Home > News

Early Season Sends on Bow Valley Rock

There is still skiing to be had, ice fat and climbable, but on the Bow Valley’s south facing rock walls, it’s game on for rock climbers.

Of course with the sun comes the ticks and they’ve been out in full force. Nearly every climber has reported having at least one tick on them somewhere, but that doesn’t seem to be slowing down climbers searching for dry stone.

The Bow Valley, found between the eastern edge of the Rockies and Lake Louise, is home to Canmore and Banff. It’s normal for rock climbing season to come early to these two mountain towns.

Standing in the middle of the valley, it’s almost day and night when comparing the south and north faces. The sun shines on the south walls of most of the day, drying the trails and water seeping from the porous limestone. On the north faces it could still be mid-January as there are still skiable lines, ice smears and the rock routes are plastered with snow.

Since the beginning of spring, one week ago, the Bow Valley has had daytime highs of around 10 C with temperatures peaking at nearly 20 C on Friday.

In the CMC Valley, Jon Walsh and Michelle Kadatz climbed two rarely climbed routes. In fact, the CMC Valley, tucked behind Yamnuska hardly ever sees climbers. In 2007, Tom Gruber and Jeff Relph established the four-pitch modern mixed route, Out of the Silent Planet 5.11b. In 2004, Paul McSorley and Jeff Relph climbed The Prophet 5.11bR, which was established over two days, ground up with a power drill. The rock is reported to be excellent, the climbing is sustained and the route has a somewhat serious feel despite the bolts.

There is a possibility Walsh and Kadatz made the second ascent of Out of the Silent Planet and one of the only ascents of The Prophet. It just goes to show how much climbing has been developed in the Rockies.

Michelle Kadatz on pitch-two of Out of the Silent Planet 5.11b.  Photo Jon Walsh
Michelle Kadatz on pitch-two of Out of the Silent Planet 5.11b. Photo Jon Walsh

On the mighty Yamnuska, dozens of parties have climbed a number of different routes. Despite the icy trails and sometimes frozen corners, climbers have been keen to get up high.

Yamnuska is a fantastic early season wall, in January and February this year, Kahl Wall 5.10, Red Shirt 5.9 and even CMC Wall 5.11 all had ascents.

During the first week of spring, Jon Effa and John Price made their way up Red Shirt. “Sadly the sun flirted with us for the first five pitches and climbing was cold on the fingertips,” said Price. “It decided to show itself and warm us up for the final few pitches and top out.”

Jon Effa making his way across the classic last pitch traverse of Red Shirt on Yamnuska. Photo taken by John Price who owns and operates John Price Photography. Check out his Facebook page here.
Jon Effa making his way across the classic last pitch traverse of Red Shirt on Yamnuska. Photo taken by John Price who owns and operates John Price Photography. Check out his Facebook page here.

Farther west in the Bow Valley proper is the south face of Grotto Mountain. Not overly impressive at first because of the open mine scars, it does have some of the best cragging in Canada. The walls are tucked along massive canyons that split the otherwise low-angle face.

In Echo Canyon are some of the hardest routes in the Bow Valley, mostly bolted by a small group of keen developers such as Greg Tos, Gery Unterasinger and Simon Meis. On Fri. March 27, the very strong Evan Hau sent Fit Bird 5.14a on the Coliseum Wall.

Evan Hau climbing Fat Bird 5.14a on the Coliseum Wall in Echo Canyon. Photo Greg Tos
Evan Hau climbing Fit Bird 5.14a on the Coliseum Wall in Echo Canyon. Photo Greg Tos

In the popular canyons such as Cougar Creek, Grotto Canyon and Grassi Lakes, climbers took advantage of the warm first week of spring by dispatching a number of the hard classics. Farther west again, four parties climbed at the very sunny Guide’s Rock above Banff on Friday.

The well-bolted Aftonroe offers 220 metres of 5.7 climbing and often has lineups. To the climbers left is the popular Sea of Dreams 5.10d and Turf Wars 5.10b, which both offer four pitches of nice stipple climbing.

Closer to Banff, Brandon Pullan and Gaby James linked the best pitches of Riel Rebellion 5.10a and Gooseberry 5.8 on Tunnel Mountain and climbed an eight-pitch 5.10a. The route faces east and there was plenty of winter debris, loose rocks and dust to clean off the chert ledges. You can see just how summery the Bow Valley is in the photo below.

Gaby James on the final pitch of Gooseberry. By linking some fully bolted pitches and some traditionally protected pitches of Tonka and Gooseberry the result was eight pitches of nice mostly 5.10 climbing. Photo Brandon Pullan
Gaby James on the final pitch of Gooseberry. By linking some fully bolted pitches and some traditionally protected pitches of Tonka and Gooseberry the result was eight pitches of nice mostly 5.10 climbing. Photo Brandon Pullan

Don’t be suckered into a road trip to the Rockies just yet. With the forecast calling for rain and cold weather, the valley bottom might just get a dusting of snow once again this spring.

Check out the latest buyer's guide:

The Top May Long Weekend Sales on Camping Gear

Have a safe and fun time when out in the wilderness this season