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For the Tick-List: Raw 5.12a at Grassi Lakes

Climbed in 1996, it's one of the most classic close-to-Canmore 5.12 sport climbs in the area

The 1990s saw a boom in Bow Valley sport climbing with most new routes being established at Grotto Canyon, Cougar Creek and Heart Creek. In 1996, Roger Chayer and Bruce Keller bolted and climbed Raw 5.12a at Grassi Lakes, now one of the area’s must-climb 5.12s.

The momentum of new-route building hadn’t slowed down since the mid-1980s, when Sean Dougerty made the first ascent of the Importance of Being Ernest 5.12a, and Mr. Olympia 5.11d. Bruce Howatt then pushed the grade to 5.12d with Tropicana. In Carrot Creek, dozens of hard climbs were bolted in the mid1990s, with Keith Pike’s route Sword in the Stone 5.12c and Simon Parboossingh and Joe Buszowski’s climb The Lizard 5.12b being two of the best and most-tried. For a good history to sport climbing in the Bow Valley visit JD LeBlanc’s write-up here.

Keller had been establishing hard routes in the Bow Valley for nearly 20 years by the time Raw was climbed. In 1980, he made the first free ascent of Gonda Roof A2 in Banff. Keller, one of the finest crack climbers in the region, graded it a stiff 5.11, but now a few local sport climbers including Ian Perry say it’s 5.12-. Little did anyone imagine the 5.12 barrier had been broken in 1980. Keller had also added a route in 1976 to Yamnuska with John Lauchlan called Dazed and Confused, originally graded 5.9+ but is now 5.10+. In 1990, Keller and Rob Rohn made the first ascent of Air Voyage, a 5.10d trad route up a steep wall at Back of the Lake. Chayer helped develop a number of hard routes in the area, including Freedom in Chains 5.13c at Bataan.

Raw is a 15-metre seven-bolt overhanging line with a 5.10 start and an in-your-face finish. It’s the first route encountered on the left-hand side as you enter the crag from the upper parking lot. A short traverse on pockets and edges leads to a crux and a good rest if you can find it. Then power through the steep rock on big jugs with heel hooks to the chains. It doesn’t have the best rock of a 5.12a in the Bow Valley, but it’s a great intro to the grade at Grassi Lakes.

In 2021, Parks will be installing gates at the top and bottom of Grassi Lakes to warn hikers that the canyon trail is for rock climbers and that there is a risk of rockfall. Be sure to wear a helmet while belaying in the canyon, the number of accidents due to rockfall from goats walking above has increased over the past few years.

Raw 5.12a

For the Tick-List

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Slab Alley 5.9 in Squamish 
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Les Grands Galets 5.12d at Cap Trinité, Quebec
Polar Circus WI5 700m in Rockies
The Monument 5.12a Trad in Ontario
The Scottish Gully WI2 100m in Canmore
The Snake WI4 Ice Climb in Ontario
The Bottom Line 5.11a in Skaha