Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Canmore Triple Crown

Within a month of moving to Calgary, I had already heard about the Canmore Triple Crown, but it took 3 years of living here to finally do it. If you haven't heard of the Triple Crown, it requires the completion of 3 popular hikes around Canmore in a day (Ha Ling, East End of Rundle aka EEOR and Lady MacDonald). It sounded achievable but grueling and despite tossing the idea around many brainstorm sessions, there was always something more appealing on the table and thus it never budged from its place low on ever growing list of weekend activities. A bad weather forecast was shutting us down from our original weekend trip and I threw out the idea of going for the Triple Crown, since you can scramble in any weather. To my surprise, it was met with enthusiasm so we got an early night on Friday in anticipation of a big day of hiking.

The Triple Crown can be done in a variety of ways. The most "pure" way would be to run between the trailheads, adding a few hundred metres of elevation and a number of kilometres to an already committing day. I was not interested in that based on my level of training for this endeavor (none). The least intense way is to do all 3 hikes over the span of a summer. The Georgetown Inn in Canmore will reward you with a pint glass and T-shirt for completing this "challenge" and posting selfies of yourself on each summit on their Facebook page. That did not seem very interesting at all, so we opted for the middle option, all three hikes in one day, using the car to get from trailhead to trailhead to make it more manageable. This still resulted in an 11 hour day with 3000m of climbing over 23km.

We started with the least popular of the three hikes, EEOR. This is a 900m easy scramble that follows a good trail straight up the ridge to the summit. There is some scrambling to reach the top but nothing too crazy. We were moving quick and able to bang this one off in just 2.5 hours round trip. From the summit, we noticed some guys checking out a flat spot along the ridge. We soon realized that they were getting ready to base jump and were lucky enough to be able to watch all three of them huck themselves off the cliff and into the abyss. We wandered over to their take-off to check it out by they were long gone by the time we arrived.
Minute #1 - Leaving the car full of energy in the sunshine
Heading up to the summit of EEOR
Nice weather and views from EEOR summit
Top of EEOR - 1 down, 2 to go
Views of Spray Lakes and Ha Ling (our next challenge)
Checking out the base jumpers take off - yikes!
 Next up was Ha Ling, 700m of elevation. In the time we had done EEOR, the parking had filled up and the mountain was crawling with Saturday hikers. It was a much different crowd than the people we had seen on EEOR who were out to scramble, base jump or camp and were well equipped for the mountains. The Conversely, the Ha Ling crowd had a significantly higher percentage of hikers in jeans and skate shoes. Kyle described the mountain as an ant-hill and it certainly felt like it with people switch-backing all the way up the mountain in a long string. We got to the top right around 12:30 and it was hard to find a spot on the ridge to hang out! We didn't stay long and took a scree detour that probably took about 20 mins off our descent time by skipping two big switchbacks. We were back at the car in just under 2 hours where we took a well-deserved lunch break and sat with our feet soaking in the frigid water of lake. We were five hours into the challenge and starting to feel the pain of two quick hikes with the longest and hardest still to go. Clouds had been gathering all day and the nasty weather that was keeping us from climbing looked like it was going to make an appearance. Kyle and I made a pact that we were going to finish this thing that day, there was no way I was coming back to re-do it later!
Top of Ha Ling with the hordes
Mountain sheep family at the bottom of Ha Ling
Sheep running down the slab
Lunch break and ice bath for the feet after 2 summits 
After an hour rest, we started up Lady MacDonald. The pace had noticeable slowed and our feet were getting pretty sore. The challenge put on by the Georgetown Inn only requires that you go up to the old teahouse (which is no longer there and only has a heli-pad remaining), but the true summit is a significant way above that. We had decided to make a call when we got up there, but I was pretty set on going to the true summit which involves a ridge scramble for a few hundred metres. I had been up Lady Mac just after moving to Calgary but just to the ridge top, and Kyle had been to the same place back in High School. Although neither of us were saying it, we both wanted to push through the pain and finish the challenge properly. It is 1200m elevation from the car to the summit and it took us just over 5 hours to complete the hike. We had to take a long break at the heli-pad to stretch and eat before pushing on to the ridge. On the way up the scree slope it started snowing. Luckily the squall only lasted for about 10 minutes but it was miserable. Neither of us were interested in talking anymore and we were just focused on putting one foot in front of the other to get to the top. We both caught a second wind at the ridge when we could see how close the true summit was. We scrambled along the ridge, which only had one crux section directly below the top. What a triumph to be on top! It was a short-lived celebration as we still had to get back down but it was a great feeling to be descending for the last time for the day. Back at the car we ate all the food we had then made a quick stop at the Georgetown to pick up our free T-shirts. If we were going to do it again (maybe as a quad to add Grotto in like another group that was out that day) I think we would want to do Lady Mac first and then finish with Ha Ling. It was a pretty awesome way to spend a questionable weather day!
Rest at the heli pad on Lady MacDonald as clouds move in
Where we already were
Ridge traverse on Lady Mac
True summit of Lady Mac and mission complete
Views of misty mountains from Lady Mac
Cool clouds around Ha Ling as seen from Lady Mac Descent

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Weekend Where We Lost All Our Stuff - The Fold Mt Kidd and The North Ridge of Wasootch Tower

Gripped Magazine recently published a list of 4 moderate alpine climbs off of Kananaskis Highway. Included in that list was Joy, a great climb we did a few years ago. Based on that, and the raving reviews on the route description, we decided that the Fold on Mt Kidd (11 pitches, 5.8 trad) would be a great day out. We got off to a slow start after having to register for our campsite and relocate the trailer at the crack of 9 when the campers centre opened. Our next obstacle was the fact that the Galeta Trailhead Parking was closed for the spring. We checked the map and saw that were weren't going to be on any closed trails during our approach, but we still had to park on the highway as the gate was closed. It was a long, steep approach but followed a well worn trail and the route itself was very obvious even from the highway. Unfortunately it just wasn's our day. Maybe Gripped hyped the climb up too much or maybe we just didn't do the route properly, but I found this route to be much more of an adventure than I was hoping for! 
Looking up at Mt Kidd and the Fold
The route started out of a gully on the left side of the "fold", about 50 metres above the big tree on the ridge. The rock was loose and hard to protect but the climbing wasn't very hard.
Steep approach to the start of the climb
 The second pitch made its way up the ridge to a 3 pin belay. Kyle and I were pulling off holds all over the place and feeling uncomfortable with the rock quality. After the 2nd belay, Kyle started up, following questionable beta from our mixed sources of inaccurate topos and confusing route descriptions. In the process of looking for a way up, he knocked off a huge block into the approach gully, which got both of our hearts beating like crazy. After that, we had a quick chat and decided to bail. We weren't quite sure where we were going, were finding the rock quality really sketchy and it was already late in the day with 9 pitches to go. It helped that we were at a belay station with a bail anchor already set up. We replaced the cordelette with our own and rapped down to the climbers right side of the route by Kidd Falls. On the way down, another block was kicked free, landing right on our pile of ropes. Just like that, our two basically new half ropes were core shot. Good thing we were done with rappeling for the day. That was just the beginning of the weekend gear loss fandangle.
Beautiful day, sketchy route
 Apparently, in hindsight and a bunch of reading about the route, the rock gets much more solid after pitch 2 and the route is really fun and aesthetic after that. I guess we will just have to come back and redeem ourselves another day, but for the record I am really happy we bailed this time. It was our first time bailing for any reason other than an injury and I felt very good about the decision. We were tired, started late and didn't have a good grasp on where the route went. Unfortunately our ropes were sacrificed in the process but nothing worse than that happened. Oh ya. Somewhere between taking a selfie on top of pitch 2 and reaching Kyle at the bottom of our rappel, I lost my camera. That was another tragedy for the day.
Kidd Falls
 Getting off the route early meant we got back to the campground early. We enjoyed beers by the river, giving our feet and calves an ice bath in the mountain run-off. After a campfire and late dinner, we had a nice long sleep and were much better rested for the next day and the next route, the North Ridge of Wasootch Tower (5.7 trad - 7 pitches).

The approach was just as long and steep as the one the day before. Instead of a trail however, it followed a river gully, taking the left fork up to another left fork, getting progressively steeper as we went. The last half hour of the approach was a full on scramble up mostly solid rock to a large left trending corner crack. This was the start of pitch 1 but there was nowhere to put any pro so we decided to solo it. Unfortunately I got to a point where I didn't want to climb any higher without a rope. Luckily Kyle went for it and made the 3 hardest moves of the whole climb in his mountain boots unroped to make it to the bolted anchor above and belay me up.
Scrambly approach to the North Ridge of Wasootch Tower
Soloing the first pitch seemed like a good idea at the time
Much happier to be roped up
Kyle and I actually went back to the route the following weekend and found that there is an alternate approach up the left slope beside the gully. This takes you up a steep trail and is way faster and easier going. You end up skipping the first unprotected pitch and have to do a short, steep direct line to get onto the ridge. If I was doing the route again, this is the way I would do it!

The second pitch went up an arete and followed the corner system up the ridge. While leading this pitch, Kyle somehow dropped his chalkbag down into the gully below. It was just too far away to rappel down to it so we carried on. The thought of his chalkbag being left behind haunted Kyle all week. With that in mind, and rain in the forecast, we did a recon mission yesterday and recovered the chalkbag. Kyle was thrilled, because he had just filled it and didn't want to waste that good chalk! At least one of our lost/ruined items from the weekend was salvaged.

From there, the route traversed a huge gully then zig-zagged its way up a series of ledges. It was easy climbing, but loose and run out. Kyle put in 3 pieces of protection for an entire 60 m pitch and the rope drag was heinous. It was tricky to find out where to go, but Kyle managed to figure out that you have to climb up and over a ridge and belay off a tree at the top of pitch 5.
The route had amazing views the whole way up
Starting the big gully traverse
Happy Kyle - minus one chalkbag
Pitch 6 didn't look like a pitch at all. Instead it was just a scree slope 3/4s of the way up Wasootch Tower. I took the lead on this one, it was so crazy. There was a nice bolted anchor just at the bottom of pitch 7, which followed a dihedral up onto the summit ridge.
Really gnarly loose, run-out pitch
Topping out on the ridge
From the summit ridge, we stayed roped up to continue up to the summit, an awesome grassy plateau, because the rock was pretty loose. There wasn't really anywhere to put gear but it made me feel better. Overall, we barely used any of our rack on this climb. The most useful pieces were our C3 cams with some of the smaller C4s coming in handy occasionally. There were a few pixed pins, some bolted anchors, trees to belay off of and the occasional bolt on the steeper pitches so a small rack of cams and some slings would do just fine.
Kyle belays me along the crumbly ridge
Great views off the summit
At the top of the tower, we had some sandwiches and took in the 360 panorama. It took us about 4.5 hours to do the climb (with 1.5hrs approach and about 1-1.5 hrs descent) and we were back at the truck with plenty of light to spare despite our 1pm start time. The rappel off the summit is just 2 bolts, there were no rings so be aware that you may need to leave some cordelette on your way down. There was a good trail that traversed down from the Gmoser Col but ended abruptly in the river bed which was a bit slow to walk down, but very direct and got us back to the truck in time for dinner.
Summit shot!
Rapping down
Cooking dinner in the parking lot at 9 pm with Wasootch Tower in the background
My interpretation of where the route went - alternate approach starts you at the top of the left-most tree triangle below the ridge