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Dire Message and a Search for Rockies Climber Ken Wallator

He's been a top Canadian Rockies climber since the 1980s

Ken Wallator was a leading climber in the Canadian Rockies during the 1980s and 90s, having made a number of bold first ascents and hard repeats. He was recently in the Bow Valley climbing with his good friend Will Gadd, who Wallator knew growing up.

On Dec. 14, Wallator posted an alarming message on Facebook that implied that it could be his last post. Wallator’s message came after a hard few years and similar posts from the previous weeks, but none so dire.

Since then, an RCMP search has been taking place and countless friends have reached out online. The purpose of this story is to spread the word so other climbers, friends and family know what to look for. If you see Wallator’s truck (photo below) the please contact police.

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Seventy plus years of climbing in this photo on the Rockies classic, Amadeus, from today. The guy on the right has likely done more new routes in the Canadian Rockies than anyone else (or is at least in the running!). Ken Wallator is the real deal. There’s a lot of bullshit on social media, but there’s no bullshitting when the tools start swinging: real experience and skill shows. Ken led me up the classic Polar Circus at least 30 years ago on a blue cold -30 day. an experience that almost caused me to quit ice climbing as I did it wearing Lycra. That was for sure the worst clothing decision I ever made. I’ll never forget watching the conduit rap “anchor” flex under his weight, and unclippjng from it so I wouldn’t go if it blew. I then clipped back in as it was night and I would die a miserable death by hypothermia without ropes to descend. We used to rap ice routes by putting soft electric conduit in ice screw holes, it was as crazy as it sounds! We were in the same grade and lived on the same street in high school, and had some wild adventures on the rock, ice, and bar scene of Jasper. Today we tied back in together for the first time in years, and it was again a pleasure, as it was over three decades ago (my bad clothing choice aside). Keep on giving it hell Ken, the world needs more people who are what they say they are. And Amadeus is an all-ice route if you take the skinny ice line. Today made me think about the unique role climbing partners play in our lives. Here’s to Ken and all the partners I’ve had over the years, thank you!

A post shared by Will Gadd (@realwillgadd) on

RCMP Search

There have been a number of media outlets that have reported about the RCMP search for Wallator and people have been checking the places where he frequently visits in the mountains. The photo below was taken this month.

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Ken Wallator December 2019

Will Gadd has been keeping everyone up to date and posted the following on Dec. 18:

If anyone sees the truck or has an idea where it or Ken might be please call the Hinton RCMP directly rather than approach the truck. I think at this point the RCMP have the best total picture of the situation from all the tips and background information they have received, please contact them if something solid comes your way.

This is a giant pile of possibilities that may ‘click’ when seen together, and they have the best overview from talking to people and all the records they have worked through (cell phone and many others). I very much hope Ken has gone into bush mode and is doing OK. Until we get a confirmed sighting of Ken Wallator or find his truck we’re operating in the dark. Hopefully something breaks soon.

Ken Wallator’s truck

Tragedy

Wallator’s climbing life, while cutting-edge at times, has had its share of tragedies. On Dec. 11, 1988, 24-year-old Heidi Schaefer and Ken Wallator, 21, were climbing Mount Belanger, a peak south of Jasper.

After finishing the technical part of the climb, they reached a ridge 130 metres below the summit. They stopped to take a photograph when the cornice gave way. Wallator was able to jump and grab onto the rock, but Schaefer fell 480 metres down the side of the mountain.

After the fall, Heidi stood up for a moment to put on her parka which she retrieved from her backpack, then collapsed. It took Wallator 90 minutes to climb down to where she was. He carried her through a snowstorm toward a climbers’ hut more than 300 metres below. However, she died of her injuries in Wallator’s arms before they could reach the hut.

Climbing

In 1988, Wallator and Tom Thomas made the first ascent of a serious grade-six mixed/aid route up the north face of Storm Mountain in the Rockies. The route has never been repeated. A few years ago, Wallator said that anyone who could repeat it would get a free rope.

In 1989, Wallator was joined by Thomas and G. McCormick for a 16-day expedition of a new route up the north face of Mount Clemenceau.

Wallator was climbing serious ice lines in the 1980s, as well as pushing it in the alpine with repeats of routes like the Ramp Route on Mount Kitchener. Since then, he’s established a number of big rock routes, such as two difficult ones on Roche Miette: one with Harvey Struss called Task Masker V 5.8 A3; and one with Rick Costea in 1988 up the West Face 5.9 A2.

In 2016, he made the first ascent of Lucky Star WI4 with Sean Elliott down the valley from Shades of Beauty. It was around that time that Wallator started posting videos of his ice climbing.