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Mythical Rockies North Face Route Climbed After 33 Years

A route climbed in 1988 by Ken Wallator and Tom Thomas up the north face of Mount Storm has been repeated

Photo by: Ian Welsted

The Canadian Rockies have countless huge alpine routes, most unclimbed or only climbed once. Many of them reach mythical status because of failed attempts, or because of how scary it looks below.

One such line was first climbed in 1988 by the alpinists Ken Wallator and Tom Thomas at a grade of V 5.9 A3. It follows an obvious feature up the north face of Storm Mountain at Castle Junction between Banff and Lake Louise. The pair spent four days on the face and had three bivies of which the last one was partially hanging. The middle section involved six pitches of hard climbing up to A3 and finished up thin mixed climbing.

The Thomas/Wallator route had never been repeated and in 2011, Wallator offered a reward for anyone who made the second ascent. “Hey, message from Ken here. If anybody repeats my and Tom Thomas’ route on the north face of Storm Mountain, I will personally buy you a new rope of your choice.” Wallator was a leading climber in the Banff and Jasper during his youth, establishing a handful of still-unrepeated bold alpine climbs, read more about him here.

The second route to be climbed up the wall was in spring 2015 by Yamada Toshiyuki and Takeshi Tani named it Kogarashi, which means a little storm in Japanese, they graded it WI4 5.6, 350 m. The second route was climbed that fall by Maarten van Haeren, Ian Welsted and Jay Mills called Canoeing to Cuba IV M6 WI5, 350 m.

In 2017, Welsted and Simon Richardson climbed another new route on a separate north-facing face on Storm called Unnamed Direct III M4 WI3, and in 2019, van Haeren returned to make the first ascent of Eye of the Storm, a 700-metre IV M6 WI5 with Ethan Berman up another northern aspect.

Mount Storm’s north face with the 1988 route, Canoeing to Cuba and Kogarashi. Photo and Topo by Maarten van Haeren

Welsted and van Haeren returned this week to make the second ascent of The Thomas/Wallator route, and we touched base with Welsted to hear about the mythical line.

“It was bad faceted snow, sketchy snow in parts, and the ice wasn’t ice,” said Welsted. “No idea where Ken went, but Maarten led a sustained M5 pitch, and the rest was just sketching around for gear and ledges.”

They climbed up the obvious gully, then climbed snice to a 30-metre drytool M5 pitch that van Haeren led, which landed them at more “easy drytooling steps to a bad low angled snow slab, and a gully crossing to cornice exit.”

Welsted added that photos and certain angles of the face “makes it look so badass” but “really it’s one pitch like that and a bunch of snowy hunk.”

Chances are high that Welsted, van Haeren and Mills were the last climbers on the face when they climbed Canoeing to Cuba in 2015, as these big, loose snowy routes don’t draw big crowds.

“Yeah, we both admitted to being a little fried,” said Welsted. “The snow was useless facets, but cool to go up there. It certainly had gotten a mythical reputation for no reason.”

Welsted and van Haeren are climbing guides based in Canada’s mountains. If you’re looking for an ice climbing guide, be sure to get in touch with them below.

Update Oct. 26: Welsted and van Haeren have in fact climbed a new line, as new information has come to light about where Thomas and Wallator climbed.

Lead photo: Ian Welsted