Because of the recent snow dump, we are confined to routes with low avalanche danger and decide to go check out the climbs along the David Thompson Highway. Since all the climbs in this area are a good three hour drive from Canmore, we opt for staying overnight at the Shunda Creek Hostel. The plan is to leave Canmore early, and drive almost to the Saskatchewan Crossing on the Icefields Parkway to climb Murchison Falls alnng the way. Then we would drive east on the D.T. Highway and spent the night at the Shunda Creek hostel and climb other routes in the area the next day or two.

Murchison Falls is a classic waterfall that sits in a bowl high above the Icefields Parkway, 9 km south of the Saskatchewan River crossing. Because of the long drive, we get there quite late (9:30AM). The approach also takes a lot longer than we had hoped: two hours of very steep slogging through the woods with snowshoes. We see fresh Cougar tracks on the way in…

By the time we're ready to climb, it's almost 12:30PM. We're gonna have to move fast on this one. Even then, chances are we'll be coming down in the dark. Pack the headlamps! The first 120 meters of the climb are low angle rolling ice (up to WI3) and snow ledges. The protection is questionable but the climbing easy. We end up simul-climbing that section as reliable screws cannot be found for a good belay (ice crust over snow). I really hate this part. My knee is still sore from the incident on Carlsberg Column and I'm getting bombarded again. Plus we're simul-climbing and I can't afford to fall so I just duck my head and hope for the best. Once at the base of the steep terrain, Eric can't find a belay anchor at first: hollow ice again. He ends up setting the belay right at the base of the steep curtain… a bit exposed to ice fall for the next pitch. Much precious time is lost looking for that anchor.

The next pitch is very long (60m) and traverses diagonally left over steep terrain and small slopy ledges of breakable crust… tricky ice, a bit scary. Eric finally finds a decent screw anchor at the end of the pitch, and then notices a bolt in the rock a few feet to the right: good to know for the descent. The next pitch is very long again (60m), and again angles slightly left on tricky ice and under a section of dripping icicles, before going straight up a dead vertical 20m buttress. We're both dead tired on this pitch; Eric was cramping badly on the lead. The climbing is actually pretty good, but it's getting late, and we're not sure about the descent. Eric runs out of rope about 6m below the top of the climb, and sets up a screw belay there. When I reach the belay, it is getting dark, and we decide to rap from here, not knowing what sort of anchor we may (or may not) find on the ledge above.

We set up a double Abalakovs (lots of work!) and rap from that to the bolt below, then to the snowy ledge below the steep upper part of the climb. Two more Abalakovs and we rap to a ledge we passed on the way up. There, the ice is so poor we can't use any Abalakov but we're thankful to find a small icicle to thread and rap the last rope length to the base. It is totally dark when we get back to our packs. We're a bit short with water and we both feel dehydrated and very tired. We pack the gear and plod down the long and steep track back to the road. It's tricky going down steep terrain with snowshoes but it's still faster than going uphill! No sign of the cougar on the way down… By the time we make it to the car, it's well past beer time (8:30PM). Wow! That was a bit more adventure than we expected. We can't really say we enjoyed the climb… to busy worrying about the bad ice, the short few hours of daylight, and the descent.

After an hour and a half of driving, we finally make it to the Shunda Creek hostel. The place looks very cozy. They even have an ice tower! And it's lighted at night! We check in and settle in our room (dorm room with 4 beds but there are only 5 other guests in the hostel so we have it to ourselves). We quickly get the dinner going and try to re-hydrate as much as possible, although the water is not potable so we have to boil it. We finally get to bed around midnight, with no cold water to drink…

Murchison Falls, Icefields Parkway, AB.

December 8, 2003 / WI4+, 240 meters
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Snowshoeing in a bit too late (it is a 2-hour approach).
 
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Murchison Falls is the left of the two obvious flows.
 
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Finally found a decent belay anchor after 120m of simul-climbing.
 
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Starting up the first steep pitch.
 
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The ice was very brittle throughout the climb.
 
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Approaching the final curtain.
 
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Looking south beyond the Icefields Parkway.
 
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Late start, late finish: packing up at the base in the dark.
(high res. images are about 300KB)