The Canadian Rockies have some of the biggest walls in Canada and over the last 20 years climbers have been laboring to establish long, well protected routes. If you like steep, hard and challenging lines, look no further. These are the hardest long routes in the Rockies. The easiest on this list is 5.11+ and the hardest is 5.14b. Thousands of climbers visit the Rockies every summer for rock and alpine climbing so if you’re looking to escape the crowds, these are the routes.
Establishing steep multi-pitch climbs takes months and they cost a lot of money so every time you head up a wickedly overhanging pitch of perfectly protected rock, remember someone put the time and energy into making it so.
The following routes are but only a few of the very engaging lines in the Rockies. Happy climbing this summer and remember that even though these climbs might be fully bolted, you should always wear your helmet. This list is in no particular order and three of the routes make Sonnie Trotter’s alpine rock trilogy: Blue Jeans Direct 5.14a, The Shining Uncut 5.14a and War Hammer 5.14a.
There is no cliff in the Rockies with more history than Yamnuska. Since all of the obvious weaknesses have been climbed, climbers have been rap-bolting the steeper, blank walls. The result has been some of the hardest long routes in Canada. Derek Galloway is the only climber who’s sent all three 5.13s on Yamnuska.
Route One: Yamabushi 5.13a: Yamabushi was the original 5.13 sport route on Yamnuska. Will Gadd and partners bolted this line through the steepest section of Yamnuska. It has some of the most exposed positions on Yamnuska’s south facing wall. There are dozens of worthy lines on Yamnuska, but if you’re looking for a fun steep line, this is it. Fully equipped.
Route Two: Blue Jeans 5.13b: Nick Rochacewich spent a season developing Blue Jeans 5.13. It climbs a steep, blue-streaked wall left of the classic East End Boy 5.12a. Nick first tried it ground up, but after a 15-metre ground fall while aiding on micro cams nearly killed him, he decided to rap-bolt the wall. The result is one of the longest and most difficult routes in the Rockies. Derek Galloway got the first free ascent and Vikki Weldon has the only other redpoint. In 2017, Sonnie Trotter sent Blue Jeans Direct at 5.14a. The route is fully equipped.
Route Three: The Mistress 5.13b: This was the result of a season of development by Nick Rochacewich and Sonnie Trotter. The first half of the route follows the adventurous Calgary Route 5.8. The upper half climbs a steep orange streak of near-perfect rock. Four pitches up to 5.13. Fully equipped.
Route Four: Blood Meridian 5.12b: Andy Genereux has been a leading developer in the Rockies for nearly 20 years. In 2013, he and Ross Suchy climbed the five-pitch 5.12b Blood Meridian in The Bowl. With four pitches of hard 5.11 before the crux, this route packs a punch and should be on everyone’s list. Fully equipped.
Route Five: A Particular Manner of Expression 5.12a on Ha Ling: Ha Ling is the pyramid-shaped peak above Canmore. It has a wide range of routes including a new 10-pitch 5.9 on its western-most slabs. It’s famous for its 1960’s 5.6, the Northeast Face, and its 600-metre 5.10 sport route, Sisyphus Summits. A Particular Manner of Expression is a 12-pitch 5.12 and is the only route in the list that is not fully bolted so track down the beta for the required rack. The route is the result of the effort of Jeff Relph and friends and was redpointed by Jeff Relph with Mike Trehearne and Joshua Lavigne. It’s had a handful or redpoints since the first free ascent.
Grotto Mountain has more sport routes on it than any other in the Rockies. With a dozen popular crags, it has dozens of 5.12s and some of the best 5.13s in the Bow Valley. The following two routes take advantage of some of the steepest rock in Grotto’s two huge amphiteatres.
Route Six: Silent Auction 5.12c: Greg Tos is known as the guru of hard sport climbing development on Grotto Mountain, particularly in Echo Canyon. Two years ago, Greg saw a line up a steep wall east of Echo Canyon and decided to take a look. The result is this often-climbed nine-pitch 5.12, Silent Auction. Fully equipped.
Route Seven: The Temptress 5.13b: Derek Galloway is known for sending unsent projects, but he’s bolted his fair share of hard routes over the years. In Echo Canyon, he added this four-pitch 5.13, The Temptress, that is reported to be one of the best in the Bow Valley. Fully equipped.
Route Eight: Don’t Rock the Boatswain 5.14b: In 2018, Miles Adamson freed the final direct pitch to his and Zach Watson’s Don’t Rock the Boatswain 5.13a. The six-pitch route climbs a big wall in the same canyon as Silent Auction. Adamson wrote on Instagram, “It is a strange overhanging corner to a good rest, which leads to a brutal boulder on the roof. “The boulder is I think V11 and caps the entire multipitch. The exposure is insane as you can see 200 metres of wall straight to the ground as your feet cut.” It is the hardest multi-pitch in the Canadian Rockies, a letter grade above The Shining on Mount Louis, Castles in the Sky on Castle Mountain and Blue Jeans Direct on Yamnuska. It took Adamson and Watson five years to bolt the seven-pitch route, which they did ground up.
Route Nine: The Shining 5.13c on Mount Louis: Mount Louis has some of the best potential for hard long routes. In 2012, Sonnie Trotter and Tommy Caldwell took advantage of the unclimbed east face and established The Shining. The end result is the hardest route at that elevation in Canada. The upper face is fully equipped, but the lower approach pitches require some protecting. In 2017, Sonnie Trotter linked a few pitches into The Shining Uncut 5.14a, which has been repeated by Sasha DiGiulian and Mike Doyle as of spring 2019.
Route 10: Spectacular Megafauna 5.11c on Mount Edith: The late Dave Thomson was one of the most prolific winter and summer route developers of his time. On the large east face of Mount Edith near Banff, he bolted one of the longest slab climbs in the Rockies. With sustained thin 5.11c climbing, Spectacular Megafauna is for slab climbing enthusiasts. Fully equipped.
Route 11: Castles in the Sky 5.14a on Castle Mountain
Sonnie Trotter saw this route from the highway and decided that in 2012, he’d take a look. The result is one of the hardest multi-pitch routes in Canada. With five pitches up to 5.14, Castles in the Sky takes advantage of steep, crimpy dolomite and is unrepeated. Fully equipped.
In 2017, Sonnie Trotter linked the four-pitch The Moat 5.11c into Castles in the Sky 5.14a into Eisenhower Tower 5.5 to complete War Hammer, a 15-pitch 5.14a.
Route 12: Goblin Arete 5.11c at Lake Louise: The Goblin Arete is a modern mixed route, but many climbers skip the gear and run-out the sections between bolts. This stunning line can be seen from anywhere around Lake Louise. It’s found on the opposite side of the lake as the crag Back of the Lake. The route is slow to dry in the spring but makes for a great day out on hot mid-summer days. Mixed, but can be climbed with variations as a fully equipped route.
Route 13: Dodging Wives 5.11c on Saddleback Crag: This line was the result of Eugene Kremlov, Jesse Horne and Ben Greenwood’s effort in finding one of the sweetest lines on Saddleback above Lake Louise. The trio worked on the route for a few years and sent it in 2014. This four-pitch 5.11c makes for a great warm-up to longer quartzite routes. Fully equipped.
These two routes are on the easily accessed and very steep Wild West Wall. A great challenge would be linking these two routes in a day.
Route 14: Booty Loader 5.12c: Ross Suchy, Simon Meis and Joshua Lavigne established Booty Loader, seven pitches up to 5.12c, and redpointed it in 2014. The first four pitches are hard 5.12 climbing and they’re followed by three easier 5.11 pitches. Fully equipped.
Route 15: Dreams of Verdon 5.12b: The original long hard sport route in the Ghost. Andy Genereux and Tim Pochay redpointed the 220-metre 5.12 Dreams of Verdon nearly 20 years ago, in 1996. There are many hard pitches and the first, originally graded 5.11+, has since been upgraded to 5.12b. Fully equipped.