Home > Profiles

A Big Hike to Cold Banff Rock and We Bailed

Looking for a new route on the north-facing cliffs of Mount Rundle

It’s almost November and most climbers have hung up their rock racks for their winter ice and mixed gear, but we thought we’d take one last look for a new rock line in hopes the weather would cooperate.

We left the car at noon, fully aware that the fresh snow from the night before would still be dusted on the small edges we were hoping to climb. David Smart and I had established a few routes on the north ridge of Rundle this past summer and were hoping to find a longer, steeper route farther east along the imposing north-facing lower band of the mountain.

David and I were joined by his brother, Reg, and my old climber partner from Lakehead University, Andrew Gallant. From the trailhead of the Rundle Riverside Trail, we bushwhacked up through thick-for-Alberta downfall and deep moss. Most climbers parking in the lot at this time of year are headed for ice climbs on the Trophy Wall or Professor Falls.

As we climbed steep slopes, third-class terrain on exposed ledges and meandered between tiny cliffs that would be the main attractions in eastern Canada, the ice climbs on Trophy Wall came into view. We’d hoped the approach would take less than an hour, but after two we were still pulling on trees and route-finding our way up.


There are only a few established routes on this section of Mount Rundle: Terminator Goes to Summer Camp 5.10d, 245 metres; Hole in One 5.8, 200 metres; and River Goddess 5.7, 275 metres. Our goal was to find a tall face climb that we could bolt from the ground to the top.

Upon reaching the wall, we found the dusting of snow was going to make the rock nearly impossible to climb without crampons. The snow pressed into slick ice under the weight of our fingers and toes.

Walking the base, looking for new routes Photo Andrew Gallant

Seeing as how we didn’t expect to be up so high, we didn’t bring headlamps or many layers of warm clothes. Knowing we only had a few more hours of sunlight, we aimed to climb an obvious chimney. I tied in and headed up the fun-looking line.

In the summer, the prickly stone and big features would’ve been easy to climb, but in sub-zero temps and with snow, the moves felt insecure. At just about 15 metres, when the screaming barfies kicked in, I reached a place that would’ve required tricky moves on icy rock and decided to bail.

Heading up the cold chimney before bailing Photo Andrew Gallant

On the approach, Reg had spotted another weakness that he wanted to try. He tied-in and moved up a few metres on a nice line of holds until the snow became too much to contend with and he bailed. The descent to the car took about two hours and we were back in Banff by sundown.

It was an optimistic hike on a cold day with good friends and we found two routes that we’ll return to next summer, when the snow melts. The reason we’re all in Banff is for the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, which you can learn more about here.

Laughing off the screaming barfies before heading down Photo Reg Smart