Canadian Rockies


KAHVEOLOGY - (The science of coffee)
160m, M8 WI5  First ascent by Jon Simms and Jon Walsh, Jan 23rd, 2015


Simms on the approach

Jonny “the Simmulator” Simms and I had a good Man Yoga practice at the Storm Creek Headwall, in Kootenay National Park.  Despite much thinner that usual ice-conditions this year, the end result was Kahveology, a new 4-pitch mixed route, that’s essentially the direct start to final ice pillar of Check Your Head, another route I co-authored a couple years ago with Jason Kruk and Joshua Lavigne.   Kahveology means the Science of coffee, and it’s a also a company in Portland that named one of their coffee blends Man Yoga, after the route on the Stanley Headwall that Simms and I authored, and Joshua Lavigne made an entertaining video of.  We were so honoured they named the main blend served in their shop after us, we named our latest route after them, to complete the circle, as well as a thank you for sending some of their crucial beans our way!  Being the serious coffee fiend that I am, I would definitely drink it all the time if it was closer to home.  

Crucial coffee in necessary for Man Yoga

Anyways, while descending from Check Your Head by headlamp, straight down, rather than reversing a couple traverses we had made, I couldn’t help but notice the immaculate, featured, overhanging limestone that directly lead to a tongue of ice that slithered halfway down it, flowing from the pillar.  What particularly caught my eye was the abundance of natural protection, somewhat rare for a steeper-than-vertical angle, and I immediately planned to come back someday to attempt it.  

Through the crux of the first pitch

That finally came a week ago, as Michelle and I skied up there on a cold day.   I did get on it, but unfortunately, couldn’t make it go bolt free, like I’d been dreaming about.   The route starts with about ten meters of easy stuff to get to the back of a cave.  Unsurprisingly, the back of the cave was chossy, and I had to place two bolts just to get into the steep climbing.  Then two more bolts got placed as I blew my gear and tools out on body weight placements.  With four bolts placed through the steepest and hardest pulls, I got to a nice crack which marked the beginning of what’s probably the best stretch of limestone I’ve ever dry tooled on.  Eventually, I placed two more bolts, perhaps unnecessary ones (although I was pretty psyched to clip them on the redpoint burn a week later), before getting to a fixed-nut rappel anchor left from a couple years ago, which marked the end of the day.   Many thanks to Michelle for enduring a long cold belay.  

Higher on the first pitch but still 15 meters to go

Six days later, the stars aligned for us.   It was much milder making for perfect conditions, the track was still good, and Simms and I made it to the base in 2 hours at a casual pace.  With the route prepped, I was able to get the redpoint, and was even egged on to make it a “mega-pitch” and keep climbing all the way to a small ledge, just above the bottom of the ice.  Definitely one of the best pitches I’ve done in the Rockies.  After a few steep pulls out the cave, the angle eases to vertical to slightly overhanging for about 30-meters, with numerous bulges to negotiate.  Perfect torquing cracks and incut holds, made for really fun sustained climbing, with enough stances to shake out from, although never a hands free position until the belay.  

A raw unfiltered video of on the second pitch

And on on the fourth

The second pitch was also new and of similar quality, although it followed a fragile strip of ice that on average was an inch thick and a foot wide.  By the time we were done it, the snow was falling so we had to hurry as a 2000’ couloir was above the route.  Sure enough, it wasn’t long before huge sloughs started coming down at frequent intervals.  We split the last 60-meters of ice into two pitches as there was a good belay spot on the right below a rock overhang and we only had a 50-meter rope.  We had also brought the drill and installed bolted anchors the whole way right to the top, with hopes it will entice others to get out and try this incredibly high quality route.  

starting pitch 2


Higher on pitch 2

Simms on pitch 3

me following it

pitch 4 as the storm intensifies

rappelling from the top.  We had a lot of snow come down on us and around us over the course of four rappels 

The Beta:
Approach: Park at the Stanley Headwall.  Walk or ski for two to three hours depending on conditions.  It is one of the closest to the road on the Storm creek headwall, and you can see the upper ice from the highway.  I believe it’s probably climbable most years.  
-2 ropes, 50-meters will suffice if you have them and want to carry less weight.
-12-14 quick draws, which should include a few long ones
-6 screws, mostly 10-13 cms
-stoppers from 4-11
-Pitons: optional….I placed one #3 Pecker and left it fixed on the second pitch
-I had a double rack of cams up to #3 camelot, and 1 #4.  I didn’t need much in the really small sizes.  I did place two #3’s on the fist pitch, but would probably have been ok with a single set in the hand crack sizes.   Definitely double up in the .3, .4, and .5 camelot sizes, and maybe a bit more.  

There is a sheltered spot below a small overhang about 20 meters down and lookers right of the route to gear up, and leave your skis and packs.

THe route as seen from the approach

Pitch 1:  45m M8 - From the highest point of snow below the ice, trend slight right up easy, scrappy, mixed snow ice and rock.  A fist crack provides protection for a steep bodylength to the chossy back of the cave.  Follow 4 bolts up and left requiring a few honest pulls, to get to a nice crack.  Follow that up.  It soon passes two more bolts and a fixed nut from the old rappel anchor.  After those, trend right, then back left to a bulge below the ice which is used to gain a small ledge and a bolted anchor on the right.  Be sure to put a runner on the first bolt, a medium length draw on the second bolt, and extend other cams etc. where necessary to reduce rope drag.

Pitch 2: 50m M6 R - This might be much easier on fatter years.  An 80-degree ice goulotte, with occasional rock pro for 15-meters, leads to average 60-degree terrain.  It was a very consistent 3 cm thick the entire way for us, and was unprotectable for 30 meters after the angle kicked back.  A fall would be serious.  Fortunately, the ice we had was of excellent quality making it a reasonable endeavour.  The bolted anchor is about 5 meters right of the pillar.

Pitch 3: 30m WI5 - Steep ice, thin and hard to protect at the first, but it does improve.  A bolted anchor is on the right below a rock roof.

Pitch 4:  25m WI4 - Straight forward ice climbing.  The bolted anchor is about 3-4 meters above the top of the ice in some rock.

Gripped Cover

Tags: Posted on February 15, 2014

This fine image taken by Paul Bride has just appeared on the cover Gripped Magazine.  I'm stoked and honored to be featured on the cover!!!  It's the first pitch of the classic Nightmare on Wolf Street, on the Stanley Headwall.


The North Pillar

Tags: Posted on September 15, 2013

The North Pillar

There are less than a handful of people I know who have expressed interest in climbing the Twins Tower.  The ones that live within a day's drive were unavailable.  Not wanting to miss what I suspected were nothing less than exceptional conditions on the the North Pillar, thanks to a low snow year / hot summer, I went out on a limb and asked Josh Wharton if he had time and interest to give it a go with me.  I have to admit I was surprised when he said yes and immediately bought a Denver - Calgary plane ticket.  The alpine stars continued to align themselves as a perfect high pressure system settled into place as he stepped off the plane.  The next morning, we headed up the Icefield Parkway, and hiked over the Woolley Shoulder with light packs, expecting to have a food / fuel cache waiting for us when we got to the Lloyd McKay hut that Josh had left there in 2011.  A friend had confirmed it was looking good two weeks prior, and had even donated a few items to it.   Tragically, the latest entry in the hut logbook dated September the 1st said "thanks for the grub, Josh", and only slim pickings were left of it.  As Josh's note in his bag had said he'd be back in 2012, we could hardly blame anybody but ourselves that most of the bars and freeze dried dinners were missing, and accepted the fact that light and fast just got lighter and faster!  

The next morning we left the hut with 8 bars and 8 gels each, and a couple of recovery and electrolyte drink mixes as personal food.  For shared food, we had 6 packs of instant oats and couple hundred grams of granola + a small bag of trail mix that would be our breakfasts.  For dinners, we two Knorr soups packets (unfortunately onion flavoured), one pack of Threshold Provision Salmon jerky, and one 100g chocolate bar.  We also had 8 packets of Starbucks "Via" instant coffee!  It was about 5000 calories each, and we knew we'd be spending at least the next two nights out (it turned out to be 3.5 days)!  Hiking back to the car for more supplies didn't make a lot of sense, so we just accepted the fact that we'd be getting pretty hungry, and enjoyed carrying the lighter packs.

On the second pitch Josh wasn't sure if he was psyched anymore, but accepted the fact that I didn't want to slog back out the way we came.  A lot of the climbing was chossy, and a lot of the gear was marginal, but there was just enough of it was good enough to continue pushing upwards.  We cursed the first ascentionists, both for not cleaning it better and for talking the route up so much!  It was mind boggling to us, that the only three parties to have climbed the face previously had done so in 1974, 1985, and in the winter of 2004.  All parties had been pushed to their mental and physical limits, including ourselves.  It seemed like we were right on the edge of our risk tolerance levels the entire time, and perhaps even crossed the line.  Staying on that edge for such an extended time was exhausting!   

The headwall turned out to be impressively steep and we began to haul the packs more than climb with them.  It was so steep in fact, that they often hauled cleanly without even touching the rock.  Fortunately the rock quality improved.  1985 5.10d - which many of the pitches were rated, seemed sandbagged to say the least.  Continuous crack systems, often connected by gymnastic face moves, led through vertical to overhanging terrain for 13 pitches, to a wild climax at the top.  With only about 15 meters left before hitting lower angled summit ridge, a few meters of straightforward aid climbing up a knifeblade seam had to done above a ledge, to gain a series of big, run-out jugs that traversed the lip of a big overhang!  It was the only aid on the entire route for us, and it would probably go free at 5.12-, however dangerous fall potential put risking the free ascent out of our reach (despite being both quite comfortable at that grade).  It was no place to be taking chances as retreat would be practically impossible at that point, especially with the state our ropes were in.

The rest of the route was fairly straight forward, but worked out, despite making a couple minor route-finding decision.  One was thinking we'd save time and energy taking a short cut across the north face of Twins Tower right below the summit, in order to avoid some cornices, and the second was opting for the standard descent off of Mt. Cromwell to reach the valley, rather than hike across the Columbia Icefileds.  

Climbing the Twin's Tower was in hindsight, a great and satisfying experience for both of us, despite not always being fun in the moment.  It would be hard to recommend it to anyone, although if you're really psyched for a huge physical and mental adventure, it could be as good a place as any!              

Our conditions were absolutely perfect.  I don't think we saw a single cloud for the three days on the face, and maybe only a couple small ones on the fifth day.  Visibility was unlimited - On the summit we could see from Mt. Robson to the Bugaboos. Temperatures were perfect too, with reported freezing levels over 3500m the entire time, and there was virtually no natural rockfall, except in a couple of expected places like gullies below ice ledges.  Even there it was quite small, and mostly on the lower part of the route.   The rock was generally very dry.

Hardest route in the Rockies???  maybe…  

The itinerary we followed went like this:

Monday, Sept. 9th: Leave car at 1 pm, arrive at the Alberta hut at 6
Sept. 10: Leave hut at 5 a.m., approach N. Twin.  By 10:30 we are finally belaying on the first pitch.  Arrive at bivi site on "ice ledge", just below headwall at about 9 as it's getting dark.
Sept. 11: Climb 12 pitches of headwall and bivi one pitch below the top of it.  
Sept. 12: Climb last pitch of headwall, and the summit ridge above it.  Traverse a few meters below the double corniced summit ridge of the Twin's tower, and traverse the summit ridge of the North Twin (3731m).  Stand on the summit around 4ish.   Cross the Columbia Icefield toward to the Crommell / Stutfield col, and bivi slightly below it as it got dark.
Sept.13: Rappel and down-climb cliffs / hike out to the road which takes 6 hours.  Arrive at car at 3:30.   

Summary:  Second ascent of the Twins Tower via the North Pillar - Josh Wharton, Jon Walsh Sept 10-12, 2013 (F.A.: Barry Blanchard / David Cheesmond 1985, 5.10d A2, 1500+meters from bergshrund to summit).   2013 grade: 5.11b r/x, A1 (about 4 meters of aid climbing) on the last pitch of the headwall.  I suppose the r/x grade is irrelevant, as what else would you expect getting on an alpine limestone face of this size?

Sunrise on the Twins Tower and the line of our ascent.  photo Josh Wharton

JW on the headwall.  photo Josh Wharton     

JW getting into mixed climbing onthe upper ridge.  photo Josh Wharton

On the summit of the North Twin. photo Josh Wharton

Some of my B-roll:

Josh on pitch 2

Packing after the first bivi


Looking up at the headwall


Josh's 1st block, pitch 4 of the headwall

Pitch 5

Pitch 9


the end of Pitch 10 on the Headwall

The morning after the second bivi. Coffee time! Yes we"slept" here!


Morning light on Mt. Alberta

Finally above the headwall!  Only a few of hours of lower angled terrain to the top