We've just climbed Rainbow Serpent, a fabulous pillar in the South Ghost. After a day of rest, we're ready for more. We have not yet climbed one of the Kananaskis classics, "Whiteman Falls", a two pitch line tucked away in a scenic canyon. We cannot find anything recent about it on the internet message boards, so we don't know if it's in shape. We'll have to find out for ourselves.
"Whiteman Falls" is very close to Highway 40. Unfortunately, the highway is closed to all traffic from December 1st to late spring (whenever the snow melts). At this time of the year, it is a 5 kilometer hike from the road closure gates to the mouth of the canyon where the climb is located. There's quite a bit of snow in these parts, so, unless you're looking for a long postholing adventure, you'll need a means of flotation. We hesitated between skis and snow shoes but skiing seemed like the way to go. It would be much faster, particularly on the easy terrain following the highway. Our skis have randonnee bindings (Fritschi Diamir); our leather ice climbing boots fit those bindings but we have never tried this in the field. Climbing hard ice in heavy randonnee boots is no fun, so we decided to try the leather. This turned out to be a big mistake.
We start skinning up the road at first light. It takes us about an hour to reach the trail into the canyon. We hide our skis in the trees and start hiking up the well packed boot trail up the canyon. After but a few steps, we realize what a mistake it was to ski in with our ice climbing boots. We both feel severe pain in our heels! The Nepal Tops are just too flexible. They rubbed against the back of our heels all the way in... We're even wondering if we'll be able to climb. We'll see. After about 20 minutes up the canyon, we come across two short ice steps and decide to gear up. The ice steps are really rotten. If the ice on the climb looks anything like that, forget it. Anyway, we're here so we might as well go take a closer look. A bit more snow slogging up a tight canyon and we're at the base of the climb. It actually appears to be in good shape, and pretty fat. The top looks a little hollow but should be fine.
Eric tries to do something about his feet (hiking up the canyon was excruciating so climbing in that state is out of the question). We've got "second skins" in our first aid kit. One of these on each heel (which are blistered but not open) and things feel much better. My feet hurt too but I ignore them. We don't have any more time too loose - another party is coming up the slope below the climb and we need to get going. Eric starts the first pitch. He follows a gentle ramp then traverses left on a ledge just below a huge overhanging mushroom. He then climbs straight up to a stance on the left below a cave. I'm glad I declined to lead the pitch - it's relatively easy but kind of awkward in places. Finding a decent belay anchor also took him a while - the ice was just not that great. Once Eric puts me on belay, I try to move as fast as I can because of the party waiting at the base. The second pitch is the crux, usually rated WI6. It's steep but quite fat and the ice is really good (probably WI5+ or so under these conditions). The top of the pitch is hollow and Eric ends up traversing slightly right to avoid the worst of that section. He finds a fixed anchor at the top and belays me up.
From the top of the climb, we get great views of Kananaskis country. One long rap brings us back down to the low angle ice below the mushrooms. A bit of downclimbing and we're back at the base. We stick around a while to watch the other party climb and to take some pictures. We then go back down to the top of the ice steps and make a single-rope rap from a fixed anchor. After retrieving our packs, we hike back down the track to where we left our skis. My heels are starting to hurt really badly. I just can't stand it anymore. I finally stop to remove my boots and take a look. Ouch! Huge open blisters on both feet. I dress them the best I can but it is really too late - it will be a long way back to the car.
Except for the blisters, we had a good day. Whiteman Falls is a good looking climb in a very scenic canyon. The climb is a little short though, and not quite as good as many of the Ghost classics we thought.
Whiteman Falls, Kananaskis, AB
|Ski tracks on the 5 kilometer stretch of closed highway.|
|Further up the approach, on the well established donkey trail in the canyon.|
|Snow cinnamon rolls? Classic signs of surface snow instability.|
|Gearing up at the base of two short ice steps.|
|Higher up in the canyon.|
|The scenic Whiteman Falls is climbed in two pitches.|
|Eric starting up the first pitch (WI 4).|
|Just before turning the corner on the first pitch.|
|Starting up the second pitch (WI5+).|
|Eric higher up on the second pitch.|
|Views of Kananaskis country from the top of the climb.|
|Looking down the narrow canyon.|
|The leader of another party on the second pitch.|
|Close up of the second pitch.|
|Hiking down the canyon.|
|Skiing back to the car with very painful feet.|