Dec.5 Update: To see Joshua Lavigne's nicely shot and edited 10 minute Man Yoga video, click here
Simms on pitch 1 - photo: Joshua Lavigne
Jon Simms and I just finsihed a new route on Stanley Headwall named "Man Yoga", that spanned three seasons. I put a total of nine days in on it and Simms put in seven. This past weekend, we spun two laps on it, friday 11/11/11, and sunday for some photos. We managed the redpoint both days and can finally call the 250 meter line done! We were supposed to go up there the weekend before but while I was at the Banff film festival, Simms bailed on me via text message. Jason Kruk was at the festival and chomping at the bit for a good climbing adventure, so we teamed up, and finished the line to the top of the cliff, but came up short of the redpoint. We did get some pretty good photos of it on Jason's camera, and they can be seen here, along with Jason's account of the day.
Man Yoga (n): may involve scratching around, getting pumped mentally and physically above natural protection on sometimes questionable rock, while searching for passage up steep virgin terrain, often a mix of rock, ice. Man yoga involves commitment, digging deep, and on-sighting in back-country situations. It could also involve scrubbing dirt off boulders or cliffs in full conditions, and / or ducking Roman Candle shots fired by your belayer, arms locked off with poor feet, beyond protection, while engaged in the crux sequence. Etc., etc.. The term was coined by Jonny Simms several years ago while we were putting up the route Drama Queen - also on the Stanley Headwall, and has since been stuck in our vocabulary, and frequently used when making climbing plans or generally talking about climbing. It has also been applied to steep skiing situations such as billy-goating down steep, scary snow faces, or just long full value runs in no fall zones, that require skill, tenacity, and a calm confident head to shred. i.e.: "Let's go do some Man Yoga…" Man Yoga is not limited to men - women can do it too, although it's far less common to see a women engaging in advanced man yoga, although fortunately, their numbers are indeed growing.
The story of the route Man Yoga:
Man Yoga became the name we used to refer to our latest project, and obviously it stuck. In January 2009, Chris Brazeau asked me if I wanted to join him on a Stanley Headwall adventure to try and gain the obvious steep ice, whose access was blocked by a massive roof, about two hundred meters right of the Suffer Machine. Naturally I was psyched, and despite the snow covered rock, we nearly finished the second pitch on our first try, via a natural line that skirted the monstrous roof on its left. The self drive bolt, two thirds of the way up the second pitch marks our high point, and was the only bolt placed that day, after two long leads. Amazingly (or not), there were no traces of any other parties visiting this crack system up this beautifully immaculate limestone wall, despite the fact the every person who has ever walked back to Nemesis or Suffer Machine has gawked at the ice above the stunning overhang. Although we planned on returning soon, shoulder injuries from skiing prevented it from happening anytime too quickly.
Between October and December 2010, Jonny Simms was back on the scene after a couple years on the coast, and was in need of a proper man yoga session. Brazeau's recovering shoulder wasn't up to it, so Simms and I returned five times over two months to the Headwall project. We finished the second pitch, bolted the belays and added a total of 16 protection bolts to the second and fourth pitches. It was way more bolts than we hoped to add (the original dream was for a completely natural line), but the result is a safe and fun route, and it's probably at least as long and demanding as anything else on the Stanley Headwall in terms of overall effort. We hope the bolts and excellent natural protection will encourage others to repeat it, and we highly recommend it. We're definitely psyched with how it turned out, and building the route was so much fun. The rock quality is astounding, the route follows a devious natural line, the climbing is sustained and always interesting, there's lots of variety, and the two pitches of ice at the top are superb. It might be better in early winter when the thin ice is fresh and well bonded, and the rock is less snow covered, but it should be good right through until spring. However, more snow will give it more of alpine feel - perfect training for more serious routes in the range. Actually, it's steep enough that battling the snow isn't too bad as not that much seems to stick to it. This November (as well as last season's ice), was far thinner than that of the winter of 2009 / 2010, so I would expect some of the bolts on the fourth pitch may be covered in ice on fatter seasons. This will undoubtably make the crux slightly easier...
M8, approximately 250 meters of climbing in 5 pitches + an approach pitch. FA: Jon Simms and Jon Walsh. Special appearances, inspiration, and help from Chris Brazeau, Troy Jungen, Tony Richardson, and Jason Kruk
The route is located about 200 meters right of Suffer Machine. It's a devious line that skirts the left side of the huge arch and then trends back right to reach the ice flow above it. There is more rock than ice, on this route, and the rock is of excellent quality throughout. The route is probably best in early season, but is climbable all season from November to April. In times of good stability, it's much quicker to leave the trail in the valley, just as it starts ascending the south side, by crossing the creek, cutting through the trees, and ascending the fan directly to the base.
P0 - (the approach) pitch 0 cause we've never actually roped for it, although it is about 5.4. Climb up two short chimneys with snow ledges between, until below the great roof (about 25 meters). Make a couple of moves up and left around a corner, then traverse across about 30 - 40 meters of 40-degree snow, or third class in early season. A bolted anchor can be found near the left side of this big ledge, on then left side of small cave that probably fills in with as the snowpack deepens. Heads up on the big ledge, it holds a lot of snow and could avalanche. 5.4 70+ meters
(rappel 40 meters from bolts to ground)
P1 - Juggy dry-tooling, and hand-jamming on immaculate rock with bomber gear. Climb easy terrain above the anchor with sparse protection at first, then trend right towards a shallow right facing corner at the left edge of the huge arching roof. Climb this with excellent protection in finger sized cracks. Sometimes the slab on the right gets iced up and sometimes its dry. Pull a small overhang into a slot, and work your way up the crack that widens from hands to offwidth. Pull through the roof and follow a 50-degree ramp for about 8 meters to the 2 bolt anchor. M7 45meters
JW on pitch 2; photo: Joshua Lavigne
P2 - The delicate face pitch. Pay close attention to your rope drag - it's crucial to use lots of extendable draws. Move out left from the belay and then back right towards a bolt, then up a seam past a fixed pecker. Continue up a left facing corner until below a roof (about 15 meters). Place a red camelot with a double length runner in the obvious splitter, and traverse right below the roof with good protection. After about 10 meters of traversing, a series of five bolts and some delicate face climbing up parallel seams leads to the next 2 bolt anchor. Gear to 2.5". M7 35 meters
(rappel 60 meters direct to the big snow ledge, then traverse 10 meters back to the anchor at the top of pitch 0)
P3 - Follow the cracks / groove straight up from the anchor, until it's possible to step right onto a good ledge and a 2 bolt anchor. (gear to 4 inches) M5 25 meters
P4 - The crux pitch - careful of the rope drag - use your extendable draws wisely! Climb up and right past a knifeblade to a bolt. Traverse right along the ledge past another piton. Continue up and right past 2 bolts until you can step around the corner and cross an icy slab. Keep following the bolts up and right as they traverse below the big roof the ice drips from. A right facing corner offers steep powerful moves with great pick torquing through the roof, and a pumpy move back left to a stance at the lip. This will be a bit easier on fatter ice years. Continue up mixed ground for another 8 meters, past a bolt and a knifeblade, looking for a small ledge on the left with a two bolt anchor. This pitch is all fixed (11 bolts, 4 pitons,) although small rock gear might be useful for some people, as will ice screws on fatter years. M8 32 meters
JW pulling the overhang on pitch 4; photo: Joshua Lavigne
P5 - Proper ice climbing at last, and a fine finish - It starts with some thin, lower angled ice up a right facing corner, with good rock gear for protection, followed by a short but steep pillar to a stance in a small cave. Straightforward WI 5 from here leads to the cave the ice flows from, and bolted anchor. A single rack up to #1 camelot and ice screws needed. WI 5 50 meters
Simms climbing ice with good rock protection on Pitch 5; photo:Joshua Lavigne
Two rappel options exist. Obviously rappelling the route is one, although the fourth pitch needs to be back-clipped to make it to the third anchor. pull the ropes here, then another short rappel down the third pitch. 60 meter ropes land you on the big snow ledge of pitch 0, but 10 meters of walking is required to get to the bolted station. Alternatively, from the top of the 4th pitch, make a 60 meter rappel straight down to a bolted station at a small stance, just above the lip of the big arch. This station is about 3-4 meters left of the plumb line of the rappel. This might be a bit of an intense rappel line if you're doing it for the first time in the dark. Then make another wild rappel over the big arch, 55 meters to the snow ledge of pitch 0, 10 to 15 meters of walking to the bolted station. One more 40 meter rappel to the ground.
Ropes: Two 60m ropes. Using doubles would be advantageous for reducing the rope drag, which there is a lot of on the second and fourth pitches, unless the leader does an excellent job placing extendable slings in the right places. We used a single and a tag, but knowing the pitches helped, and we used at least 10 extendable slings. The advantage is of course the ability to haul, and both climbers climb with less stuff on their backs and harnesses. If you're hauling the pack, Hauling on the first pitch is best done, by pulling the haul line all the way up, and then throwing it back down in a more direct path to the belay. It still may get caught and is best tied off as short as possible, so the seconder can help jerk it around some overhangs.
Cams: the following sizes are in BD Camelots, which is what we used
Singles: #0 C3 (green); #2 C4 (gold); #3 (blue) #4 C4(grey)
Doubles: #1 C3 (reds); #.3 C4 (blue); #.4 C4 (grey); #.5 C4(purple); #.75 C4(green); #1 C4(red)
1 half set of nuts
Pitons are optional but the route is set up for climbing without hammers, and there are several fixed in key places.
Draws: 16 draws -- 10 extendable and 6 quick draws, one or two extra double length runners
Screws: 7 - 10 including stubbies. I guess the number depends on your comfort level leading steep ice after a relatively full day of climbing. The ice gradually gets fatter the higher you get.
Well it's been a busy fall trying to make some money for the winter and moving, but everything is falling into place as the temps drop and the snow and ice begin to appear I can hardly wait to finish up some old projects and start some new ones. My foot has nicely healed from the Twin and is ready to charge agian.
But as the seasons change, I wanted to finish up with some summer stuff like the photos from the "Minataur" that some friends have asked about. Once again, Minataur was a route on the East foace of Snowpatch Spire that Colin Moorhead and I climbed together. It starts up the first four pitches of Labyrinth, then weaves in and out of "Les Bruixes es Pentinen" for the next eight pitches (three on Bruixes and five new), and we finally finished up the last three pitches of Labyrinth. The direct finish awaits! The climbing was superb the whole way and we'd highly recommend this adventure as another fine, fifteen pitch free route up the best wall in the Bugs!
The grades are as follows: 5.10; 5.11+; 5.12-; 5.11-;5.11-;5.12-;5.11-;5.10-;5.11;5.12-;5.11;5.11-;5.11-;5.10
The first day we fixed three ropes, and climbed a new pitch. We then ascended the ropes the second day and continued to the top. A more detailed topo will appear in next years alpine journal. I'll eventually post the detailed beta, whenever it gets written but that is something on the back burner right now.
Colin on the first pitch of Labyrinth
Me on the freehanging jug on the second pitch of Labyrinth
Me leading a new pitch, the first of our Minataur variation
Me hiking out from the Twin's Tower under the influence of sleep deprivation, over 1000 meters of climbing and rappelling, and many kilometers of hiking over glaciers, and talus. An ipod on missions like these is crucial to help cure the pain and feed the stoke! As my Squamish friends say, you can't put a price on morale. The line of our attempt is drawn on the mile high face
I don't normally like to write about failures, but this adventure was somehow a little different than a lot of other routes I haven't gotten up, and I suspect that at least a few friends and Rockies locals might be interested… It seemed ironic going to the Twin's Tower on September the eleventh, but also seemed like as good a time as any as temperatures for this time of year were unusually warm, which meant that rock climbing between 2000 and 3500 meters might be tolerable, and nights cold enough to keep natural rockfall at bay. We were bang on with that guess. Six weeks of mostly high pressure had also leant itself well to mostly drying up the rock. So, at the crack of noon on September 9th, Jason Kruk and I left the car on the side of the Icefield Parkway, and made the 6 hour slog over the Wooley Shoulder to the Lloyd McKay hut, near the base of Mt. Alberta. Our plan was to have a little siesta, and then hike another 4 hours under the almost full moon, through the "black hole" (also known as Habel creek) to the base of the North Face of Twin's Tower - a satellite peak of the North Twin / the third highest summit in the Canadian Rockies.
Following the second pitch, by far one of the best on the route
There were many things that attracted us to this face, especially size (nearly a vertical mile high), remoteness, difficulty, beauty and history. And as its it turned out not surprisingly, the climbing was, steep sustained and quite serious the whole way. There were also mixed sections that required ice gear and mixed climbing. Other factors included considerable weight to be rock climbing with, cold temps, bad rock, good rock, tricky route-finding, and very limited information. The sum of all these added up to one of the most complex, difficult, and committing climbs either Jason or I have ever embarked on. But I knew we were both ready, had the the full kit of rock and ice climbing gear, favorable conditions, and everything felt good. In nearly forty years, only six men had successfully climbed this face via thre routes. In our minds, they were legends - the best of the best: George Lowe / Chris Jones; David Cheesemond / Barry Blanchard; Steve House / Marco Prezelj
Looking for an easier way; one of the many traverses
At 6 a.m. on the 10th, we were racking up in the dark on the glacier and began swapping leads by seven. We "sort of" tried to follow David Cheesmond's and Barry Blanchard's North Pillar route, but we somehow we always went straight up instead of doing numerous traverses to the left. In hindsight, I'm guessing that would have been easier and maybe we should have tried harder to figure out where they had gone, despite the wet, choss traversing that it would've required. There were a lot of pitches - both amazing and horrendous, as well as a little of everything in between. It seemed as though almost every pitch was 5.10+ give or take, and some may have even pushed upper end 5.11. Most were run out, yet there was lots of good crack climbing. You never knew when a hold might break so focus had to always be maintained. Way too many times, the pull and pray the rock didn't break method had to be used.
Heading for nice rock with some training weight. When it got too strenuous to proceed with the pack, it was clipped to gear and then hauled. The boots usually stayed clipped to the harness to help disperse the weight.
It was close to midnight as we neared the final ice ledge that splits the face, just below the headwall, and some 900+ meters above the glacier. I was seconding the pitch (the third one by headlamp) and just a couple meters below the belay when suddenly a toaster sized rock released right in front of me. I'm not sure if I breathed on it wrong or the the rope pulling up on my harness dislodged it, but in a split second, it was detached from the cliff and crushing my foot. I howled in pain and hopped up to the small belay ledge. Off came my rock shoe only to reveal a huge goose egg already popping out of my arch. It stung and throbbed for the next hour, while snow packed into a zip lock bag was applied to help to keep the swelling down. Jason climbed another 25 meters up 5.10 choss in hopes of finding a comfier "sit-down" ledge, but fixed the rope at an ice ledge, and rappelled back down to our stance for the night. We each had our own little 2 foot by 2 foot ledges to sit on and shiver for the night which was fortunately already half passed. We had opted to not to bring sleeping bags or pads in order to keep the weight down, although we did have a Jetboil for melting water and making hot soup, a dehydrated meal in a bag, and even some coffee in the morning. Although we nodded off from time to time, I doubt there was even five minutes of continuous sleep for either of us, and plenty of time to wonder if my foot was broken and all the different scenarios might take place the next day. It seemed unlikely I'd be able to wear a rock shoe anytime soon.
Instant goose egg after a the loose rock incident. It got even worse, and eventually turned all colors of the rainbow.
In the pre dawn, Jason re ascended the rope, and belayed me up, but not before I took some more flying rocks to the head and shoulders that I still hurt from almost a week later. Luckily the swelling and pain in my foot had decreased overnight, although I struggled up the steep rock in my ice climbing boots. 150 meters of 50+ degree snow and ice comprised the next "pitch" which was a good one for me to lead to get us back into the game, and to test my damaged foot and head space.
After a few shivery hours later, I'm back on the sharp end, testing a potentially broken foot!
Gunning for the headwall
Jason led a wild overhanging 5.11 off-width / fist crack to get us going up the headwall and stretched the rope out for a full 70 meters before belaying. It was sure a fun pitch to follow and I was stoked to able to climb in rock shoes without overwhelming foot pain. I think the cold overnight temperatures had naturally iced my foot, thus keeping the swelling to a minimum. My next pitch was also of good quality, but ended after 35 meters, at a definite transition point. When Jason arrived at the belay, none of the immediate options looked like they'd go, at least not without risking a massive / unsafe fall. We had climbed 100% new terrain to this point and had on-sighted every pitch, and left no trace other than chalk and footprints - all things that were very important to us. We were really hoping to climb the face without a single point of aid. Whether or not we were on a new route was less important to us than a free ascent.
About to start up the last pitch
We made a rappel down and left towards the North Pillar route thus ending our free bid. Where exactly the North Pillar route went wasn't totally clear, but it sure looked wet higher up. We discussed our options. It was noon and at the rate it took to climb a pitch, another open bivi halfway up the headwall was inevitable. We also had minimal food and fuel left. We both felt we could do it, but the stakes were high. Another open bivi would beat us down and reduce our power, before the final overhanging pitches, a place where we'd be better off to be doubling the power. After the headwall, it would still be a very long way up mixed terrain and then accross the Columbia Icefields before relative safety was reached. It seemed prudent to rappel all the way back down, so that's what we did. Maybe the injured foot helped the decision, i don't know. Or maybe it seemed pointless to continue up, now that we've used the aid of the rope. We really really wanted the free ascent!
While trying to get my camera out, to take a picture of Jason on rappel with the headwall above him, I fumbled it, and whatched it plummet out of sight. Talk about adding insult to injury! I didn't really care that much the camera as it was only an out dated point and shoot, however, I was more bummed about loosing all the photos on the card. Hence all photos listed here are property of Jason Kruk.
The rappels went smoothly. I led them all, and managed to do it loosing minimal gear, and ten hours later, we were stumbling back down the glacier which goes all the way to Habel Creek. Shortly after midnight, we crossed the raging creek and collapsed amongst the boulders on the other side. Luckily, dry firewood was plentiful and an all night campfire kept the shivering to a minimal. At fist light, we slogged back to the Alberta hut, swilled half a mickey of Lemon Heart with Gatorade that some kind soul had left behind, and we were back at the car by 3 p.m., 75 hours after leaving it. Without a doubt, it had been one of the most physical, intense, fun, wild, scary, and educational 75 hours of my life!
As I write this some 5 days later, I finally got my foot x-rayed this afternoon. It has been bugging me, and unfortunately getting more painful and colorful every day. I should know the results tomorrow, but either way, I'm pretty sure it won't hold me back for long...
Fresh green stubbies, caught in the icy waters of the Sunwapta River. Obligatory after 75 hours on the go, as well as my favorite way to end a mission!!