Monday, July 24, 2017

Wheat Kings on Cascade Mountain (5.7 sport, 7 pitches)

What does one do when you finish a 24 hr shift? If you lucked out and got to sleep for 6 hours, you get in the car and drive to Banff to go climbing for the day! I met Joseph at the carpool just before 10 am and we zipped out to Wheat Kings, a 5.7 sport multi-pitch on Cascade Mountain. Phil had climbed it about a month ago and his write up made it sound like a wonderful way to spend a post-call day. Not too challenging and all around enjoyable with great views. See his post here: Mountain Wagon Blog - Wheat Kings.

As described by Phil, the Gripped article does not give much detail on the approach. Using Phil's beta, we were able to make it to the base of the climb in 30 mins with minimal confusion. Thanks Phil! Another note is that this was most definitely a sport route (some confusion in Gripped article). We brought no trad gear and did not require any.

Approach as I remember it
1. Park at the Cascade parking area (take 1st Banff exit, turn right, parking is on the left by the air strip) and follow the jeep road that parallels the air strip on the right past some old buildings. There is a cairn along the way. 

2. Stay right on double track that narrows to single track in the forest. You will pass 2 obvious trails on your right but keep going. 

3. When you reach a cairn on your right, follow the trail up the hill and contour left. You can also continue along the single track to the next trail which is also marked with cairns. Either way you will get to the same main trail. 

4. Keep contouring, past an obvious trail that switchbacks, until you get to a large boulder on the left side of the trail. The steep up trail is marked with a cairn just past the boulder. 

5. Cairns and some old orange flagging tape mark the way to the base of the climb (which is also marked with a large cairn). 

70 m rope
~10-12 draws (bring some alpine draws to minimize rope drag)
The cairn marking the up trail to the bottom of the route (as seen from the single track)
Large boulder on the left and cairn on the right marks the start of the steep climb
The climbing was low angle limestone, mostly 5.5 and 5.6 with one 5.7 pitch. The entire route is bolted and we did not need any trad gear, nor did we want any. All the belays were on large, comfortable ledges and route finding was very straight forward. Some of the pitches were slightly run out, however all the difficult moves were well protected.
Joseph arrives at the chossy finish of pitch 2 with the Bow Valley and Rundle in the background
There are a few places along the route where it easy to drop loose rocks onto the belayer. Unfortunately the belays seemed to be right where the rocks were falling, but luckily it was mostly pebbles. We also had wind to contend with and despite shouting, Joseph and I couldn't hear each other all day. Radios would have been a nice addition to the gear. The wind was blowing some of the pebbles down too!
Joseph leads away on the crux pitch
Good views and even better company
It was very windy! 
Top of pitch 6
Rambling up the last pitch
 As I had left straight from work and was a generally disorganized mess, I had not packed any food or water for the day. Fortunately, it only took us 2 hours to climb the 7 pitches and Joseph was kind enough to share his lunch with me at the top. We rappelled down the route, which is outfitted for 7 rappels with a 70 m rope. The 3rd rappel takes you straight down to a rappel station that is climbers right of the main route and makes the rappel line more direct. We did get off track on the 5th rappel and got the rope stuck due to the low angle nature of the route, so try and follow the bolt line out to the climbers right to reach the station!
Awesome views of Tunnel Mountain, Sulphur Mountain and Banff 
Despite the great weather, we had the entire climb to ourselves all day. This is in contrast to Mother's Day Buttress (also on Cascade) which had about 5 parties already on it when we arrived at the parking area. Wheat Kings made for a very pleasant day. It was pretty much stress free with great views of the Bow Valley. I did notice much exposure, probably thanks to all the ledges along the way. I definitely recommend it for people wanting a chill day, to practice multi-pitch skills or as a first multi-pitch. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Day on the Fluffy Goat Butt Face

Last year, Tyler Kirkland and Mark Carlson put up a new route on the Goat Wall, Fluffy Goat Butt Face. Numerous friends were recruited to help build trail, ferry ropes and gear and bolt the 21 pitch, 605 m sport route. Kyle spent a day on the wall helping clean the route and was excited to hear that Mark and Tyler had recently climbed the complete route. When Tyler invited us on a day on the Goat to test out the route descriptions and beta we couldn't say no, despite the new official grade of 5.11.
Morning light on all the goats. Goat buttress is far right, 1/2 in shade, 1/2 in sun. We climbed the sunny face on the right side
The route is big, burly and long. This is likely one of the few opportunities I will have to get on it, with Tyler as a guide and his friend Khrisna rope gunning. We went in with no expectations other than to have a fun day out. Nonetheless, we got up at 4:50 and left the car at 5:45 to start walking in. We wanted to give ourselves the best chance to get high on the route.

The approach starts at the dump by Exshaw (same parking as for Kidd Goat). Follow the single track trail around the right side of the dump and continue onto double track. At the double track fork, take a right. Continue taking right forks until reaching a meadow. Leave the main trail and cross the meadow diagonally, aiming for the far corner (in the direction of the Goat Wall). You should come across a small trail with orange flagging tape. Follow this to get to the Goat Wall.
Following the trail through the meadows. Hopefully it won't get too overgrown!
Sometimes the trail wasn't super obvious, but it was well flagged and marked if you kept your eyes open
 The trail crosses a creek bed (look for flagging on the far side). When you get back in the creek bed a few minutes later, continue up the creek until a cairn marks a flagged trail on the right hand side. We missed this and continued up the creek. It was pretty obvious that we had gone the wrong way when we reached unpassable snags a few minutes later. After backtracking we easily found the trail. The trail crosses 2 more creek beds before heading straight up the hill to the base of the route. 
Do not continue up the creek after this cairn. Instead, turn right and head up the trail. Its easier that way
 The trail is steep and narrow, but pretty easy to follow thanks to the orange flagging tape and well placed rocks and logs. Don't walk over piles of logs. They are there for a reason!
Approaching the Goat Buttress. Fluffy Goat Butt Face picks its way up the sunny face
An hour and forty-five minutes later, we arrived at the base of the route. It starts down in a gully to the left of the rock face so don't be fooled by the distinct path heading up to the trees on the right. This is a bivy site that was used during route setting and could probably come in handy for parties looking for an early start. We met Tyler and Khrisna at the bivy, and they put on coffee for us so we took our time getting ready to start. The route is in the sun from sunrise to about 3 pm this time of year, which puts it in a good spot for early and late season ascents!
The full Goat Buttress and Fluffy Goat Butt Face route as seen from the start of the route
Kyle and Khrisna jumped on first and swapped leads up the lower pitches. I teamed up with Tyler and lead the first 4 pitches of low grade climbing (5.6/5.7) as 2 linked 60 m pitches. Pitch 5 was where things started to get steep, challenging, and slow which was the theme for the rest of the day.
Even from the lowest pitches, you can see the top of the route! It doesn't look so far... Khrisna leading a scary pitch 5
This route is massive. There are many times during the day that you can see all the way to the top. It never really looks that far, but it also never seems to get closer. You are reminded of how high you are at the exposed traverses and hanging belays though!
Tyler is pumped to have convinced his friends to climb his route, and put up the rope!
Tyler top-rope soloing pitch 5, currently rated 10+ and open to interpretation
 Tyler has been on the lower pitches of the route many times; bolting, cleaning, top-roping and leading. He knows the beta and was happy to share. It was nice to have someone who knew exactly where we were supposed to be going as some of the moves are pretty cryptic. The route is well protected though and it was pretty obvious where to go next. My favourite pitch was pitch 7 (~5.10a). This came after an exposed traverse and a seated belay in a cave. It climbed up a chimney that you could stem the entire way up before traversing left back onto the face for a thin finish.
Tyler leads the traversing pitch 6 as Khrisna leads the chimney pitch 7
Fun in the sun on the Goat Wall
 It was slow going for our fearless leader, Khrisna, who was leading the more challenging pitches. The style is is hard to describe as there is a bit of everything, but the majority of the harder pitches we climbed were steep or off vert with sharp edges, bulges and tiny feet. I was happy to be on top rope and have the option to pull on draws when I lost my balance and was about to peel off. As the route has seen little traffic, there are still many loose rocks and holds. Some of the moves are through crumbly sections where you need to really pay attention to what you are using. On the 10th pitch (5.11), Khrisna pulled off a handhold as he was moving through a crux, resulting in a fall, but everyone was fine.
Great views from the belay stations
Hanging out at the belay
Kyle starts up pitch 8
 The best part of the day were the views. As we got higher, we were able to see Yamnuska and hikers hanging out on top. We also had great views down into the prairies. There were other sight-seers out too. We must have seen at least 15 helicopter tours fly by as we were climbing. One disadvantage of climbing on the Goat Wall is that the weather all seems to come from behind the mountain and you can't tell what is coming until it is over you. We had a few dark clouds moving through but fortunately everything just passed us by.
Ominous clouds over Yamnuska
Kyle climbing into the sky on pitch 9
 We hadn't planned on a turn around time or pitch, but by 3 pm, everyone was ready to start heading down. At this point, we were all at the top of pitch 9 and Khrisna was just climbing pitch 10 (the first 5.11 pitch) because he wanted to try it out. Everyone was pretty happy with the day and there was no problem starting the rappel down once he was done. There had never been a goal to get to the top on this trip. It was more of a fun day out climbing with friends, checking out a new route. Even after only 9 pitches (not even half the route), I was tired, sore, bleeding and bruised. The sharp limestone is not very forgiving!
Khrisna crushing the first 5.11 pitch (pitch 10) and a crowded belay station peanut gallery looks on
Waiting for my turn
 The route has been bolted for 30 m rappels all the way down. Some of the stations are the same as the anchor stations, but some are not. The rap line takes a more direct route than the climbing route. We had 9 rappels to do but it went pretty quick. Tyler recently rappelled the entire route in about 2 hours (21 pitches).
 Starting the rappels, lots of exposure
Tyler rappelling
Car to car for 9 pitches of the Fluffy Goat Butt Face took us just under 14 hours. We were not moving quick but it really shows how much commitment this route is going to be. I was climbing at my max on some of the pitches, even on top rope and it only gets harder up higher. If you are heading out to give this route a try, be prepared to turn back before the top and be ready for some scary leads.

Thanks to Mark and Tyler for all their hard work!

Gear (as recommended by Tyler)
-60 m rope
-12 sport draws
-6 alpine draws

Stay tuned for the route description

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Climbing Karst in Yangshuo China

Magical views of karst towers and rice paddies
China is a crazy place. It has crazy cities, landscapes and juxtapositions of modern and ancient. It is big, busy and a sensory overload. I landed in Shanghai with Brett and Alison after having done basically no planning for this trip. We spent our first two, very jet lagged days wandering the streets of Shanghai and eating dumplings for most meals. Still exhausted, we caught a quick flight to Guilin after meeting Jon and Heather in the airport on our second night. From there, we took a van to Yangshuo, arriving in the early morning. Fortunately our driver had waited for us despite the 2 hr delay. We checked into our disappointing accommodation but promptly went to bed. That was tomorrow's issue.
The Shanghai skyline on night #1
The Oriental Pearl behind an old home
The big 3 in Shanghai
Alison and I were up at 6. I looked out the window and saw where we were. It was a breathtaking landscape of mist, rice paddies and jungle covered karst (rock formations usually of limestone, characterized by underground cave systems and above-ground towers, formed by erosion of other rock types). We spent the morning figuring out new accommodation. We had originally booked at a cheap place, Crash Pad Yangshuo, that looked like it was geared for climbers. It had an outdoor bouldering wall and a craft beer pub next door! Unfortunately, it was also geared a bit more for the long-term dirtbag type, for $7 a night we should have guessed. The place was dirty and there was going to be a shared squat toilet between 5 of us, not ideal when you are worried about how the food is going to agree with you. It did come with a kitchen and would be great for people that wanted to stay for a while, but for a 2 week stay, it wasn't for us. Instead, we checked in at the No Kidd Inn, which suited us way better. The girl at the front desk helped us out so much and we were situated much closer to the restaurants and shops of town.
The first view out the window in Yangshuo
Andrew and Kalen also checked in so all 7 of us were in the same place. We spent the 2 weeks exploring the region on rented cruiser bikes and climbing most days. The rock in Yangshuo is limestone and reminded me of the climbing in Thailand (minus the beach). It is actually formed in the same way which explains the similarities in features. There were tufas, stalactites and caves galore. One thing you did have to be careful about were the insects and snakes that liked to hang out at the crags too. The majority of the climbing was bolted sport routes and ranged from single pitch crags to various multi-pitches that topped out on the towers.

It was hot and humid. We had arrived in the monsoon season and found most of the crags deserted. We also had a few days of overnight rain and showers where we couldn't climb everywhere we wanted. Fortunately, we had a great guidebook with recommendations for rainy day crags. We made the most of the days we had and climbed in some spectacular caves and on big overhanging walls. Yangshuo is know for its hard routes, but there were also plenty of lower grades. Unfortunately with the rain, those were usually the first routes to get wet so I did a lot of top roping on hard climbs while the boys pushed it on 11's and 12's.
Riding out to the crag through the fields
The biker gang with the Wine Bottle Crag on the left
Bikes and rock walls
Misty mountains
JD climbing at The Egg
Jenny at the Egg
Jon and Kailen
Cool views from the Treasure Cave Crag
JD traversing the tufas in Treasure Cave
Brett and Andrew high above the fields at Treasure Cave
Photographer Brett
Working out the moves at Chicken Cave
When I mentioned that I hadn't done much research about this trip, I meant it. I was expecting to be in a small town in rural China. Yangshuo is actually a bustling city of 300,000 people and a main tourist destination for domestic travelers. Climbers and foreigners are by far the minority of visitors which was very evident by the amount of attention we got when we walked through town or passed by on our bikes. Chinese tourists visit Yangshuo for the beautiful Li River, the view of the karst towers, caves, various cultural programs, and the chance to spot Westerners! Large tour buses unloaded hordes of tour groups onto giant golf-cart style buses to shuttle them around town to various markets and attractions. We ended up in more than a few peoples photos. Some people would blatantly take photos of us, others would ask politely and some would be stealthy about it. We had a few younger people claim that they needed photos for their homework. Not sure what class that was for. The main strip, West Street was full of noise, lights, smells and people.
Our favourite dessert destination on West Street
Nighttime lights in Yangshuo
Backstreet Yangshuo
Downtown Yangshuo
"I need a picture for my homework?!?!" Jenny and Alison tower over tiny chinese girl
Bamboo boats on the Li River
Another main attraction for the region is Moon Hill, a massive hill with a hole right through it that you can access on a walking trail with plenty of stairs. Moon Hill had the first bolted sport routes in Yangshuo and some crazy features like bat hangs under the photogenic roof and a few 5.13's. There was some talk of access issues to the climbing, and when we arrived there were signs indicating that people did not want climbers there. Luckily we had been told by some locals that the park was just concerned about getting sued, so they put up the signs, but didn't actually care if you climbed or not. 

We got to put this theory to the test after a misunderstanding at the gate where we thought we had paid for our park entry, but did not receive any tickets. The taxi driver likely just took off with our cash. A few hours later as we were finishing up our climbing for the day, a security guard approached us. He spoke no English, we spoke no Mandarin. We were convinced we were getting a fine, but he just wanted to see our tickets. Luckily, a Chinese climber was able to translate and sort out the mess. The guy didn't care that we were climbing at all! At the end of the day, he even gave us a ride back to town (for a fee of course) and we all piled into the back of his clean car, soaking wet from a thunderstorm and muddy from climbing.
Hmm... Sign at the entrance to Moon Hill
Moon Hill arch from the top of the hiking trail
Views from under Moon Hill
Jon looking to the next bolt at Moon Hill
Andrew spider-mans up Moon Hill
Brett moving on crimps at Moon Hill
Top of Moon Hill scramble
This lady hikes up the trail every day to sell cold drinks to tourists. We couldn't say no
Navigating in China was a bit difficult. It is rare to find people who spoke English so there was a lot of figuring it out on our own or using gestures and sign language. Trying to find climbing crags adds an entire new element of difficulty to way finding. The guidebook was alternately very helpful or frustratingly misleading. Unmarked roads and trails were the norm and we often passed through tiny quiet villages and agricultural land just outside of town and away from the chaos on our way to the cliffs. I love how climbing gets you off the beaten path and into areas that you would never think to go. We definitely got lost a few times. Fortunately people were very easy going and didn't seem to mind when we ended up lost on their farm, and would often gesture in the direction of the climbing area if we showed them a picture in our guidebook. . 

In addition, all things google are blocked in China and you need a VPN to access it. I never realized how much I rely on google maps, gmail and the google search engine until I wasn't able to access it. It made navigation just that much more challenging.
Some of the approaches were a little wild. Hope we are going the right way!
Relaxing at the bottom of the crag
Topped out on Jeremy's Jiji
Great views from the top
Although the focus of the trip was on climbing, it wasn't all we did. We also ate. A lot!! The region is know for its spicy food and everything came with extra chilis. It would be hard to be a vegetarian in China as even the tofu dishes came with bits of meat (hopefully pork). We didn't go too crazy, but did try the river snails and a number of popular meat and veggie dishes, all cooked in different sauces. Our favourite foods were steamed pork buns from "steam bun alley" and mushroom dumplings from "dumpling drive". Of course we had to have dumplings at most meals too. This was not your typical North American chinese food but it was very tasty. Maybe it was all the MSG?
Colourful veggies at the market
Dinner time at our favourite chinese restaurant
Hotpot night

On one of our off days, we did a chinese cooking class and learned how to make pork dumplings, green beans with eggplant and kung pao chicken. It was super fun!
Heather and Jonathan getting stoked for cooking class
Alison's perfect dumplings

We made that!
It was a great trip, with great friends. A perfect way to celebrate a big accomplishment and our graduation! Thanks so much to Brett, Alison, Kailen, Andrew, Heather and Jonathan for being awesome travel and climbing partners and for all the great photos featured in this blog.
Rainy day walk