Saturday, January 25, 2014

Frank and the Big Bad Wolf!

Each week, I patiently watch two smartphone apps and a website, waiting for the forecast to tell me, with some certainty, that the daytime temperatures in the Crowsnest Pass will creep above the freezing mark. When a weekend forecast of +5C appeared, there was no decision to be made; a day of bouldering was approaching.  The weather didn't disappoint me, and Kyle, Mark D and I headed off to Frank Slide!

Though it wasn't windy in Lethbridge, it was definitely breezy at the Slide when we arrived.  We headed into the City of Giants (again), looking forward to finding and sending some new problems.  Like last weekend, I hauled a cleaning rope into the boulders, hoping to find and prep some new highballs.

Arriving in The City, I rappelled and cleaned three high problems on two separate boulders. The first was a tallish (15 or 17 feet) boulder near the Shield Boulder, and the other was the downhill side of the Shield boulder itself (probably 17 to 19 feet high, higher in the middle of the boulder).  After spending some time on the rope, I peeled off my harness and went to find Mark and Kyle.  I was keen to try try some of the problems I had prepped last weekend, including a couple lines on a very unique wedge-shaped feature on a boulder near the Split Boulder.

Mid-afternoon sunset in the City of Giants!  When the sun drops behind Turtle Mountain, it is very dramatic to watch the sunny border retreat across the boulder field.

When I found Mark, he was making solid progress on the hard project on the backside of the Split Boulder.  Kyle was hiking around scoping out new projects, and when he returned I convinced them to shuffle the mats over to the boulder with the wedge-shaped feature.  First up was a short problem that started on a good undercling.  Kyle and I sent it straightaway, though the starting hold flexed a tiny bit (always a nerve-wracking thing in Frank Slide).

We then turned to the problem that climbed up and right through the strange wedge-shaped feature. It took us a fair bit of work, but we finally sent The Rule of Two (V5ish?), a very cool line that climbs up a blade-like feature, through a difficult match, and right through a good sloper to a good topout on very solid rock.  Kyle and I then did the final project on the boulder, a very funky and fun problem that starts on the same hold as The Rule of Two but heads directly up on positive edges and a steep arete.  I think I may call it Helping Hands (V1+); the face moves were easier than they looked, while the topout was trickier than it appeared at first glance.  A fun problem!

Kyle making quick work of Helping Hands (V1+).  Very fun sequence, easy if you climb it smoothly and technically, but could be hard if you botch the sequence.  Like I did my first try.  The Rule of Two shares the same first move, but continues right around the arete for seven more stout moves before topping out.

After wrapping up those problems, I convinced Mark and Kyle that we should move over to the first problem I had cleaned.  It looked to be a committing compression problem, following a series of sloping sidepulls up a slightly overhanging face.  Arranging the mats carefully (we only had three mats, and the landing was far less than ideal), I started up the face.  Intricate and technical climbing led to a high-ish crux - a tricky move to a undercling followed by a balancy move to an incut sidepull.  I climbed up to the crux three or four times, but that was as much as I managed.  I'll wait until its a bit warmer and I have another mat, I think!  I'm calling it the 'Bad Wolf' project, partially because I've been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately (and partially because the problem is big and hairy...).

Me, squeeeezing on the Bad Wolf Project.  High feet, subtle movement, transitional heel hooks; felt a lot like Squamish, specifically like a taller version of Slap Happy (V4) under the Grand Wall.

I did another two moderate problems to the left (both quite fun lines on positive edges), and Mark managed to send a short hard line on the next boulder (The Elitist (V7ish)).  Good fun, and a nice send by Mark!

With the wind picking up, we bouldered a bit more (Mark went back to the hard project, and I did another easy problem), then we packed it in and headed for coffee.

What hard problems look like. Mark D on the thin and crimpy start holds of The Elitist (V7).

We went to The Cinnamon Bear (it is open until 5:30 on Saturdays!), where I ate two excellent cinnamon buns (their signature pastry) and downed a coffee.  A trip to the Cinnamon Bear always makes a trip to the Crowsnest a bit better; its always a treat to find such a friendly little cafe. Properly coffeed up, we started the long drive back to Lethbridge...

I've been making a real effort to find and clean moderate lines in the City of Giants, and today went fairly well; we put up three or four easy lines that will hopefully make the area a lot more accessible to moderate climbers.

Until next time!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The 2014 Bouldering Season Begins!

Last week, the weather forecast for the upcoming Saturday indicated unseasonably warm (+10C) weather in southern Alberta.  This, of course, had the boulderers of Lethbridge eagerly anticipating a day of bouldering at Frank Slide!  When Saturday arrived, the weather wasn't quite as warm as forecast (probably only about +4C), but in January you take what you can get, and a handful of Lethbian climbers headed out to Frank Slide for a sunny, mid-winter day of bouldering!

Arriving at Frank Slide, Kyle, Calvin, Ryan, Amanda, Ashley, and I were joined by Evan from Calgary.  I really wanted to head in to the City of Giants, in part because I wanted to clean some new problems on the Shield Boulder.  Several boulders in the City of Giants and Karst Valley sectors are much too tall to clean properly from the ground, so I brought a sling, harness, and short rope along to make the process easier and safer.  Chatting in the parking lot, we agreed that The City would both offer some protection from the wind and be a lot of fun, so we packed up and headed off into the talus.

Arriving in The City, I set up a rope on the tall half of the Split Boulder.  The Split Boulder has a handful of problems from V0 to V3, but has potential for several more lines.  One face of the Split boulder is tall, covered with flat edges, and is slightly overhanging; this would make for beautiful climbing if it wasn't for the fact that the landing is largely dominated by a huge boulder at the base.  Despite this I cleaned three lines on this tall face; two of these these lines are about 16 - 18 feet tall, while the third is a bit shorter.  I was psyched to try them, all three are beautiful moderate lines on a perfect grey limestone face.

Ashley, Kyle, Evan, Calvin, and Amanda hunting the sun the City of Giants. Evan and Kyle are looking down into the Feed The Need cave; is Ryan down there?  Possibly, he did work Bananarama (V4ish) for a bit... 

I then went and grabbed my shoes and joined the rest of the group who were warming up on a boulder nearby.  I had a fun time working a short rail problem in the sun with Amanda, Calvin, and Ashley.

Evan on Feed the Need (V6ish).  LOTS of great holds and great movement on this problem, lots of funky body positioning.  

Me on Feed the Need; its a longish problem (especially for me), probably 12 moves long.  Looking forward to sending it once my arm feels better!

Evan and Kyle wanted to try the Feed The Need Project, a very cool long(ish) line with an amazing kneebar that makes the moves up a blunt prow at the end of the problem feel easy.  The first move on the project is the hardest; a tricky heel-toe lock in a prominent notch allows a long move to a good crimp.  This hard move is followed by an easy traverse, then a well-planted kneebar is followed by some tricky moves up a steep prow.  Kyle made short work of the problem, perhaps taking only 6 - 10 tries to send the line for its first ascent.  His ascent was immediately followed by one by Evan.  Kyle agreed to officially name the problem Feed the Need (V6ish), which made me happy.  A half-hour later, Evan added a direct start to the end of the problem, which he decided to call Need for Speed (V7ish?).

I cleaned up a problem around the arete to the left, and gave it a few tries before giving up and whining about my injured left bicep/forearm.  Evan started working it, and sent it after spending a little time figuring out the beta.  Evan had made it look very cool, so after warming up my toes I jumped back on it and sent it quickly.  Bananarama (hard V4ish) has very cool moves through edges above a small roof, and involves some very technical and tricky footwork.   Kyle sent it soon thereafter, and Ryan also jumped on the line and gave it a few solid tries.  A great addition to the sector!

Kyle about to deadpoint the second move on Bananarama (hard V4ish).  The sequence on this problem looks obvious, but the lower body movement is tricky, tricky, tricky!  There are probably 4 moves to the lip, then about 4 more lip moves before you mantle.  Bananarama and Feed the Need are two of the best problems in the sector, for sure.

Several people had also tried the two established problems to the right of Feed the Need, namely Peachy Pinch and Mark Derksen's Mango Tango.  I had originally graded Peachy Pinch V1, but everyone seemed to think that was a bit of a sandbag, and that V3 seemed more reasonable for the line.  Ryan and Ashley spent some time working Peachy Pinch; Ryan sent it with a solid effort, and Ashely fell off the VERY last move, and was denied the send.  Next time!  I tried Cherry Pit (V4) to the right of Mango Tango for a bit, but my arm was bothering me so I had to stop, though Evan sent it after only a handful of tries.

The sun slipped behing Turtle Mountain, so people started packing up to head back to the parking lot.  I was still really keen to try one of the tall problems I had cleaned on toprope, so I nagged the posse enough that they stopped for a bit at the Split Boulder on the way out.  I put down three mats and put on my moccasyms; a minute later I was topping out on a very cool, very tall V0ish arete.  Evan and Ashley both wanted to try it as well.  After Evan climbed the arete, Ashley tried it twice, but bailed left around to the arete both times, balking at a committing lie-back move half way up the arete.  She'll be back for it, I'm sure! It's a fun highball, and because the final six feet (and the topout) are fairly easy it is a great problem for the aspiring highballer (though the landing is pretty rough, would be nice to have at least six pads to smooth things out).

I love this photo!  Evan high on a V0 arete (no name yet, might call it Strength in Numbers) in the City of Giants.  Great line, had a fun time climbing it with good people! (all the credit for this photo goes to Amanda and her amazing phone camera).

Ashley highballing in the City of Giants! 

We wrapped up the day with a quick visit to Tim Hortons for coffee and doughnuts.  It was still sunny when we headed east towards Lethbridge, and we were treated to an amazing sunset as we coasted into the city.  A great way to end a great day!

Until next time, happy climbing!

[Note: avid followers of the southern alberta bouldering scene will note that Mark Derksen was not mentioned in this posting.  Mark was unfortunately injured in a domestic accident that involved a pile of tools and a trip to the hospital.  Get better soon, Mark!  Shuffling piles of rocks around wasn't the same without you.]

Friday, January 17, 2014

Crowsnest Ice Climbing

Last weekend, I had an opportunity to go the Ice Opener in Waterton Lakes Park to ice climb with the local section of the Alpine Club of Canada.  The forecast was for extreme wind on Saturday, so I bailed.  This turned out to be a mistake, as the climbs there are fairly sheltered; the people that went (apparently) had a great day of climbing. The next day, determined not to make the same mistake, I went with Mark Guckert to the Crowsnest Pass to continue my hunt for ice climbing in the area!

We first went to Star Creek Falls, which were half melted-out.  The usually frozen-over falls were mostly running, but there was a lot of ice on either side of the falls.  I led the left side of the falls, and when Mark G joined me up top we set up a toprope for the right side.  We climbed that as well, but neither route was particularly challenging.  There is a lot of vertical terrain in Star Creek Canyon, though, and with some engineering (probably a small streamside concrete tank and about 200 m of 3" flexible pipe, insulated and buried at a constant grade) there could be several tall  (20 - 30m) pillars in the Canyon, and probably 15 mixed climbs.  With some investment, Star Creek could be a real ice-climbing destination.  But at present, it is simply a nice little canyon with one mediocre ice climb.

My tools embedded in the base of Star Creek Falls.  A fun, albeit very short, lead.  Most of the falls were running, the shell was pretty eroded.  A very nice mixed route could start up the ice but veer up and left onto some steep rock. 

Me leading up through weird eroded ice mushrooms.  Easy climbing, hard to protect; I'm putting in a ice screw here, I think.  Thanks for the pictures, Mark!

I'm interested in bolting a mixed climb to the left of the falls, though - it would climb about 8m of ice, then about 10m of rock to a bolted anchor.  Looks fun, and would likely require 3 bolts and an anchor.

I'm also happy to report that my new tools (Grivel X-Monsters) performed beautifully!  A bit heavier than some other new tools (like the Petzl Nomics), the weight is distributed beautifully making for a very nice swing and stick.  I'm still getting used to this ice-climbing game, but am appreciative of having great tools.

Mark G and I then headed to Gold Creek Canyon.  Parking at the top of the Canyon, we rapped in (though some scrubby alders).  We toproped several lines on the short(ish) flows there, before packing it in for the day.  There is a really nice short WI4 or 5 pillar there that we would have liked to tried, but it is difficult to get a toprope on it, and we only had one rope so we couldn't lead it.  Next time!  Gold Creek could be a lot more fun if someone took a few minutes to cut out the few scrubby alders and willows at the top of the climb; it would make the access to the top of the route much easier, and would allow leaders to lead right to the big tree at the top of the route.  Maybe some day I'll spend the time and get it done.

Mixed Master Mark at work.  Very fun short steep curtain at Gold Creek.  Next time we'll bring a rope so we can lead, but getting to the tree anchor at top is problematic because you have to wade through  some scrubby alders.

Mark bouldering around at the base of the pillar.  Next time!

This weekend, I am looking forward to bouldering at Frank Slide!  It is supposed to be really warm, so it should be a lot of fun climbing in spring-like conditions in January.  I'll post an update soon!

Until then, happy climbing!


Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Hunt Continues!

I haven't really spent much time climbing lately.  I was away in Edmonton for the Christmas holidays, and sick as well.  I had hoped to go to the excellent Rock Jungle Fitness while in Edmonton to do some bouldering, but I wasn't really up to the challenge (sorry guys!).  However, I was feeling well enough upon my return to southern Alberta that I felt that a trip to the mountains was in order.  I was hoping to do some hiking with a very specific goal in mind; to find more ice climbing opportunities! 

I packed up my gear - and Lupin the dog - and headed out to the Crowsnest Pass.  Upon arriving in the area, I spent a few hours hiking along the flanks of Sentry Mountain in a couple of different places, confident that I would see some as-yet-uncharted ice climbs.  I was disappointed, however, and nary an icicle was to be seen.  In fact, the regularly-forming flow on the east side of the mountain was completely absent.  (hmmm.... maybe a dry year?  Maybe the Crowsnest IS a poor ice area...). 

I then drove back to Crowsnest, and hiked up another canyon that looked promising (especially since it was right in town!).  I did find a short waterfall, but it was probably only three meters high, and a half-frozen shell (less than ideal!). 

I still had high hopes, though, as Star Creek Falls were next on my list of places to visit.  It turned out to be a lot easier to find than I had anticipated, and a very pleasant walk in on a good trail led me to the falls themselves.  A few short ice steps lead to a short waterfall (10m high?).  The falls were a mostly-frozen shell of well-featured ice that didn't look particularly challenging.  The canyon itself was more interesting, with some potential for mixed routes.  Star Creek is also a prime candidate for 'ice-farming'; a little insulated hose could produce several pillars in the canyon, making it a very nice ice-climbing destination right in the town of Crowsnest!  I'l bring some hose out on my next trip, and we'll see what happens!

Star Creek Falls. Only about 20 or 25 feet high, but lots of room for ice farming to the left if I could get a hose up there...

By this point I was disappointed; I had (not surprisingly) failed to find the ice-climbing mecca of my dreams.  With an hour of daylight left, I decided to hike through the snow-covered boulders of the City of Giants area in Frank Slide.  There were several boulders I wanted to check out for potential projects for the upcoming bouldering season (which, given the right weather, could start in just a few weeks!).  An arete I had walked by a dozen times turned out to be amazing-looking upon closer examination, and several other nice-looking lines revealed themselves amidst the snow-covered blocks.  The problem with the City of Giants, though, is that the landings are very rough, and work will be needed to get the problems in shape to be climbed safely.  I really enjoy climbing in the City, though - it's a bit higher above the valley bottom than most areas, and because the boulders are a lot bigger it has a stark beauty that the other sectors just can't match. 

I'm half-hoping the weather warms up so I can boulder, and half-hoping it stays cold so I can do some ice-climbing.  Ideally, the weather would hover around daytime highs of +5C so I can do both!

Until next time, Happy New Year, and happy climbing!