Sunday, 31 March 2013

Nordegg Ice

The last weekend of March was a bit of a toss-up for me.  Pete was in another skimo race (the one at lake lousy), and Erich had Friday off.  In the end, I decided to head out and try to climb something with Erich.  I honestly don't really enjoy racing, and the prospect of giving AthaB a shot was too tempting.

In the end, the idea of AthaB had to be shelved, since a large snowfall and winds caused North aspects to become quite sketchy that weekend.  The avy bulletin scared us all the way back to Nordegg.  We phoned into the Sunda Hostel (the HI online bookings went to shit), and found out that there was room, but that we'd have to join in on a wine and cheese on Saturday night.  A classy weekend of ice it was!

We got out of town early and even managed to avoid fast food.  Made souvlaki on the barbie!  Started to party it up with another ice climbing pair from Edmonton.  It turns out that one of them (I think his name is Ross) had almost been on a club trip with me about 4 years ago.  That was a trip to Mt. King Edward that was canceled at the very last minute because the leader's father had a stroke.  Anyhoo, it was a blast to catch up with the other two climbers there.

On Saturday, we got a bit of a relaxed start, then headed for "Good News and Bad Dreams".  Pulling into the parking lot, we parked beside a Honda Element.  Not many people drive those ugly things, and I thought that there might be a chance that it was Peter Amann.  Whoever the car's owner was, we followed their tracks up to the base of the climb.  Just as we were getting near though, we heard them below us.  They must have bailed, not exactly a great sign.

Moving into the gully below the climb, I could see why they had bailed.  Most of the first pitch had fallen off.  We got up to it, and had a look.  We could see that someone had bolted a mixed variation to the start, but heck neither of us has ever mixed climbed.  We decided to try and scramble up and to the right on lower angle rock.  Being in my ski boots, this plan was soon abandoned when I blew both feet and ended up nearly coming right off.  And that was on what looked like an easier portion of the climb.

After bandaging my hand, we moved over to the looker's left and managed to pick our way up some mossy terrain with the odd tool hook and intercept the route at the bottom of the main (crux) pitch.  Climbing from here, Erich led a beautiful 50m stretch of grade four ice.  Just a blast!  I unfortunately got the barfies and had a bit of a painful start to the pitch.  Otherwise, it was absolutely exhilarating!

Back to the hostel we went, rapping past a pair now leading the first pitch.  The leader seemed to be in need of a new pair of underwear, having placed about eight screws in as many meters of climbing.  Luckily, the terrain let us rap beside rather than over them, so it was a positive exchange as we went by.

The wine and cheese was definitely good value for Erich and I.  We ended up crashing a bit earlier, and slept in a bit too.  Oh and Ernst and Margriet showed up as well.  Sunday morning found us heading South on the Forestry Trunk Road.  The section near Nordegg is quite hilly and tight!  About 3/4 of an hour in, I ran over some car poop on a bridge deck.  It made a pretty nasty sound on the undercarriage, but the car seemed OK so we carried on.  A few minutes later, I spotted some more brown ice chunks on another bridge, and moved over to avoid them.  I thought I had missed them (Erich did too), when suddenly the driver side wheel was absolutely pounded by the ice chunk.  Instantly the car acted funny and I stopped.  The ice had bent the rim right open and I could see inside the tire!

After an adventurous spare tire swap (my park brake doesn't quite work!), we got rolling again.  I was pretty pissed off at myself for hitting the ice, but as Erich reminded me, shit happens.  I've gotta work on getting less worked up over small accidents like that.  Don't worry, be happy! Soon enough though, we pulled in at the Ram Falls Provincial Park, stopped the car, loaded the packs, and made the short walk down to the falls.

The ice around there was unreal.  There is some easy stuff along the SE wall of the canyon, a moderate section as well (probably 3+), some thin and steep but short curtains on the NW wall, and then two flows down from the main falls.  We climbed the left flow which was an absolute blast!  Steep-ish ice in a 5-star environment.  I thought it was mega cool.  The ice at the top was absolute crap though, Erich belayed me on 4 screws and thought that they were all worthless.  I'll have to remember to bring some knifeblades if I go up there again, there is a small wall on the left at the top that is probably compact enough to take a couple of pins for a belay.  It's probably been climbed before, but there's no info to be found on it.  We called it "Sheep Thrills", WI3+.

We rapped down off trees and enjoyed the free-hanging rappel back to our packs.  Then, Erich being a bit tired, we rambled up the lower angle ice back to the edge of the canyon.  Had lunch, then walked back to the car.  Another good weekend out, and I'm even more hooked on ice climbing.  Great fun!

Good News and Bad Dreams


Erich on the main pitch of Good News and Bad Dreams

The other team leading up the first pitch.

On our way into the Ram River Canyon.  Looks like a typical scramble, minus the guard rail.

Could be a short challenging adventure, or fun mixed terrain.

The giant ice cave

Sheep Thrills

Erich starting Sheep Thrills

The top of Sheep Thrills from rappel

The main flow of Ram Falls.  An very unique piece of ice!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Kananaskis Cabin Fever

The UAOC tradition of hosting a "cabin fever" every semester took a bit of a rocking in the Fall '12 semester when our relationship with the new HI Shunda manager broke down.  Brent was always such a bro, but the new manager is clearly not a fan of big groups like ours.  In light of this, we chose a new spot to go to for the winter term cabin fever.  Nate and Justin organized the weekend at the Kananaskis hostel, and it went pretty well.  The managers were very "hands-off" and let us do our thing.  We made sure to clean up well afterwards, and I think that things went alright.  Hopefully we'll manage to maintain a good relationship with Gareth and Sarah, and come back in years to come.

I ended up getting out of town a little late on Friday, and we got to Kananaskis even later because I had to stop in Canmore to pick some stuff up from Pete's place.  Once we got there, the onsie party was in full swing and some sick beer pong - flip cup games got us caught up to the rest of the party.  The next morning, Fiona, Thomas, Alan and myself met Bridget at the Timmy's in Canmore.  Peter and Malcolm tagged along as well.  Trying to decide what to do was a serious challenge, as nobody in the group apart from me, Pete and Malcolm seemed to know a damn thing about where the good skiing would be.  Regardless, we ended up deciding on skiing at Taylor Lake.

I sort of ditched the rest of the group and skied with Peter and Malcolm that day.  We worked our way up to the lake, then went towards Panorama Ridge where we checked out some of the couloirs around there.  With avy hazard at Considerable in the alpine, we weren't quite confident in skiing the biggest ones.  Overhead cornices were also being baked on the opposite side of the ridge, and I really didn't feel like getting steamrolled by car-sized chunks of snow.  So instead, we skied a mini-golf couloir with little overhead hazard and which was not very steep at maybe 30-35 degrees.  It was still a blast to strap the skis to the pack and boot right up.  The views of Mt. Bell were impressive, and this trip definitely added a few items to my to-do list.

Some big moose tracks on the way up the trail
Mt. Bell as seen from Taylor Lake
Taylor Lake Mini Golf

Peter skiing across the meadows beneath the Couloirs at Taylor Lake
Malcolm with a million dollar view behind

The two best-looking lines.

The Peter Knight Stairmaster (Patent Pending).
Looking back to Castle Junction and down the Bow Valley.

Mt. Bell, with three beautiful lines on it.

Looking back down our mini-golf run.  At 300 meters it was a nice little bit of radness to punctuate the day.
After skiing the mini-golf, we turned tail and headed down the trail.  We were pretty sure that the rest of the crew was going to be there waiting for us.  But, it turns out that we beat them down.  So, we hung out around the trailhead, bullshitting until they showed up.  It turns out that they skied some south facing terrain on Panorama Ridge, which was predictably sun-fucked.  Thomas and Alan apparently were inspired by our jaunt up our couloir and ran up one further lookers left before coming down to the cars.  Goon on them!

After another night of partying (near my limit thanks to Nate), Erich and I decided to try to get our rock season off to an early start.  We walked up Cougar Canyon, and Erich brought us to a 5.9 he knew of.  There was a frozen waterfall covering the first 2m.  There was snow everywhere.  Erich led up the first two bolts, then bailed because his hands were frozen.  I took over the lead, and after clipping a third bolt, couldn't find any more pro.

I looked all over, brushing snow off of holds.  The fact of the matter is that the following 2 or 3 bolts were hidden underneath snow on ledges, and with frozen digits and sketchy feet (on wet or icy holds), I was hesitant to waste time looking.  I ended up running the following 10-15 meters out to the second to last bolt.  That was an experience that I still think has actually changed me as a climber.  Getting into a position where a fall would involve hitting the ground at full speed, I had to buck up and just focus on where my holds were, how I was going to fluidly move to the next stance, and how I was going to maintain balance.  There was no option to fall, and on difficult terrain like that (try climbing 5.9 in boots, with wet and icy holds, and you'll understand), it was a mind-changing experience.  When I got back to the ground, I couldn't stop laughing for the next 15 minutes.  Erich and I would stand there, quiet, then start to nervously giggle.  I'd look up and see the draws, and laugh harder.  Then we'd say something like "god, that was stupid".  Then we'd go quiet before starting to giggle again...  All in all though, it's another positive memory.  And I think it's going to help me in the long run.  I have the confidence that I can really run stuff out without freaking.
On our way into Cougar Canyon.  "At least we don't have to cross the creek!"

The climb before hopping on.  Note the waterfall in the lower left.

After getting back to the ground.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Radical Week

Struggling to stay focused, I looked over my notes once more.  I really didn't give a hoot at this point.  It was Friday, and not just any Friday... it was Super Friday: the last day of class before Reading Week.  "Ru is an easy prof, and besides, the exam is open book.  I'm putting WAY too much effort into this." I told myself.  In a few hours, I'd be free and on the road to a week of carefree climbing and skiing.  All that stood between me and freedom was one exam and a couple o' classes.

I ended up cutting my last class and a 2 hour seminar to hit the road early and set up camp in the DTC.  Rushing home, I packed up my perishable food, made a couple grocery/liquor/gas stops, then headed out.  After a quick side trip to pick up my forgotten down jacket at the Rampart Creek Hostel, I pulled in at Erich's and my chosen campsite.  First, I waited around for a bit hoping that he'd show up.  But, with no sign of him, I finally walked up the creek, out of the wind, and put the tent up.  Got my stuff inside, managed to guy it out pretty well, then got ready to crash.  Erich must have gotten side tracked, maybe he'd show up in the morning.

Just as I was nodding off, high-beam headlights lit the tent and I heard the sound of a car door slamming.  He made it!  Well that changed everything.  Fast forward to 2 AM, we were still up, trading BS across a campfire.  I guess our alpine start might be a bit relaxed tomorrow...

We started up Elliot's Left Hand, leaving the car at half past noon.  Walking to the base took a bit but wasn't too bad.  A beautiful view across Lake Abraham gave me a good reason to take a break, and before we knew it, a beautifully fat, easy pitch of grade 3 ice was staring at us.  Erich cruised up, threw me on belay, and I followed.  Some walking on a shortened rope, a little bit of simulclimbing, and some more trudging through snow brought us to the last pitch.  Erich wasn't feeling 100%, and he wasn't confident that he'd have the energy to lead out the last pitch.  Last time he'd climbed ELH, the last pitch had been in 4+ to 5 shape.

Pulling over a small bulge, I spotted the beautiful pillar that makes up the last pitch.  "Wow, that looks rad!"  Erich came up, and looking at the thin top of the pitch, less than vertical, he mentioned that he'd give it a go.  SWEEET!
The last pitch of ELH, in easy shape.

Pulling over the steep part, I followed some lower angle ice up to the tree anchor.  Exchanged fives, then chucked the ropes and rapped off.  some downclimbing followed by two more raps brought us to the bottom where we crushed a bit of lunch and water before walking out.  Crossing the highway as dusk began to set in, we realized that we'd timed things perfectly.  What a way to spend a Saturday: sleeping in until 11, and then climbing a beautiful multi in warm sunny weather.
Late afternoon light across the lake

That night, we demolished some serious meat stocks.  Cooking with the grill was a bit of a challenge with the Bratwurst; Erich's grill is a little widely spaced!  We did enjoy some good food and had a great fire considering that I got the chainsaw running!  However, sometime around 11 or midnight, snow started to fall at an alarming rate!  "Jeez, I'm going to finish this pil in the tent!" I said, before dashing inside and getting cozy in my bag.  Next thing I knew, I was shaking a very surprising amount of snow off the tent.  By the next morning, close to a foot of snow had fallen.  Considering that our location is widely regarded as a "rain shadow", we were quite surprised.

It's a three-season tent, but they never specified which three seasons...

Concerned about the obvious accumulation and the anticipated sluffing that was bound to occur on every big climb, we headed to Balfour Wall and did laps (3-4 laps back to back) on the 4 at the far left.  Although not as fun as working up a bigger route, it was great training and my shoulders were feeling it by the end.  We then drove into Lake Louise, picked up some groceries, then rally-raced the 1A to the Castle Mountain Hostel.
Balfour Wall

Mt. Chephren through the clouds

Our UAOC friends soon rolled in, and after a great dinner, we hung out for the evening.  The next morning, after getting scooped by 3 guided groups on Guinness Gully in Field, we salvaged the day by XC skiing at Lake Lousie.  It was a beaut of a day, and not a bad way to finish the long weekend.

After returning our skis, we parted ways.  I headed down to Canmore as Erich cruised back to Edmonton.  Pulling into town early, I got some grocery shopping done, and dropped by my favorite store, Switching Gear.  I managed to find a gem, $30 GoreTex pants, and then I headed over to the Knight house.

Bill and I hung out, crushed some of my Lasagna, then tried to decide where to ski.  "I don't want to go somewhere I've been a ton, let's go somewhere new!" was my opinion.  Eventually, things took what is generally a turn for the worse: we started looking at Google Earth images.  We found a zone, agreed to ski it more out of lack of another option, and hit the hay.

Tuesday found us on the Smith-Dorien highway, trying to decide where we were going to park, and at the same time, making sure that we weren't close enough to the bear closure to attract unwanted attention from the Fun Police.  We ended up getting a little lost in the thick bush, but some of the best "bullsh*t luck" dropped us into our drainage and right onto our desired slide path.  A little climbing skinning, and we were on top.  Beautiful terrain all around, good snow, and calm weather.  Exploring couldn't have gone better.  Clocking about 1300m vert, we headed back to the car completely satisfied.

Where's Waldo?

Wednesday, we chose to ski the Hero Knob chutes.  The original plan was to have a friend of Bill's meet us from Calgary, but he had food poisoning so it was just the two of us again.  We got to the parking lot pretty late, and ended up joining what appeared to be every skier in Kananaskis.  At one point I counted 10 people within sight, I know that there were many more there.  By early afternoon, the whole area looked like a ski resort!  Luckily though, nobody was skiing our chutes so we enjoyed a bit of peace and quiet while skiing these awesome gullies right off the top of the knob.
The number of pole-holes there is a testament to the number of people

A cool line for next time

Booting up to the ridge

3, 2, 1, GIVER
Thursday, Bill and I were out of ideas again so we headed back to the new zone, to ski the other aspect and the next drainage over.  This time, we found better access with only about ten minutes of jungle-style bushwacking.  Skiing a real nice line from the new knob, then climbing to the top of a slide path across the way, we skied two more runs.  There was a convenient slide path which, extending almost to the road, made for an easy exit.  This was the easiest time we had getting out of the area and it's the way I'll use to get in next time.  Another great day, but with some definite wind-punishment near the ridgetops.
The new zone, dubbed "Hipster Knob".  You've probably never heard of it, it's pretty underground.

The exit/entrance strategy

Bill near the top

Wind-hammered ridge

Click in and GO
That afternoon, Peter showed up.  Jetlagged, tired and sore from the skimo world champs in France, we took him out to the Stony Nakoda resort for the cheap buffet.  Hurting from so much eating, we dragged ourselves back out of the car and went straight to sleep.

Friday, I joined Fiona and her friend Thomas for a day of meadow skipping.  We headed up to Rummel Lake and I managed to check out some chutes there, there are at least three that look like they'd go, more will likely fill in by mid-April.  On Saturday, Bill, Peter and I headed into another new spot on 93S, but ended up getting only marginal skiing and took the skis for a long walk.  As Peter pointed out, Vermillion is never a bad option down there, probably a better bet than walking around looking for terrain.

And that's how my reading week ended... on Sunday I drove home and spent the rest of the day drying gear, cleaning up, and trying to catch up on homework.  It's back to the grind of school for a bit now...