Thursday, September 25, 2014

Canada Part 1

Lush green valleys, braided rivers, coniferous forest stretching for eternity, blunt yet jagged limestone peaks, huge trucks, bears - I'm pleased to say that the Canadian Rockies are pretty much exactly how i'd always imagined them. They're also massive. Massive in every way, faces that look 400 metres are actually 1000, an approach that looks like a pleasant hour's stroll on the map ends up being a grueling 7 hours of bush/moraine whacking, its seriously wild, seriously cool.

I'm here with Nick Bullock, with the idea of climbing some of the bigger alpine faces. After speaking to local experts such as Jon Walsh about conditions that are required for the north faces we decided that September/October would be the best time, the idea being that temperatures would have cooled off enough that the rockfall isn't too bad, yet not cold and snowy enough that the big stuff goes out of the window in place for the ice and mixed "cragging" that most people come here in the winter for. Although this is Nick's eighth trip to the Rockies, its his first at this time of the year with alpine stuff in mind, so the trip was a bit of an unknown for both of us.

When we first arrived in Canmore there had been an unseasonably large dump of snow, which made things look very wintry!

After a couple of days some good weather showed up and we climbed the north face of Mount Diadem. It was great to get stuck in to the Rockies and sample the choss. It went something like this; leave the car at 4a.m. thrash, wade and grovel up a very vegetated valley for a few hours, scratch up endless moraine to the glacier beneath the face, cross the glacier, climb the face, traverse the summit, down-climb the s.face, and then walk out of a different valley we'd forgot to research for 5 hours back to the car.

Nick at our road bivi, the valley behind leads up to the glacier beneath Diadem.

Nick fording a very cold Sunwapta river at 4 a.m.
About 4 hours later the sun rose and we could see the N face, very cool.

Nick crossing the glacier beneath the face.

The first roped pitch.

The crux was a really fun steep offwidth with some old ice in the back and not much for gear, here i am starting it and about to wish we'd brought a more extensive rack!

Myself on a fun pitch of thin snice higher up, the screw in the photo being the only worthwhile gear for the next 40ish metres.
Nick charging up some choss.

Choss on the final tower

Myself with the North face of Alberta in the background, the dream tick for this trip.

Descending in to the Canadian vastness.

It was great to have done such an awesome route in the first week, and it wetted our appetites for more.

Nick clipping bolts.

Down-time in Canmore at this time of year isn't so bad due to the amount of really great sport climbing there is. In Echo Canyon alone, which is right behind where we're staying there are some really inspiring crags, which disprove the theory that the Rockies only contain choss. Yesterday i did a brilliant 12c in Echo which would be three stars in Siurana or any other mecca of sport climbing. Its almost worth considering the Rockies as a sport climbing destination, although i can't believe i just said that...

Incredible amount of rock in Echo canyon, on the wall behind Nick there are 50 metre 8a's!
After resting post Diadem, we drove back up the road towards Jasper and set about a bigger objective. Unfortunately we messed up a bit on tactics, and whilst bivvying in the car the night before leaving i had a traumatic night of vomiting, which i think was due to a dodgy chinese take-out from the supermarket the day before. Nevertheless we made the long walk in to the col beneath the NE ridge of Alberta, but after not eating for a couple of days and finding small hills a struggle to walk up, combined with our intended line being in somewhat different condition to what we'd anticipated, it was an easy decision to stash the gear and come back at the next possible opportunity.

The north face of Twins Tower seen from wooley shoulder. The Columbia icefield stretches off its back and is a "Hydrological Apex", water flows from it to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic.

The Lloyd Mackay hut, with the East face of Alberta behind. 

I've been seriously inspired by the Rockies so far, they're wild, infinitely more "real deal" than anything that the European Alps can offer, and feel more on par with some of the bigger places i've been for size, gnarl and as i say, "realness".

Monday, September 8, 2014


 The last few months have been a good mix of work and play. I really do love North Wales, there surely can't be a better place to live as a trad climber.

You really can't beat an after-work session in the pass. The mega classic King-Wad. Photo: Lee Roberts.

The good old Cromlech. I think i know every hold on these two walls now. Here Sion is on Left Wall, and i'm linking up Precious, Right Wall and Lord of The Flies to result in an action packed pitch of awesomeness.
Rust Never Sleeps, a nerve wracking E6 on the Lleyn Peninsular. Photo: Nick Bullock
Box of Blood E7, on Craig Doris . More of a flash than an on sight as i'd belayed Nick on it, but still pretty terrifying.
Another paradisaical trip to Pabbay and Mingulay came and went. It wasn't all frisby and fishing, we did some climbing too, and i managed a couple of E6's i hadn't got round to last time. But really, this photo says it all.

If i was to talk about all the amazing routes this summer i wouldn't do them justice, and also, i would have found another method of avoiding packing all of the above in to two 23 kg loads. Off to the Canadian Rockies on Tuesday, lets hope it gets cold over there soon!