Temperatures were really too cold around Canmore, so we figured we'd go check out some climbs on the other side of the divide for a couple of days, around Radium Hot Springs, BC. The first day, we went looking for "Raven's Call", a single pitch WI5 pillar on the cliffs above the Columbia River just north of Radium. This one is not so easy to find. After a few hesitations, we finally found the parking spot described in the book. From there, it's a short walk through dense forest to the edge of the cliff. Problem is, with new snow covering any tracks, and because the climb is accessed from above and through the woods, you really don't know where it is until you happen to find yourself there by luck (the directions in the book are actually quite right; once you find the small creek bed just behind the fence line, stick to it religiously heading East and you'll get there). Anyway, we did find the climb but it took us three tries, each time returning to the car for another attempt in a slightly different direction. After all that, we had lost most of our motivation and ended up simply top-roping the climb. It is a very long pillar with tricky ice "leaves" on the bottom half, and a very steep upper pillar. The entire pillar was broken horizontally a few meters from the top. The crack was more than 30 cm wide... spooky.
We spent the night in a cheap motel downtown Invermere. It is the most "lively" of the towns in the area, but primarily a tourist trap. We found decent food at a recently opened Scottish pub then went to bed. Had a hard time getting out of bed the next morning. It had been snowing all night and the wind was howling. It was -25C outside… so much for warmer temperatures west of the divide! We finally pulled ourselves out of bed, got ready, and then had an egg-and-potato breakfast at a local café. Pretty nice. Sure beats horse food (aka oatmeal).
We were still not so sure we'd climb anything… just a bit cold out there for us chickens. After breakfast, we drove out of town. After a moment of hesitation at the 93/95 junction (go back home, go climbing, back home, climbing...?), we ended up turning right (south) after all. Direction Canal Flats. We had nothing better to do today anyway, so we might as well give Gibraltar Wall a chance. Long drive. We finally got there. Fortunately, it hadn't snowed that much there: maybe 10 cm of new snow. We lazily put our boots on, half ready to turn back and drive home. The climb simply did not inspire us very much: too broad, no distinct line… and it was so cold! Back in the car for a while to eat a muffin in the heat.
Suddenly, another car stopped behind us. Panic! Other climbers! Let's go! It's amazing how a bit of competition for a climb you didn't really want to do can motivate you! We quickly shouldered our packs, locked the car, and headed up the short approach. We were not moving very fast at first; the entire slope below the climb was covered in thin ice, with grasses and bushes still showing through it! We did not notice because of the layer of new snow on the top of it. After a few face plants, we resorted to crampons and promptly got to the base of the climb. The others were right behind. We got ready as quickly as we could and started up, headed for the steepest line up the center of the flow. The three others seemed intent on passing us on the left, but we kept a fast pace and they ended up just keeping up with us. A bit of friendly competition keeps you moving.
The first pitch was easy, WI3 or so to a large sloping ledge loaded with snow. For the second pitch, we headed up one of the steepest buttresses: turned out dead vertical and pretty sustained for 25 meters or so. I'd call it WI5. This led to another snowy slope at the base of the next curtain and near the end of the rope. This next curtain was a little less steep but with funky ice: very hollow and chandeliered; hard to get positive placements. The steep stuff was again about 25 meter high. More snow above this brought us to the last tier: a long rolling flow of WI3 with plenty of snow. This was unpleasant climbing on snowy bulges with brittle, dishing ice for 35 meters. Then it got worse: the ice ended and I found myself on snow-covered, 45 degree frozen gravel and rock slabs… no pro anywhere in sight, and I was out of rope. Ouch! There was a tree up and left but it was a good 20 meters away. I drove a titanium ice piton into the frozen gravel for psychological pro and waited for Lucie to remove the belay and start simul-climbing (she told me later that she didn't realize we were simul-climbing… there was no voice communication at all). It seemed to take forever. I finally got some slack and gingerly made my way up toward a small dead (!) twig. This would have to do for a directional. I then traversed left on insecure slabs to the live tree I had been eying all along. Got a bit tense there for a while.
From the tree, three full length raps brought us back down. We passed the other party along the way: having climbed the route before, they knew about the last pitch and instead traversed and downclimbed left from the top of the third pitch to a rap tree.
Note: if doing the last pitch, climb 30 meters of so of rolling ice and set a belay anchor well before the end of the ice. From there, climb the unprotected slabs to the tree. This would keep you from having to simul-climb on the sketchy slabs.
Gibraltar Wall, near Canal Flats, BC.
|Gibraltar Wall (our route in red).|
|Contemplating the first steep section on pitch 2.|
|Cleaning the ice for...|
|... a screw.|
|The third pitch had tricky, hollow ice.|
|Higher on the third pitch.|