Mount Whitney Mountaineer’s Route

I just got back from a last-minute trip to California to climb the Mountaineer’s Route on Mount Whitney with International Mountain Guides. Good times, good weather, a solid team, all topped off with a summit. More pics to come later, but for here now’s the certificate to show we made it to the top.

Tiffany Falls Ice Climbing

Today’s ice climbing project at Tiffany Falls.

  1. Climb lower wall, trying to avoid getting pumped.
  2. Get feet as high up the first pillar as possible.
  3. Hook the rock flake between the two columns.
  4. Transfer one tool and one foot to the second column.
  5. Get a second tool in the right-hand column.
  6. Move your second foot onto the right-hand column.
  7. Improve your placements and move up on the second column.
  8. Blow out a foot, do your best impression of Wile E. Coyote, go for a swing.

My Mount Temple Topo

Krista and I went ice climbing today (more on that later, maybe). While I was killing time waiting for my turn to climb I was rummaging in my pockets for a chapstick and found an old, screwed-up, laundry-afied piece of paper. It turns out it’s the somewhat rudimentary topo map I drew for my scramble up Mt Temple last summer. With hindsight, something more detailed may have been appropriate…

An awesome day out on Mount Temple

Mount Temple

Summit elevation: 11,624 feet
Distance:, 5,500 feet of climbing over 16 km.
Duration: 4 hrs 30 up, 1 hr 50 down.

I’ve wanted to climb Mount Temple for a year or more, and I spent quite a few hours staring up at it while we were in Lake Louise. The most easily visible sides of the mountain are seriously imposing, but the popular scramble route up the South East ridge isn’t actually that hard, with only a couple of mellow rock steps and some minor routefinding to deflect the hordes of would-be summiteers. Well, that and 5,500′ of elevation gain. In fact, the biggest challenge for me was finding a day when it wasn’t raining that coincided with us being in Lake Louise. When I checked the forecast on Friday afternoon, it said that Saturday was likely the best day for the next week. I packed up Friday evening and we were at the Moraine Lake parking lot by 7am on Saturday morning. I buddied-up with a couple of Italian guys who also wanted to do Temple, as well as two climbers from South Africa and Ecuador heading up the same trail to climb the Grand Sentinel, hereby getting us around the “minimum group size of 4” rule that Parks Canada have in place in many areas in Banff (to reduce the likelihood of hikers getting eaten by bears).

The first part of the ascent is an easy hike up switchbacks above Moraine Lake. As you get higher the views improve until you get to treeline and are faced with the perfect panoramic view of all ten peaks of the aptly named Valley of the Ten Peaks. It’s picture postcard stuff, and you can’t kelp but stand around snapping photos for a while. As Krista’s compact camera is bust, I decided to take my SLR with me and the views from here, coupled with the clear weather, made me glad I’d bothered to lug the extra 4 pounds.

On my last two solo scrambles, I’ve been used to going flat-out, fast as I can, up-up-and-away. Having to stay with a group who were slower than me was a bit of a change, so when we got to Sentinel Pass and parted company with the rock climbers, I was happy to step the pace up a bit and started catching up with the groups ahead of us going up Temple. Despite having a route topo, I managed to get off-route a couple of times and had to do some dodgy downclimbing over blocky rock covered with loose marbles. Not fun, but it did kinda add to the excitement. Today’s lesson: “Just cos there’s a trail, doesn’t mean it’s the right way”. Anyway, cut a long story short, I finally got on top after four and a half hours, ahead of all the other groups and hence had the summit to myself for ten minutes or so before the best of the rest caught me up. I don’t usually spend very long on top of mountains, but today the weather was so nice, the views so clear, and the other climbers so sociable I ended up sitting around shooting the shit for over 90 minutes. After sitting around for so long, I was a bit behind schedule so I hammered down the mountain as fast as I dared, getting from summit to parking lot in 1 hour 52. No wonder my knees and feet were sore when I got back to the RV.

Squaw’s Tit Scramble

Squaw’s Tit

Summit elevation: 8175 feet
Distance: 3800 feet of climbing over 10km
Duration: 2 hrs 40 up, 1 hr 40 down.

I’d planned to have a go at Big Sister on the way through Canmore but it turns out the trailhead is 15km down a grotty dirt road, which doesn’t work so well in a 3 ton RV. It would have been nice if that was mentioned in the guide book. So instead I switched objective to a sub-peak of Mount Lady MacDonald known locally as Squaw’s Tit. It doesn’t have an official name, but it’s unofficial name describes it pretty well. The rocky “nipple” caught my eye from Canmore and a bit of research made it sound pretty do-able in a morning. I was up about 6:15am, on my bike 10mins later, and at the trailhead by 7. The guide book warned that a bit of bushwhacking was necessary but I managed to string together a pretty good route by linking up a marked hiking trail, a dry river bed and an unmarked trail. Once I got above tree line there was the usual scree slog to negotiate, but then the terrain improved massively. You basically get to follow a ridgeline right the way to the summit. There’s enough spice to the scrambling to make it fun, but the exposed bits are easily bypassed if gets too much (which it didn’t). The ascent up the final summit nipple is awesome fun, just about sketchy enough that you’d want a rope if it was wet but in good conditions it’s just plain fun. Because I climbed on a weekday I didn’t see anyone else on the whole route and had the summit to myself. For a bit of fun while I ate breakfast on the summit, I got out a mirror and managed to signal to Krista who was eating breakfast at Tim Horton’s, down in the valley. I often wondered if a signal mirror would actually get you noticed if you were in trouble, and now I know it would.

Scrambling on Rundle Mountain

While we were in the Banff area I got the chance to scramble up three mountains, all of them different.

First up, a definition. Scrambling means different things to different people. To some it’s the English version of Moto-X. To others it’s a way to make eggs. To mountain folk, it’s hiking on rugged but non-technical terrain. In the Rockies that usually means a few miles of getting lost on intermittent trails, followed by a couple of thousand vertical feet of “alpine grovelling” on loose rock, culminating in 4 or 5 moves of fun but slightly sketchy rock climbing. Hopefully at the top there’ll be somewhere nice to sit, enjoy the views and munch on a sandwich.

The appeal of scrambling, to me at least, is the opportunity to cover lots of ground in a fairly short period of time, get away from the crowds, in the mountains, all with the minimum of equipment.

The first of my alpine triplet was Rundle Mountain (or Mount Rundle, depending on who you talk to).

Rundle Mountain

Summit elevation: 9672 feet
Distance: 5150 feet of climbing over 11 km.
Duration: 3 hrs 30 up, 2 hrs 30 down.

Rundle towers over the town of Banff like the worlds biggest, dustiest wedge of cheese, and the trailhead is easily accessible from our campground at Tunnel Mountain campground, so trotting up it seemed like a good way to spend a spare day. In hindsight, just cos it’s convenient and popular doesn’t mean it’s actually fun. Several miles of switchbacks, 45 mins of grovelling through a forest, then skating on loose rock for a couple of thousand feet to share the summit with 20+ people may be excellent training for Spartan Races, but scores low on the “epic alpine wilderness” scale. I may have felt more positive about the experience if I hadn’t taken a mouldy Camelbak with me, and subsequently barfed up most of my lunch on the way down.

Note: Parks Canada publish a useful Scramblers Guide to Mount Rundle.

Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper

We’ve just got back from a trip along the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper and back. It’s a popular drive, and for good reasons. Dozens of massive glaciated mountains line the route, and it’s common to see caribou, moose, deer and bears along the way.

First stop was a call-in at Bow Lake to see off three of our friends who were heading up onto the Wapta icefield for 6 days of mountaineering training. Our very first mountaineering adventure started here three years ago, so it was cool to be back again. Hopefully Neel, Kitty and Amy will get the mountaineering bug too, so we’ll have more people to go on trips with in the future.

Nostalgia trip completed, onwards… The Columbia Icefield is a popular halfway stopping point on the parkway and was our first overnight stop. There’s a “sno-coach” tour that actually drives up onto the Athabasca Glacier for a couple of kilometres to give people a view of the icefall where the glacier runs away from the Columbia Icefield. Instead of taking the bus ride, Krista and I joined a walking tour instead. We’ve both hiked on glaciers before, but usually as a means to get to a mountain, rather than for the sheer pleasure of enjoying the icy landscape. Our guide, a French climber/guide called Bernard, kept us safe whilst letting us get as close as possible to some pretty enormous millholes in the glacier.

We also got some awesome views of the north side of Mount Athabasca from the glacier. Athabasca is a popular mountaineering peak and has a bunch of good routes ranging from “first timer” to “moderately scary”. Having had a good look at it from a number of angles, I quite fancy having a go at the North Face route in the future.

At Jasper we did our usual tourist stuff; bum around the stores in town, sample the local brews, try to avoid buying any new climbing gear. I also got in a trail run along the river from our campground to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. I love trail running in bear country. Every once in a while you come up behind a hiker from behind and they freak out, thinking you’re a bear about to molest them. I wonder if I should start wearing goggles when I run, as protection from the face-full of bear spray I’m inevitably going to get one day.

On the way back to Lake Louise we came across no less than three bears along the roadside. The bears are a on a mission to get as fat as possible at this time of year, before the snow comes and they go into hibernation. Hence they’re cruising the edges of the forests where the best berries and shrubs are, which often coincides with where the roads are.

The only slight letdown was not being able to find a Jasper National Park sticker to go on the back of the RV. We’ve got one for every park we’ve visited in the US but for some reason nobody seems to sell them for the Canadian parks.

Hurricane Heat & Spartan Sprint – Calgary AB

After some serious butt kissing via e-mail to Western Canada Spartan organizers we managed to get two spots in the sold out race for the Calgary Sprint.  What is a Spartan Race? Quick summary, its a race with obstacles. Distances vary and obstacles as well. I encourage a check out http://www.spartanrace.com/

We were slotted to run and then Matt noticed the night before they were offering the ever first Hurricane Heat in Canada. Hurricane Heat is a run in the evening or early morning. They take you in groups and you run the course together as a team. You leave no one behind. Bonus – they were offering it for $25.00. Count me in.. Matt said I was slightly mad but encouraging. Registration done, time to suit up.

We ran the Hurricane Heat with Eric from the States. As soon as he said they were brought in from the U.S. I knew we were in trouble. The courses in the States are much harder from what I heard and sure enough it was. It provided some proper ass kicking. Plenty of steep hills, dirt, 4 mud pits, high walls, traverse wall (which is a U.S specialty), cinder blocks to drag, 45lb sandbag to carry down and up a very steep hill .. you get the idea. Eric would stop us at each station, discuss the obstacle.. and then we would throw down into burpees and then proceed. It took 2 hours. I loved it.

Quick shower, pizza and crashing in a Walmart parking lot…  up and at em’ at 7:00am! Matt ran the elite heat at 9am which meant we needed to get there early as possible due to parking. I have to utterly praise Western Canada Spartan organizers.. They got their shit together. Registration, parking (thank you for helping us), setting us up with time slots to run etc… I cannot thank these guys enough.

Matt hit the race at 9am and hit it hard. Nothing is official yet but we believe he crossed the line in 32 minutes. NOT bad! I ran at 10:30.. gave us time to switch up the camera! I enjoyed my second time around but it was slow. Some people were not so happy on the steep hills which caused a backlog.

Muddy and happy with a free beer I have to say it was a great way to spend our morning. Best part is having your own shower in an RV to clean up afterwards.

One thing we learnt.. burpees suck. Which means much practice is needed with our spear throwing.