After spending a couple of days in Canmore waiting out bad weather and doing chores, we're getting impatient to get out and do something. It's supposed to clear a bit tomorrow so we're hoping to go climb the Grand Sentinel, near Lake Louise. We get the packs ready.
On August 18, we get up early (5:30) and drive to Lake Louise only to find super-humid weather with low clouds… just not the day. We drive back to Banff and hang out at the climbing stores.
The next day, we repeat the same routine and get to the Lake and trailhead around 8AM. A few cars at the parking lot. Two guys from Edmonton are parked next to us and are planning to hike up Temple. We'll tag along with them. That makes 4 of us (you're supposed to hike in groups of 6 minimum up the trail to Temple…). We walk to the start of the trail and wait for another two. After a few minutes, a group of three girls shows up and starts the hike. We follow them. We were worried about having to hike the approach at a snail's pace, but that's not happening. These girls are virtually running up the trail… we follow but, with our relatively heavy packs, are spending a lot of energy. The other five are just carrying small daypacks. After a ˝ hour of this, they stop. Then up again at full speed and stop! When we reach the flat trail in the Larch valley, they slow down considerably (!?). Talk about a nice steady pace! They stop again, this time for over 20 minutes, just a few hundred meters from the Lake. Once we start again and reach the lake, Lucie and I stop to pump water for the day. We let them continue on their hike. We're a lot more tired than we should be: this stop-and-go regime is terrible. We spend at least a ˝ hour filtering water from the lake, drinking, and eating.
Eventually, we shoulder our packs again and make the steep hike to Sentinel Pass. From here, the views of the Grand Sentinel are striking. We take several pictures then head down the even steeper back side of the pass.
We soon leave the trail and take a long horizontal traverse across scree fields, heading straight for the notch at the base of the pinnacle. The going is rough. The scree is very unstable and we waste ourselves trashing through it. The small snow fields above us are releasing rocks once in a while. We try to keep an ear out so we hear them coming down. At one point, we pass a large buttress and find ourselves below a huge ice gully. The minor rock fall turns massive. Half way through the dangerous traverse across that gully, a major salvo of football-sized rocks flies toward us. We run a few meters and duck behind a small boulder, only to watch a couple of the rocks fly right above our heads. That was close. We're a bit worried now. We still have another bombing alley to cross, under another branch of the same ice field. We move a bit higher on the slope to make the traverse shorter and get protection from a short rock band above us. Then we cross one at a time: one person running for their life across the danger zone, while the other watches and listens for rock fall to give early warning. We get lucky on this one, no close call. We are now out of danger and finish the approach to the notch.
It's a bit of a spooky place. Rock towers and huge loose gullies all around. It is past 11AM. We slowly get ready, still feeling a bit tired from the frenetic approach and the rock fall scare. Another party is now approaching from the pass. We gotta go.
Lucie leads the first two pitches. The first is very short and easy (5.4), and leads to a bolted anchor atop the small buttress at the base of the route. She's a bit tense but climbs well. The other party has arrived at the base and getting ready for "Cardiac Arete", the bolted sport route to our right.
The next pitch is much steeper (5.7) and not as blocky. Lucie slows a bit in a short smooth dihedral with a finger crack. We're not used to this rock: flint hard and quite slippery in places. Fortunately, it's got plenty of angular features, making climbing relatively easy and positive.
This pitch ends at the base of a striking 5.8 dihedral with a wide crack. I take the next two pitches. The dihedral is really fun and sustained. It requires mostly stemming between holds on the two faces. Quite reminiscent of the crux pitch on Castleton tower (slick rock included), only easier. The pro is a bit sparse because we have not brought any large pieces. The dihedral leads into an intimidating roof. Somewhat awkward but easier than it appears. A bolt and chain anchor waits just above the roof. A great pitch. While I belay Lucie up the pitch, it starts raining a bit. Shit!
We still have one pitch to go and Quartzite is notoriously slippery when wet. After a few drops, the rain turns to hail, then - fortunately - stops. Looks like we'll get to finish this climb after all. From here, there are two options: a 5.5 ramp to the left, or a steep 5.9 crack straight up. We take the direct. It is another fun pitch, first up a few blocky small ledges, then up the fun and steep hand and finger crack. Just below the top, the pitch leads into really loose flaky rock, so I veer right, clipping the last two bolts of "Cardiac Arete" to avoid the worst of the loose rock. I clip into the bolted anchor at the summit and belay Lucie up.
It is a nice summit. The summit block cannot be more that 3 by 4 ft. We take turns standing on it and taking pictures. The other party is working on the last pitch. We heard them having trouble with the cruxes. We do our best to reorganize the gear and get the ropes ready for the raps on the small summit area (there are good sized ledges and blocks juts below the summit proper). Four uneventful single rope raps, right down the route bring us back to the base.
We watch the others rap the arete as it starts raining again, and this time it's for good. Within a few minutes, as we are packing the gear as quick as we can, it is raining cats and dogs. We wait on a ledge, somewhat protected from the bulk of the rain. The worst is passed after 15 minutes, and we start the hike out. We're obviously not going to cross the bombing alleys again. Instead, we go straight down scree from the Sentinel, to the trail at the bottom of the valley, a safe distance from the ice gully. We then follow the trail back up to the pass. It hurts. It's very steep.
Back at the pass, we run into the same group we hiked up with! We figured they'd be long gone… Since they're here, we team up again for the hike out. We're back at the Jeep a bit more than an hour later, only to find the battery dead! I left the lights on this morning…
We try push-starting it 3 times without success (not sure why?). We finally stop and wait for a jump start (I fortunately had left the jumper cables behind the seat since our Ghost days this last winter). On the way back, we stop again in Banff for a quick dinner.
Grand Sentinel, Regular Route
|The Grand Sentinel with ??? (please e-mail us if you know...) in the background.|
|Camping in Banff National Park (overflow campground, near Lake Louise).|
|Mt Temple from the highway on the drive in.|
|Moraine Lake, where the approach starts (Larch Valley trail).|
|You must travel in groups of 6 or more on this trail. People usually congragate at the trailhead.|
|Nice views of Mount Fay on the approach.|
|The steep trail up Sentinel Pass.|
|We ended up crossing the base of these nasty gullies. Big mistake! We almost got hit by rockfall. Much safer to follow the trail down and cross screw slopes once level with the Grand Sentinel.|
|The Grand Sentinel is a striking spire.|
|The Regular Route follows the obvious crack/corner system up the middle of the face.|
|Lucie leading pitch 1 (5.4).|
|Starting pitch 2 (5.7)|
|Higher on pitch 2.|
|At the belay of pitch 2.|
|Eric starting pitch 3.|
|Higher on pitch 3.|
|Just below the roof on pitch 3.|
|Turning the roof.|
|Looking back toward the nasty gullies...|
|Eric starting pitch 4.|
|Higher on pitch 4.|
|Reaching the small summit.|
|Looking at climbers on "Cardiac Arete" (5.10d), another good route up the spire. You only need quickdraws for this one...|
|Rapping the route.|
|Back at base, looking at...|
|...the two climbers simul-rapping off "Cardiac Arete".|
|On the way back to Sentinel Pass.|
|Waiting out another rainy day in Canmore!|
|Rainy day indulgence - Eric preparing lava cakes. Yummy!|