Planet X is a steep crag in Cougar Creek north of Canmore in the Bow Valley. The X is meant to be the roman numeral for “ten” but the crag’s name is certainly pronounced as “planet x” and is one of the Rockies more popular go-to hard route zones. Top climber Jon Siegrist once described the climbing as no-hold, compression moves up a wall that looks like there are only bolts and no features. There are big moves between small holds and side pulls through stepped roofs.
There are a number of 5.12s, 5.13s and 5.14s, which reserves the wall for more experience sport climbers looking for projects, but there are over 100 routes between 5.8 and 5.10 on the approach up the canyon.
Even on rainy days, you’ll find shelter under the cave-like wall. The creek rages in spring, but as the year progresses, conditions improve to near-perfect temperatures by early summer.
The only downside to the crag is the long approach, but as long as you bring some good company, the time flies by. The creek is loose river stones and a flood in 2013 washed the trail away, which means you’re just meandering along the river until you reach the Canadian Forks, at which point you go east.
But the long, pumpy routes with short boulder problems have been drawing climbers for over a decade now, with 2018 being the busiest year at the remote crag. Likely because Alex Megos visited in 2016 and opened a new route called Iron Butterfly 5.14c/d.
The stone is yellow, grey, black and blue limestone that offers skin-gauging knee bars as rests. Many of the classic hard routes were established and sent by Derek Galloway.
Over the years, other top climbers such as Siegrist, Megos, Sasha DiGiulian, Adam Onda and Sonnie Trotter have visited and repeated 5.14s. Trotter made the first ascent of The Illusionist
If you’re looking for a crag with relentlessly steep stone and difficult cruxes, consider heading to Planet X this year.
Approach: From Canmore, drive to Cougar Creek and park on the west side of the creek. Walk up the creek bed for about an hour until you reach the Canadian Forks. Go right and right again until you can see the crag.
Gear: Bring a 70-metre rope to be safe as the routes are up to 35 metres. Some routes have fixe draws, but bring up to 20. Helmets are a good idea as the limestone has been known to break away.
Where to Stay: Canmore has a number of hotels, but the Alpine Club of Canada’s head office isn’t far from the parking. There’s camping in the Bow Valley. As of 2018, you could park your van behind the climbing gym Elevation Place.
Coffee and dinner: There are plenty of places to get coffee in town, check out Rocky Mountain Bagel Co., Beamers or Rave. For dinner, head to Hy5 for cheap and delicious beers and food or the Canmore Brewing Company for beers.
Other Crags: For hard climbs, check out Acephale, Echo Canyon, Bataan and Black Feather. And for 5.10s and 5.11s, visit Grassi Lakes, Grotto Canyon, Heart Creek, Tunnel Mountain and Lake Louise.
Hail Mary burns are sometimes the best ones. It was the end of the day, my skin was trashed, and half way up the route, I realized I had to pee ferociously. I decided there was no chance, so I just went for it— the faster I fell, the sooner I could relieve myself. But then I found myself at the anchor. Anyway, that’s all to say even if it isn’t your hardest route, or maybe it is, and the odds are against you sometimes shit just pans out. I’m actually bummed to be done with this route so soon because of how classic it is— Shooting Star 12d. Psyched to explore other things here in Canada! 🤘🏼 Yay vacation. Today @jonathansiegrist and I are checking out the Stampede in Calgary 🐎🐂🇨🇦🤠 (@timbanfield photo)
The Routes of Planet X
Iron Butterfly 5.14c/d
Cobalt Gecko 5.14b
John Doe 5.12b
Hot Fudge Cream Puff 5.14a
Embrace the Pain 5.13d
Fudge Packer 5.13d
Shooting Packer 5.13b
Shooting Star 5.12d
Sticky Buns 5.13a
Magician’s Apprentice 5.14b
Moon Boots 5.11c
Illusionist, The 5.14a
The Prestige 5.14c
First Light 5.12b
Before Dark 5.11c
After Dark 5.12b
Hot Gates, The 5.13a
Tickle My Fritter 5.12a