Thursday, May 26, 2016

Plutonian Shore 5.9 Raven Crag

The alarm buzzed at 7 am on a sunny Sunday morning. Kyle rolled over and hit dismiss and we fell back to sleep. No alpine start for us today! We finally left Calgary at 10:30 am, heading for Banff to climb Plutonian Shore, a 5.9 sport multi-pitch route. After sitting in traffic on Highway 1, only a few kilometers west of the Cochrane turn-off, we bailed on that and turned around, heading for the 1A. We were not the only ones who had that idea and it took us forever to get through Cochrane. As a result, we finally made it to Canmore around 12:30. To add to the faff of the day we stopped to drop some shoes off to be resoled and picked up a coffee. Finally, we made it to Banff and parked at the Cave and Basin parking lot to head for Raven Crag.

The approach was very straight-forward. We followed the paved road to the bottom of the hill, then took the dirt trail up to the left (identified by a sign indicating area closures). About 300 metres up the trail, there was a small cairn marking a narrow trail heading up to the left. Once we were on the trail, it was easy to follow the cairns up to the crag. At the fork, we took the lower left trail which traversed under the cliffs. The descent trail joined back up with the approach trail at that same fork. The start of the climb was at the end of the traverse trail and was obvious thanks to the well bolted route.
Kyle leads the second pitch
 The climb was quick, fun and uneventful. It seemed like we were on the only piece of rock in all of the Bow Valley that was in the shade, which wasn't so bad considering it was at least 25 degrees out. The seven pitches (ranging from 5.6-5.9 sport climbing) were long and fun. The only issue I had was finding the anchor at the top of the last pitch as I traversed too far right to join up with another sport route that topped out in the same spot.
Shady crag in the sunny Bow Valley
 Once we topped out, we continued up the ridge looking for the descent trail. It turns out you didn't have to go up the ridge at all. What we should have done instead was walk up a few metres to gain the ridge then find the cairn that marks the way down. Oh well, we got a bit of an extra walk in!
Kyle at the top of Plutonian Shores
Walking back down the ridge to the descent trail
 It took us only about 30 mins to get back down to the Cave and Basin area. We decided to check it out as neither of us had been to that part of Banff before. It was worth the minimal effort and the interpretive walk was pretty cool through all sorts of natural hot springs.
Sulphur hot spring at Cave and Basin
Sludge in the water - wouldn't want to swim in that!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Black Rock Mountain - Hiking in the Ghost

Distance: 10 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 900m
Difficulty: moderate hike/easy scramble
-some scree and loose rock on the steeper bits above the treeline and near the summit

For Mother's Day, Kyle wanted to plan an adventure. We took his family into the Ghost to show them a different part of the Rockies and to hike Black Rock Mountain. It was warm and sunny when we left Calgary and had been unseasonable warm all week. The adventure began before we reached the turn off to the Ghost when we saw a fox along the side of the road. The day was off to a good start already. There were plenty of people camping out above the big hill, but as we descended into the river valley, it wasn't as busy as we were expecting. We drove north for a few km, following the riverbed to a small orange diamond marker with a 37 on it. There were about 8 cars already there so we knew we were at the trailhead, and where everybody was! It was an uneventful drive, with no water to cross at all. We walked across the dry river bed to the northern shore where a steep trail rose up onto the bank. Half of the old trail sign was there marking the way, as the start of the trail had been washed away by the flood. Once we were on the bank however, the trail was wide and well traveled. We had no problems finding our way.
Lots of sunshine on Phantom Crag
Looking up at Black Rock and the trailhead
The trail started as a wide double track that rose quickly into the trees. It eventually narrowed to a more mellow single track which was very enjoyable. I would love to come back with bikes and ride this trail, it looks awesome. The trail started to get steep as we hit the tree line and we finally had a view of our objective. The top of Black Rock looked so close, but was very high above us.
Trail was in great shape
 The trail started to get more interesting and steep as we wound our way up between rocky hoodoos. The views of the Ghost and surrounding mountains were spectacular.
Kyle scoping out potential climbs
Above the treeline and onto the scree
 We stopped for lunch in a sheltered spot with some amazing views and a few marmots watching us. Dark clouds were starting to move in and we wanted to get moving quickly before the weather turned.
On the plateau below the summit with clouds rolling in
 One of the most enjoyable parts of the hike was the plateau just before the final scree ascent to the summit. It was easy going and flat, but the top was looming ahead and looked steep. We caught one final glimpse of the top with a huge group of hikers coming down before the clouds socked us in. At least the trail was obvious!
Cold wind and fog on the final push to the top
Narrow ridge to the summit
 Not long after, we were at the top! There is an old fire lookout that was abandoned many years ago because of its difficult access and high winds. I do not envy the guy who would spend his summers up there alone! We snapped some quick photos and took in the impressive view of clouds before starting back down to the valley. It was cold and windy up top and we even had a few snowflakes.
Old fire lookout at the top of Black Rock. Not much of a lookout today
Trail down to the notch
Happy Elizabeth
 Back at the truck, we fired up the BBQ to have a picnic. Unfortunately we had been hoping for some of that hot, sunny weather of recent days, but in true Rockies fashion, the temperature dropped to 6 degrees and the wind and rain started to pick up. We huddled around the truck eating hotdogs and watermelon but were soon abandoning the picnic and packing up to head home in the nice warm truck. A good Mothers Day adventure!
Truck canopy picnic