"Bourgeau Left" must rank right up there as one of the best "convenient classics" of North America. It sits right above the parking lots of the Sunshine ski area, near Banff, AB. The approach is straightforward and convenient, most of the climb can be scoped from the car, the belays are nicely protected, and the entire descent is by rapping off bolted anchors! Talk about a friendly climb! With one exception though: avalanche danger. The climb is a major drainage for huge bowls above. What's more, the bowls cannot be seen from below, which can lend a false sense of security. Be sure to know the history of the snowpack or call the wardens for the latest info. They will tell you if and when the bowls last avalanched and what conditions are like in the valley.
Saturday, December 13, good weather was forecasted and there had not been significant new snow in weeks. Anticipating a lot of competition for the route on a weekend day, we left Canmore early. Too early... We started the approach in the dark. The guidebook mentioned some flagging tape at the far end of the parking lot. We started up a boot trail, straight up through the trees, that was clearly marked by flagging tape. An hour later, we've reached the top of the snow slopes, the sun is slowly coming up, and we're looking at a near vertical rock cliff in front of us. Where the hell is the climb gone? Turns out we were a good 500 meters too far right, having not payed attention to the rest of the clues in the guidebook: "... follow the creek a short ways to some orange flagging tape." We never followed the creek at all. Damn! By the time we had traversed the steep, knee deep, crusted snow slopes to below the climb, another party was already near the base. Besides, we were running late (it's 8:30AM) and felt a bit discouraged. We should just come back another day. We hiked back down the correct trail this time and found two other parties at the parking lot. We told them about the climbers at the base and everyone gave up, vowing to come back soon.
Sunday, December 14. We're back. Even earlier than yesterday (we wanted to be sure to beat the others, who we figured would come back for it as well). Headed up the correct approach (which is very easy to follow, assuming you start in the right place). Nobody around. We got to the base of the climb well before sunrise, and ended up sipping tea for a while while waiting for enough daylight to start climbing.
We're finally ready to go, and the sun is up. We solo a low angle ice slab to the base of the first steep pitch. We're climbing from the left side. This pitch is amazing. It is a wide flow of ice on a smooth, near-vertical rock wall. Looks fairly easy from the bottom but the climbing turns out to be surprisingly sustained, with no real rest for a full rope length. Solid WI4. Note that this pitch is apparently often quite thin, but this season is exceptional, and the ice is nice and thick. Near the end of the rope, you reach a ledge of sorts and a bolted anchor at the left edge of the ice. From there, an easier (WI3+) and shorter pitch leads to another bolted anchor at the edge of the large snowy ledge that splits the climb in half.
Lucie leads the next pitch (WI3), from the snowy ledge up moderate and somewhat wet ice to a good stance and bolted anchor on the right (this pitch is a full 55m, contrary to indications in the guidebook).
The next ropelength is the crux, a sustained WI5 pitch up wonderfully featured ice, to another fixed anchor. A really enjoyable pitch. From there, it is an easy 4 raps down fixed anchors and back to the base. One of the best 4 climbs we've ever done (the others are Bridalveil Falls in Telluride, CO, the Ames Ice Hose, CO, and Bridalveil Falls in Provo Canyon, Utah).
Bourgeau Left, Banff, AB
|Just a gorgeous line.|
|Hot tea while waiting for daybreak.|
|Eric starting up the first pitch, a beautiful and long WI4.|
|Higher on the same pitch.|
|Nearing the top of the first pitch.|
|Up the easier second pitch (WI3+).|
|The party below us starting the third pitch.|
|Lucie leading the third pitch (WI3).|
|Below the steep section before the belay.|
|Taking a break at the belay ledge before the final pitch.|
|Views of the Sunshine ski area from the climb.|
|The party below us going up the steep section of the third pitch.|
|Eric starting up the excellent last pitch (WI5).|
|Higher on the pitch.|
|At the top setting the rappel.|
|The bottom of the climb (1st and 2nd pitches).|
|Hiking back down.|
|Maybe Lucie's been in Canada for too long already, eh? (click for movie)|
|Back at the car at the Sunshine ski area parking lot.|