Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rain, rain, rain

The past while has been largely characterized by rain and a bit by disappointment. We did have one clear day about a week ago, in which Matt and I decided to go for Sisyphus (the 22-pitch 5.10d sport climb up Ha Ling peak in Canmore). Matt was at the top of the third pitch, getting reading to belay me up, when I heard a loud fluttering and saw shadows whiz past. My first thought was that we were under an attack by some rather angry birds; I carried this thought so far as to think to myself that we should tell the guys at the climbing shop in town and ask if they knew if this was a common nesting site or something. But then I realized that I was in fact right in the middle of a shower of bowl-sized rocks—just protected by a small roof over my head. The rock-fall lasted about fifteen seconds. Matt and I didn’t say anything for a few more seconds afterward—I think we both paused in a split between kind of wanting to carry on but thinking that the wise thing to do would be to retreat. I called up to him and we decided to rappel back down.

The next day we started to drive west. We made a stubborn attempt to climb at Lake Louise again in the not-so-good weather, and spent a few days just hanging out reading and playing cards.

On Wednesday we did a hike to the Walcott Quarry at the Burgess Shale—one of the world’s best fossil sites, where even imprints from soft-bodied creatures from the Cambrian explosion (about 505 million years ago) can be found. It is an amazing place to witness the evidence of some of evolution’s early experiments. There wasn’t space on the tour for me to go into the quarry itself, but I found quite a few intact trilobites on the trail below it, where pieces of shale collect after sliding down the hill.

After the hike, we continued our drive west . . . into Squamish, where we are now. Even though it had been raining here for the past two weeks here too, when we arrived we were welcomed by spots of blue showing through clouds that looked far friendlier than any we had seen for awhile. Looking at the Chief, the huge block of granite that is Squamish’s main attraction, made my hands start to sweat in anticipation of climbing again. Even though the rocks were still wet, we checked out some of the bouldering at the base of the chief as soon as we arrived. Yesterday we climbed some single-pitch cracks, then nearly dry.

Today is all-out sun, and the forecast looks pretty good for the next few days. It’s a relief to be able to climb again . . . and to be able to dry out 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Learning to Fall

We have continued exploring the sport-climbing crags around Canmore; we’ve revisited Grassi Lakes (a couple of times), and checked out Bataan, Cougar Canyon, and The Back of the Lake at Lake Louise.
We hiked up the steep hour-long approach to Bataan with high expectations—our guidebook calls it “the finest sport crag in Canada”. Most of the climbs here are in the 5.11 to 5.12 range, but we decided to start on a wall called “Sweet Hereafter” that has some 5.10’s to warm up on. 


After watching Matt I lead “Jaws” (10b), I pulled the rope to lead it myself. Halfway up the route—at about ten meters—I started thinking about how how terrible it might be to take a fall. And then I started to notice, or at least imagine, that some of the rocks felt a bit loose. I started to freeze up as I felt my nerves take over. I slowly and ungracefully finished the route, thinking through every move and the commitment that I was willing to take on it.
Once back on the ground, Matt II asked me what had happened. I shrugged and told him I didn’t really know.
“I think you need to take a fall,” he said.

We went to the next wall over and Matt I led “The Candy Man” (11b). Even though I had never attempted to lead a route that hard, once he had lowered down and pulled the rope I knew that it was my turn.
I clipped the first three bolts without a problem—I then decided that I was high enough to practice falling.
“Okay, I’m going to take a fall!” I shouted down to Matt a little too loudly. I climbed to just above the bolt and then let go. I felt the tug on my harness and then realized how ridiculous I was being—it’s really okay to fall when sport climbing (most of the time). Now I can’t believe I actually hadn’t let myself fall before this. 

Climbing at Bataan

 Nick, Matt, and I spent a relaxed afternoon at Cougar Canyon the next day. Nick went fossil hunting up the river while Matt and I climbed—Nick didn’t find any fossils on the ground that day, but I found an old coral halfway up a route.

That evening we met up with Gene and then went to Lake Louise the next day. The lake was gorgeous, and we got to climb on quartzite, which felt very different from the limestone of the other crags—it was more polished, with lots of little ledges for hand and footholds rather than the pockets left over from dissolved corals.
We got a lot of attention because the climbing was right along a very popular hiking trail around the lake. While I felt a bit like a tourist attraction, and answered many questions about the process of climbing, it was kind of fun to get cheered on by a small crowd while I was at the top of a route.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Canmore, Alberta, Canada

We drove through Montana and into Alberta in order to meet up with Nick on July 3. Right in the Canadian Rockies and just outside Banff National Park, Canmore is ideally situated for climbing—plus, we have the luxury of being able to stay in a house that belongs to friends of Nick’s family. Nick also brought some salmon, halibut, and lingcod that he just caught while on a fishing trip in British Columbia. Life is good.

Grassi Lakes

We spent our first two days here sport-climbing at Grassi Lakes. This area has several fun and scenic bolted walls; some right beside glacial lakes that are the color of the Caribbean Sea. Ha Ling Peak loomed above and we eyed up its route called “Sisyphus Summits”—with up to 21 pitches, the longest sport climb in Canada. I am feeling more confident now leading 5.10’s. I think my favorite climb at Grassi Lakes was “Graceland” (5.10d), a steep and blocky route.

Matt on the first pitch of "Velcro Highway"

Yesterday we went into Banff to the Borgeau Slabs to climb some multi-pitch sport routes. Matt and Matt climbed “Velcro Highway” (5.11a), while Nick and I climbed the four-pitch route “Walk of Ages” (5.10b). We swung leads; Nick led the first pitch (5.9), I led the second (5.10b), Nick the third (5.10a) and I led the last (5.10a). It was great fun—and it was Nick’s first multi-pitch route.

"summit shot" on Walk of Ages

In the car on the way back from the Borgeau Slabs we saw a Grizzly bear with three cubs--it was amazing! Check out the "wildlife sightings" page.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


From Boulder we drove to Lander, Wyoming. I was not familiar with Lander before we arrived, but I was excited about climbing peaks in the nearby Cirque of the Towers, hoping for routes similar to the one we had taken up Spearhead in Rocky Mountain National Park.  However, after speaking with a guy at Lander’s climbing shop, we were convinced that due to the unusual amount of snow they had received this past winter the towers would be inaccessible without crampons and ice axes (which we don’t have with us).

            But Lander turned out to be a sport climber’s paradise—within an hour from town there are said to be close to two thousand bolted climbs. We spent a day exploring the crags at an area called Wild Iris—it’s higher elevation provided a refuge from the particularly hot day below. We spent the next day at the Main Wall of Sinks Canyon. Matt I challenged himself on some 5.12b’s and Matt II on some 5.11’s. While I can cleanly climb routes of higher difficulty on top-rope, by leading mentality is not quite at the same level as my technical ability—I was quite happy with the 5.10c that I did (although I admit that I hung on the last quickdraw for a particularly long time while I contemplated the moves I would have to make on the more run-out jaunt to the anchor).

            We easily could have entertained ourselves for quite awhile here, but we continued on in order to meet up with Nick in Alberta tomorrow.
            After only a couple of hours of driving from Lander, the Tetons came into view, and I felt that tingle that comes with witnessing something beautiful. They looked more jagged than the rest of the Rockies; I thought they had a somewhat similar aesthetic to the peaks I had seen in Patagonia. As the peaks in Patagonia are the youngest in the Andes, the Tetons are the youngest in the Rockies—perhaps the similar looks comes from the fact that they have had similarly relatively less time to erode away.

            After a night in Grand Teton National Park, we continued on to Yellowstone. We stopped to watch Old Faithful erupt and to observe the many bison that lazed along the road. In the afternoon we went on a hike and caught sight of a black bear. And the copious amount of snow that may have prevented my schemes of peak-bagging allowed for a particularly striking wildflower season this year.
            I knew that Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S., but I didn’t realize exactly how important it was for the precedent of species preservation. Even after it was established as a national park, poachers were allowed to nearly wipe out its bison population, and did wipe out its wolf population. It wasn’t until bison were fully protected in Yellowstone that a population had the opportunity to thrive on a small sliver of land—Yellowstone was the only place that North American bison were never fully exterminated. 

            The wolf population was rehabilitated after Canadian relatives of Yellowstone’s original population were introduced to the park in 1995. It’s amazing that in such a short while Yellowstone is now considered one of the best places to be able to see wolves in the wild.