February 11. We've been in Canmore for over three months now and we still have not climbed the local moderate classic, "Professor Falls" on Mount Rundle. Today is the day!
This climb is one of the most popular ones in the Rockies and deservedly so. With a scenic approach along the Bow River, 5 pitches on generally good ice, and great views, it should not be missed!
These days, the approach to all the routes on Mount Rundle is a little longer than described in the guidebook as the road is closed before the Goat Creek Bridge near the Banff Springs Hotel. Knowing that it will probably take us an hour and an half to reach the base of the climb, we start early. It's mid-week (Wednesday) but we want to make sure we're first on the route. From the parking lot, we hike in the dark along the closed road for 3km, past the golf course to a fork and the old parking area. This is really easy walking as the road is closed yet plowed. From the old parking spot, another 3km on the old roadbed leads to the start of the trail to the Canmore Nordic Center. This portion of the approach is not maintained but the popularity of the climb virtually guarantees you'll find a well packed "donkey trail" (we did). Once at the trailhead, yet another 3km along the trail and the banks of the Bow River lead you to an obvious gully on the right, which heads toward the climb. Fortunately, we find the trail also well packed and really enjoy the scenic walk along the Bow River. The start of the climb is about 400m up the gully. Total time is 1.5 hours in packed conditions; probably over two hours if breaking trail after a storm (but not right after a storm... there is some avalanche potential on and above the route).
After a quick breakfast at the base, we gear up and start climbing. Professor Falls features three steep tiers of ice (WI4) followed by a mellow pitch and a snow slog to the final pitch (WI4). I get to lead the first 4 pitches, leaving the last one to Eric. The first pitch goes up a pillar to a good ledge. It's fun and steep climbing on good ice. The ice is not even wet (which we were told is often the case) or bashed (which we were expecting, given the popularity of the route) - it has been very cold overnight and there is a layer of new ice covering most of the pick marks. When I make it to the ledge, I find a beefy bolted anchor on the left. I put Eric on belay and he quickly joins me. The second pitch is shorter but a little steeper. I follow a line on the left in a shallow dihedral of sorts in the ice. When the angles ease off, I continue up another step to a good ledge at the base of the third steep tier. There is a fixed anchor there also, though I can't remember where exactly. The third pitch is really fun. I go up the left side, staying close to the slanting rock rib. I can almost rest my back against the rock. When Eric reaches the belay ledge, we take a break to enjoy the great views of Cascade Mountain and the Bow Valley. Another mellow pitch (WI3) and several shorter steps and we reach the snowfield leading to the final pitch. From there, we have a good view of the hard routes of Mont Rundle - "The Terminator" (WI6+ when formed, which is almost never) and "Sea of Vapors" (WI7+R). Quite a sight! We can see that "The Terminator" is far from touching down though (probably a 10 to 15m gap). It has been climbed in these conditions but it is a pretty desperate climb that goes at A2 WI7 X. Way above our heads! Back to the climb at hand. Eric gets the final pitch. It looks quite wet from below, but turns out to be good climbing.
The guidebook suggests several options for the descent but we elect to rap down the route instead of trying to walk off. The descent goes pretty quickly since all raps anchors are already in place. We find fixed Abalakovs for the upper pitches, and good bolted anchors on the lower three pitches. We're back at our packs in no time and get to enjoy the scenic Bow River hike one more time. When we reach the road, the sun is setting on the Bow Valley. Beautiful ending to a fun day out!
Professor Falls, Mount Rundle, AB
|Scenic approach along the Bow River.|
|Professor Falls as seen from the approach (only the first three pitches are visible).|
|The first pitch.|
|Lucie starting the first pitch and...|
|Near the top of the pitch.|
|Starting the second pitch.|
|Lucie placing her first screw.|
|Magnificent views of Cascade Mountain and the Bow Valley.|
|Lucie starting the fun third pitch.|
|Between a rock and a hard place...|
|At the top of the third pitch.|
|Lucie leading the mellow 4th pitch.|
|The Terminator (WI6+ when fully formed... but it is not) and Sea of Vapors (WI7 R), two very hard Canadian Rockies classics.|
|Approaching the final pitch.|
|Eric leading the final pitch.|
|Rapping down (4th pitch).|
|Waiting to rap the second pitch.|
|Hiking out along the Bow River.|
|Bow Valley sunset.|