Check Your Head

Tags: Posted on December 01, 2012

A photo of me taken by Joshua Lavigne on nearing the top of the second pitch. (Yes, we goofed around with camera gear, did some filming and photo work.  The beauty of climbing as a team of three!)

Check Your Head  M6+R, WI 5+ 180m;  FA:Jason Kruk, Joshua Lavigne, Jon Walsh  November 25th, 2012

This mixed adventure is well worth the long approach.  Skis are recommended.  You can see the upper half of the route from highway 93, and it lies at the right end of of the first main wall at the Storm Creek Headwall.  The rock is excellent and belays are mostly bolted, and at good stances.  For the most part, the drytooling is very positive in good cracks, and protects well with natural gear.   The best place to park is at the Stanley Headwall parking, approximately .8 km south of the Storm Creek Headwall fire break approach slope, which has a "no stopping avalanche zone" sign on the highway right below it.  The route itself lies in a big avalanche path, so stable snow conditions are needed to climb it.

Ski up the fire break, take the road to the left at the top of it to the creek.  Follow the creek up the drainage to headwall.  Ascend the fan to the base of the route, 2.5 - 3 hours.    

Approach pitch: solo 30 meters of very thin WI2 (no pro), to an ice belay in a cave.

Pitch 1:  M6, 32 meters  - Start up a couple short ice flows and gain a left facing corner with good gear.  A couple delicate slab moves gain a short right facing corner.  Follow it for a couple body lengths to a left facing corner that leads to a snow ledge and a two bolt belay. 

Pitch 2: M6+ R, 35 meters  - Take the groove straight up from the left edge of the ledge.  Move leftwards past  two pitons (only fixed pro on route).  The second is a very good lost arrow.  Once it's clipped, traverse left on small edges and continue trending up and left until another crack can be reached.   Follow it straight up and eventually becomes a shallow right facing corner,  that ends at a snow ledge, a two bolt belay, and the lower angle halfway "ledge".  The second half of the traverse is a little bit run-out, but not the hardest part of the pitch.  

Pitch 3: M5 25 meters  -  Head up from the belay, and then take a hard left where it's easiest.  A two bolt anchor is found just before the ice.

Pitch 4: WI 5+ 40 meters  -  The left side of the ice was thicker and offered the most protectable line.  Small rock gear was useful to protect the initial moves onto the thin curtain at the bottom.  We belayed at a protected stance from ice screws on the right hand side, before the final steep pillar.

Pitch 5: WI 4+ 25 meters  -  Straight forward high quality ice climbing to an ice anchor at the top. 

Rappel notes:  It's a 57-meter rappel from the top of the ice to the highest bolted anchor.   Then a 45-50-meter rappel straight down to a 2-nut station at a hanging stance (drill battery died).   Then a 20 meter free hanging rappel to the ground.

Rack: 2 60-meter ropes; 1 set of nuts, 1 set of micro cams, 2 sets of cams from .3 camelot to #3 camelot.  8-10 ice screws.  Pitons optional (we placed 2 and left them fixed).

Two different angles of the climb, showing the belays and rappel stations



Recent favorites

Tags: Posted on October 14, 2012

The last couple months have been one of the best high pressures I can remember in years.  On stat I heard was it's been the warmest summer in Calgary since 1881!  It was so nice in fact that it was impossibe for me to sit at a desk and share the photos, stories, or get much else done, as the mountains were calling.... 

 I'm lucky and grateful to live in such an amazing part of the world.  The Canadian Rockies are at my doorstep and the Bugaboos and Selkirks are a short drive away.   These three ranges never cease to blow my mind!  A few more reasons why I love being a canadian alpinist are (in no specific order):

-I can always find talented and inspiring people to climb with on world class objectives

-There is so much variety in the mountain sports I'm most interested in: sport, trad, ice and alpine climbing + unbelievable deep powder skiing on piste, off piste, ski mountaineering...  All in a relatively small area
-The development of the sport climbing scene in the Bow Valley is going off and provides the perfect training grounds to get strong, have fun, and prepare for harder objectives in mountains
-There is an abundance of multi-pitch adventure routes of all levels, in all disciplines of climbing
-The Rockies provide the world's most consistent, extensive, easily accessible ice and mixed scene - bar none!  
- First ascents -- Although the most obvious lines have mostly been done, some only once, there are still a lifetime's worth of first ascents to do, very much the opposite of Europe or the U.S.A..  I can share that because oddly enough, a little friendly international competition to get to them first would make them even more exciting!

-Getting to the incredible stone and scenery of Baffin Island only requires a handful of airports, no passport, and one day of travel

Here's a few pics from some of the climbing highlights from the last two months, starting with the Bugaboos:

Josh on the crux splitter of Hell or Highwater, Snowpatch Spire


Chris and Simon working on yet another sick new project


Josh leading the first pitch of Chris' other freshly completed new line: The East Columbia Indirect (mid 5.12), located just right of Hobo's Haven on the east end of the East face of Snowpatch.  Easily the highest quality route I've done in a long time!

Me leading the overhanging thin hands to fingers second pitch - photo: Joshua Lavigne 


Josh leading the third pitch


Looking down at Simon and Chris climbing the route behind us.  Simon is seen here leading the second pitch.


And looking down at Chris on the third pitch.

Here's a line of the East Columbia Indirect as seen from the Crecent Glacier.  The fourth pitch finishes up the last pitch of the Power of Lard.  Although 4 pitches is a short route by Bugaboo standards, I'm not sure of another route that has four pitches of this quality, sustained at 5.11+ with a few 5.12 cruxes.  Soooo good!  Start directly or scramble around via the the start of Sunshine Crack.


The Applebee gang


Lydia leading Sheldon's Corner, Easpost Spire


Josh on a new route .12b on Eastpost Spire


And then there's the Rockies. 

Magda enjoying a really fun and new 12-pitch, 5.12- route on Ha Ling Peak above Canmore, called a Particular Manner of Expression.  Cudos to Jeph Relph and a variety of partners for putting this one up.


Colin Haley on the Greenwood / Jones route on the North Face of Mt. Temple.

This classic really exceded my expectations and I'd highly recomend it.  Better than the other routes I've climbed on Temples nordwand. Colin pulling a small overhang near the top of the rock.

Colin on the walking the line to the summit

A raven joined us on top.  Here he's sitting right at the very peak, just a little bit higher than we made it! 


On thanksgiving weekend, October 6-8, Raphael Slawinski and I climbed this line on Howse Peak - a combo of the NE buttress and some mixed variations  It wasn't the line we set out to do but as the Stones said "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime you just might find, you get what you need".  We got what we needed, a great adventure up an iconic peak!

Raphael looking for the way about a third of the way up

Our first bivi about halfway up

The first pitch of day two was more sideways than up, as we deked out of the mixed gully system and back onto the ridge. 


Good rock climbing on the buttress

Raph following a little traverse between gully systems

Back into more mixed gully action, Chephren Lake below

Raphael sorting out the rope cluster in the sun

Fun couloir climbing in the M-16 gully

Still a bit of a cornice left from the revious winter.  Fortunately it was easily passed

Raph taking in the view from the summit!   

Our second bivi sight.  After descending 1000m of the summit of Howse on our second day, it got dark as we arrived here.  The following morning, we ascended 600m to the misty Epaulette / White Pyramid col above the tent, and then descended down to the river Icefield Parkway beyond.  About 5.5 hours from the bivi to the road.  All said and done, it was a very satisfying and rewarding adventure!


The following weekend, I couldn't help myself but go back to sport climbing. 

Alpine climbing means a lot ot me, but it's pretty hard to beat the overhanging streaky rock at our local crags such as Bataan seen here.  It's just so much fun I don't think I'll ever be full.  Jen onsighting a .12a in the upper photo and Jonny cranking below on a chilly mid october day.

New Routing on Mt. Asgard

Tags: Posted on August 21, 2012

Auyuittuq 2012 - ascents of Mt. Loki and Mt. Asgard 


Mt. Asgard's previously unclimbed 1200-meter north face was our main objective for the trip, with our line of ascent in red


On the morning of July 17th, Joshua Lavigne, Ines Papert and I, got off the plane in Pangnirtung, Baffin Island.  Three hours later we were cruising past the icebergs on the Fiord, propelled by the twin outboard motors on the back of our outfitters fishing boat.  We soon said our goodbyes, arranged a pick up date, and began the trek up the Weasel Valley into Auyuittuq National Park.


After three days of rugged approaching, frigid creek crossings, and tantalizing vistas of the valley’s huge granite walls, we arrived at base camp on the Turner Glacier, directly below the North Face of Mt. Asgard.  Another big day was spent returning to the valley bottom to retrieve a cache of supplies and equipment that had been placed in the winter by snowmobile, which was followed a much needed rest day.  More rest would have been nice, but a second sleep-in would have to do. Great weather had us setting out up the nearby south buttress of Mt. Loki, the second most beautiful peak in our vicinity.  A continuous crack system from glacier to summit enticed us, and we climbed it in thirteen 60-meter pitches.  Old rappel stations were encountered the whole way.  We suspect we repeated the only route described in the guidebook, put up by Kiwi climbers some 20 years earlier.  It was likely the second ascent, first free ascent, and was very similar in quality and length to the Bugaboos ultra classic Becky Chouinard.  If this route had been in the Bugs, it would see daily line-ups! 


After another rest day we committed to our main objective, the 1200-meter unclimbed north face of Mt. Asgard’s south tower, with three days of food, fuel, and good weather forecasted.  We started right at the toe of the NW prow and were soon making good progress, leading in blocks of three to five pitches.  One seconder would usually follow on ascenders, while other would climb the pitch, except on easier or traversing pitches where both climbers would climb.  After 12 pitches, we ditched our bags on a big ledge and began exploring options.  Two and half traverse pitches were climbed towards the west face, where we were hoping to find access to a spectacular system of corners and face cracks, but to no avail.  After reversing the traverse and deciding to bivi on the nice ledge sheltered by an overhanging corner, two pitches of difficult wide cracks were climbed, and 75-meters of rope were fixed to speed things up the next day.


With two sleeping bags zipped together and three people inside, it was one of the warmest bivis on a ledge any of us had ever experienced! The next day, we ascended our lines and continued to the top, eventually wrapping around to the west face.  Here we found by far the best climbing of the trip.  Although the stone quality had been excellent the whole way, it seemed to get better the higher we got.  150-meters from the top, dark clouds swept over from the south, and it soon began to lightly rain or snow.  At 11 p.m., we all stood on the summit, shrouded by thick fog that limited the visibility to a mere 30-meters. 


Despite the poor visibility but with previous knowledge of the descent from a few years back, we decided to begin the rappels down the normal descent route of the smaller south side of the mountain, hoping to escape the exposure of the summit before the conditions worsened. The wind was gusting hard as the storm intensified, and it was the darkest park of the arctic night, yet we hadn’t anticipated the crux to be on the relatively easy / straightforward decent.


The technical rappelling, interspersed with loose slippery down climbing went by slowly but surely.  We were making good progress, but already cold and wet before it started raining and eventually snowing in the early hours of the following day.  With only 300 meters of 4th class slab scrambling to go to reach the glacier we had no option but to huddle under the 8x10 foot tarp we carried until conditions improved.  Finally, after about six long hours of shivering, the sun came out and warmed us just enough to continue safely to the glacier, where we were able to eat, drink, and recharge for the hike back around the mountain to base camp.


All 29-pitches of our route were free climbed, on-sight, except for a five-meter section of icy squeeze chimney with verglassed walls.  Had it been dry, it would have been a straightforward bit of 5.10.  It was the only aid on the route save for one wet move on the final pitch.  Technically, the hardest climbing had been 5.11+, which was certainly easier than we had expected, and the route would be a good candidate for one-day, all-free attempt, for a two-person team.


After some rest we moved back down to the Weasel Valley, intent on spending our last week on some other peaks we had eyed up on the way in.  However, the sad news of my father losing his 8-year battle to MSA, a rare form of Parkinson’s disease, reached us by satellite phone and put a quick end to any climbing thoughts.  The new task for me was to make it to his funeral in just three days.  A three-day hike had to be made in one huge day, and then flights needed to be changed.  So with heavy packs, and heavier hearts, a difficult and rainy trek began back to civilization began.  Joshua and Ines had no issues with accompanying me on this for which I was grateful.  We considered ourselves lucky to have had the weather and conditions at the start of the trip, and all felt satisfied with what we had just accomplished.  With the cold, low-pressure weather system that had just settled in and that was also forecasted for the week ahead, it was perhaps just as well to be leaving, this special and spectacular land.  


 Trip summary: 


-First Ascent of the North Face of Mt. Asgard’s south tower - 5.11+ A1, 1200m (Lavigne, Papert, Walsh) July 24th-26th, 2012, 60 hours round trip from base camp


-First Free Ascent of the south buttress of Mt. Loki – 5.10+, 650m (Lavigne, Papert, Walsh) July 22, 2012


Without the generous help from the following sponsors, this trip would not have been possible and we’d like to deeply thank:

Arcteryx, Mountain Equipment Coop, The Inspire Award, Black Diamond, Scarpa, Lowa, Vega, Julbo, Gore-Tex, Stoked Roasted

Also, a big thank you to the staff at Auyittuq Park in Pangnirtung, for being so helpful and considerate surrounding the difficult circumstances we faced at the end, and to our outfitter Peter Kilabuk for the boat services.


Perfect boating conditions on the Pangnirtung Fiord


Hiking near the entrance to the Weasel Valley


Mt. Thor on the left and Mt. Odin on the rightprovide stunning views along the trail


One of the many frigid creek crossings 


Summit lake at sunrise.  This was the view from our second campsite


Ines poses in front of Mt. Asgard on the Turner Glacier with a cariboo skull and antlers 


Coffee time at base camp!


Me, jumping one of the many streams on the Turner Glacier


Ines navigating crevasses on the way to Mt. Loki

Ines leading on the South Buttress of Mt. Loki


Perfect rock on Loki


The view across to Mt. Asgard's 1200 meter high north face


Summit group shot



Mt. Loki from Mt. Asgard with our camp and line of ascent


Asgard in all it's glory


The last rays of sun at base camp


Gearing up below Asgard.  Our route would more or less follow the sun shadow line to the right hand summit


Josh leading the first block


The bivi site, halfway up the wall


Josh leading on the second day


Me following


Ines following


Josh and Ines at the belay.  Ines is putting her shoes on for pitch 26


The storm is closing in; a couple more pitches left.


One pitch below the top, anticipating high winds and stormiy conditions on the summit, we took advantage of a sheltered belay to eat and get organised for the descent ahead 



Ines downclimbing the final slabs after the shiver bivi




Josh showing off his backcountry crepe making skills


Hiking back down the Turner under crippling loads 


Ines fording the creek below the Cariboo Glacier.  Fortunately this was about 20-30 cms lower than on the way in. 


Josh hiking in damp and misty conditions on the trail out