favourite route of our trip. 


Day 6: Takakkaw Falls

Falls Route: 11-pitches, 5.7, 425m. mixed alpine rock climb immediately adjacent to Takakkaw Falls (the 2nd highest Waterfall in Western Canada at 1260ft). Yoko Park, BC. 9hrs car-to-car. 

Click Here for Topo & Route description

With rain in the forecast for the foreseeable future we thought we'd try to squeeze in one more route before heading home from what had already been a successful trip. We slept in until 5:30am and after a quick breakfast hit the road to Takakkaw Falls.  Our campsite was on the same road as the  Falls, so it was a short 20 min drive to the parking lot. And we saw a porcupine on the drive!

View from the base of the route

 After gearing up and discussing if we needed bear deterrent for the approach (Mike said no since "Bears don't walk on paved trails" - hahaha, sure.....), we walked up the leisurely sidewalk to the end of the viewing platform, starting our approach at around 7am. From here we angled up the steep, loose scree slope to the base of the wall; the route starts right at the apex of the scree. The full approach was a quick 30min.

Mountain Goat Stand-off
Although there were no bears on the approach, when we arrived at the base of the route we were greeted by a mountain goat. He had a stand-off with Mike for a while before he moved on and let us access the first pitch of the route. He was a little bitter though and spent the rest of the day climbing around on ledges above us and showering us with  rocks as he travelled. Awesome!

Mountain Goat Showing Off his speed climbing skills
First Pitch
We started climbing at around 8am and leisurely headed up the first 4 pitches which were  4th class to low-5th climbing along rambly, bolted, traversing ledge systems that slowly worked their way up and to the right, towards the waterfall. We had to stop for about 10 min at the top of the 3rd pitch to wait out the rain and make a decision as to whether to continue or bail. The rain quickly passed and the rock was still fairly dry, so we decided to continue on. 

Top of Pitch 3, waiting for the rain to pass

Pitch 4 - It's like "Where's Waldo?",  but Where's Mike?

There he is! Mike following Pitch 4

From here on Mike took the lead to finish off the route as I managed to tweak my knee and was close to having to bail completely. I managed to tough it out and finish the last 6 pitches. The rest of the route got a lot more vertical and less rambly and headed straight up immediately beside Takakkaw Falls. The position was extraordinary with the Falls thundering beside you and the spray of water washing over you as you climbed. Pitches 5 and 6 were mixed/trad climbing followed by the 5.7 bolted crux pitch, then a completely unprotected 25m 5.2 pitch, followed by a bolted 5.5 pitch which takes you to the coolest pitch of the route. 

Top of Pitch 6
 At the top of the 9th pitch you get to the mouth of the cave/tunnel.  Here we ditched our packs and rope and went on an adventure where we crawled through a body sized 200ft long tunnel that has been carved though the rocks by water. It was crazy! the walls were all smooth, the ground was sandy and the whole tunnel vibrated from the force of the Falls. The tunnel was large enough to crawl through  with one or two spots where you had to slide on your belly to get past some obstacles. 

At the end of the tunnel it spits you out right beside the falls for a spectacular view of the top of the Falls and valley below.  There is one more pitch from here that takes you to the headwaters of the Falls but we opted to not climb it because we didn't want to drag our rope and packs all the way through the cave. 

End of the Tunnel

Start of the Tunnel

We headed back through the cave and had a quick lunch break in the cave entrance before beginning the rappels. We finished the route at about 1pm, approx. 5hours of climbing. The rappels took us about 2 hours with a bit of waiting around at anchors while other parties climbed through. And it took us another 30min to hike back to the car as the loose scree was quite slow-going and tedious. 

Mike Rappelling

Climbers beside the Falls
Once again we experienced a bit of culture shock as we arrived back to the paved trail and were surrounded by hundreds of tourists checking out the Falls, some of which wanted to know why we had ropes and wanted play-by-play details on how we could have possibly climbed all the way to the top of the Waterfall!?! Mike had a great time telling his climbing tales. A fun end to a fabulous day! 

Last Camp Dinner of the trip


This trip to the Rockies was one of the most successful and rewarding climbing trips that I have been on. It was great to finally have a trip to that area where we had a good weather window and were able to climb more than one objective in a week. And, more to the point, my last year of climbing training, both physically and mentally, paid off immensely on this trip. I have never felt so strong and competent in the mountains and on the rock as I have this year. 

Mt Stephen - View From Camp

Swapping leads in the mountains would have not have been an option for me a year ago if we wanted to be efficient enough to complete a long route. It was a very different and positive experience to finally feel like an equal, competent climber who is going climbing with her partner instead of being taken climbing by her partners. I'm loving every minute of it! These changes are in no small part thanks to Ean Kramer and his dedication with both the CCC program at The Edge Climbing Centre and the one-on-one training that I did with him this summer. Thanks Ean!

Sir Donald on the Drive Home

Click Here for Rockies Recap, Part 1 - Day 1 to 3

Click Here for Full Photo Album

Cathedral Mountain - View from Camp

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