Oh, Canada…

At the start of a trip psyche is always high, it’s only after a few routes that things start to calm down.

Unfortunately for us things got off to a bit of a false start: our flight was delayed overnight in Iceland after a passenger fell ill, then upon arriving in Calgary a day late we were somewhat alarmed to see the temperature soaring at a whopping 11oC (40oC above what it was when Nick was last here) – great for ice cream, less great for ice. As if this wasn’t enough we read seven big, bold letters next to the Banff Avalanche Report – E-X-T-R-E-M-E.

So it’s going to be like that is it?

All was not lost. Nick ‘Happy’ Bullock doesn’t lose faith that easily and Rob ‘Chopper’ Greenwood was psyched to hack apart some of this classic ice he’d been hearing so much about. To look at it optimistically, these dark times could be used as a warm up so that when things turn good – we were on it!

Rob chopping away / getting pumped on yet another classic – photo: Nick Bullock
Nick tapping away / cruising up another classic
Rob experiencing a strange blend of psyche, fear, and extreme cold

Two days of  ‘warming up’ later I was a feeling pretty worked… There is something about Scottish Winter that doesn’t prepare you for repeatedly sustained pitches of WI5 + 6. So I conjured an excuse for a rest day – “Nick, how about we take a walk up to The Trophy Wall and see what conditions are like – we could set a bit of a trail for later in the week?”. It wasn’t entirely convincing (or restful), but it played to my strengths – I am a much better walker/runner/ plodder than I am a climber – and gave my arms a 24 hour window of opportunity to flush the lactic acid.

With a trail half way up to The Trophy Wall our plans were in place for the following day.

 And then this happened

Maybe a change of plan was required?

As if by fate we had been reading an article in the Canadian Alpine Club Journal about a selection of traditional routes put up by locals Raphael Slawinski and Jon Walsh – one in particular caught our eye. For a full account of ‘No Use in Crying’ click here to read my report or visit Nick’s Blog.

Nick Bullock on the crux pitch of No Use in Crying

After this I could feel the tension lifting, a route like this really makes a trip and we could both relax…well…kind of…

The Trophy Wall was still in the forefront of our minds and Nick’s drive to climb his final of the three classic routes on the wall – The Replicant – was becoming something of a pre-occupation but with the avalanche risk so high we decided to give it a few more days.

This gave us the chance to catch up with Jen Olsen, a friend we had got to know through the BMC International Winter Meet back in January. Jen is based in Canmore and works as a Guide, she has climbed extensively throughout the Canadian Rockies in both summer and winter and has represented Canada in the Ice Climbing World Cup. Her climbing on both ice and mixed ground was smooth and efficient, despite the fact she has recently taken time out due to injury. This style was shared by many of  the locals climbers, their confidence on insecure placements was astounding.

Jen and Nick having some truck time together
The man, myth, and legend Jon Walsh cruising Whitemans Falls
Rob on the first pitch of Redman Soars – photo Nick Bullock

With the avalanche risk still high we opted for a trip up the Icefields Parkway to climb the Will Gadd route ‘Call of the Curtain’ – I’ll let the pictures do the talking. This route set the theme for avoiding the obvious lines and going for the more slender/marginal ones beside them, over the space of the next two weeks this happened time and time again.

Onceagain we avoided the obvious line and went for the line of of most resistance
Nick disappearing around the corner
Nick revelling in the exposure

A few days later the snow situation had calmed down and the Trophy Wall was occupying our every thought…

Up we went (again!), this time armed with a shovel to plough a furrow through the 1 ½ metre deep snow that inconveniently lay over the approach. 4 hours later we were close, but it wasn’t quite in the bag yet as we were barred access by a tricky mixed gully. The following day we made swift progress back up to our previous high point, past the mixed gully (with some degree of floundering), and finally stood beneath The Trophy Wall.

To read more about the impression the wall made on us visit my earlier post or Nick’s Blog.

The Trophy Wall: Terminator on the left, Replicant in the middle, Sea of Vapours on the right

Partly due to the high quality of the routes and the effort it had taken to get the track up there in the first place we decided to engage in another outing to the T-Wall. However, this time we were armed with local Raphael Slawinski. Now Raph isn’t a familiar name to many British climbers, but if you look through the list of hard first ascents in the Canadian Rockies then his name is at the forefront. He is officially the ‘sketch-master’, trusting placements that I couldn’t even identify and generally levitating up some seriously tenuous ground – oddly enough he reminded me a lot of Nick in that sense. The moral of the story is – respect your elders – because the chances are they climb a lot better than you.

Exterminator M7+ / WI6 – 2nd Ascent (n.b. I was literally hauled up this route)

Cycling into the Trophy Wall gives the day a multi-activity feel
Old Man No. 1 – Raph on the 2nd pitch of The Exterminator
Old Man No. 2 – Nick on the 3rd Pitch of The Exterminator

At this point in the trip we were feeling pretty happy with ourselves: we’d done a 3rd ascent of a great new route, we’d climbed up at the Trophy Wall twice, and we still had a week left – but something was missing…

If T is for Trophy then H is for Headwall – and there is only one HEADWALL.

The Stanley Headwall is home to some of the greatest ice/mixed climbs in the world and became our focus for the final week of the trip. To get an impression of the wall its worth reading the following article written by none other than Dr Raphael Slawinski for Alpinist Magazine – click here for more.

The place has a vibe: it could be the magical ski in, it could be the ever-present threat of avalanches, or it could be the fact that there is line, after line, after line of jaw-dropping routes. It is without doubt one of the most stunning places I have ever climbed (something I have now said twice on this trip).

Here is a photo overview of the routes we did whilst there:

Nemesis – WI6

One wall to rule them all – THE Headwall
The super-classic Nemesis WI6
Nick Bullock on the second pitch of Nemesis

Extreme Comfort M7+ / WI6

Nick Bullock on pitch 1 of Extreme Comfort (note sluff coming down from above) – Rob Greenwood
Nick Bullock on pitch 3 of Extrem Comfort – Rob Greenwood
Nick Bullock beneath the final pillar of Nightmare on Wolf Street (yes, that is my pitch – gulp!)

Fiasco M8- / WI5+

Nick Bullock on the ludicrously steep entry pitch
Nick Bullock on the deceptively steep 3rd pitch
Nick Bullock seconding the final WI5+ pitch of Fiasco

Anyhow, it’s now time to go and I feel a quick summary of my time in Canada is in order:

1)   M7 can mean anything

2)   M7+ means trouble

3)   M7 or M7 + routes graded locals Jon Walsh or Raphael Slawinski are going to be a horrorshow

My thanks go out to

  • The Canadian Alpine Club Hut for making it such a pleasant stay
  • Jen Olsen for the use of her i-pod, beer, and sharp ice screws
  • Raphael Slawinski for showing me how Canadian’s mixed climb
  • Sean Isaac for advice on where the hell to climb when the avalanche risk is high
  • Eammon Walsh for the kind use of his bike
  • The cheap liquor store for selling us cut price wine
  • And finally, Nick for climbing all the hard pitches
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  1. Glad the trip went well.

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