Cirrus Mountain on the Icefields Parkway is famous for its winter ice routes on its east face, such as Weeping Wall and Polar Circus, but few climbers know about the classic alpine terrain on the west and north faces.
Jim Elzinga and Dylan Cunningham have just completed the latest new route up the northwest side of Cirrus Mountain and called it The Anna Smith Memorial.
I was introduced to the area by Elzinga back in October 2011. We spent a few days camping at the base of a valley that extends below the north side of the peak. Our goal was to try a new route up the north face, but bad weather forced us to seek out another objective.
We made the first ascent of a 70-metre WI4+ up the lowest cliff band fart to the right of the north face. I called it The Mentor in honour of Elzinga for his many years of mentoring aspiring alpinists.
The valley then became known as Mentors Valley.
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@brandonpullan on the first ascent of the The Mentor..With little ice in the Canadian Rockies we reflagged the approach to Mentors Valley on the north side of Cirrus Mtn. The valley is home to several routes including the Proposal WI4 M8.#grippedmagazine#realalpineadventure#mountainiscalling#iceclimbing#mixedclimbing#icefieldsparkway #canadianrockies
The first route up the north face of Cirrus Mountain was by Elzinga and Ian Stewart-Patterson in 1983. It was repeated a handful of times, including by Maurice Perreault and Josh Boisse 28 years later.
The following year, Perreault and Rob Schnell climbed the right side of the north face via the north ridge and then deviated into the west face gully and back into Elzinga’s 1983 route, calling it Cloud Nine IV M5+ WI2.
In early November 2014, Anna Smith and Perreault made the second ascent of The Mentor.
Smith returned with Jim Elzinga a week later to try a mix line that follows a corner system a couple of a hundred metres to the right of The Mentor. They ran out of time after climbing the crux and returned a few weeks later to complete the six-pitch M7 WI4 car-to-car. They called it The Proposal.
Smith was a prolific and cutting-edge Canmore-based climber known for her trademark laugh. Like myself, Smith considered Elzinga was one of her alpine mentors.
On Oct. 1, 2016 while on a climbing expedition to India with Alison Criscitiello, Smith passed unexpectedly in her sleep.
“Given her connection to the area, it seemed appropriate to name our recent route after her,” said Elzinga about The Anna Smith Memorial.
In October 2019, Elzinga and Cunningham made their first attempt at The Anna Smith Memorial, which was then un-named, but bad weather shut them down.
The sight of ice lines in the hanging valley prompted Cunningham to return with Michele Pratt and Kiff Alcocer a few days later. They repeated an icier version of The Proposal at M5 WI4. On the following day, they climbed side-by-side lines farther up the valley which they named Push Up Bra WI5 110m and Boisterous M4 WI4 110m, both in tribute to Anna Smith.
It was on Oct. 1, 2020 (the anniversary of Smith’s passing), Cunningham and Elzinga completed the first ascent of The Anna Smith Memorial. It shares a few pitches with Cloud Nine and the top three pitches of Elzinga’s 1983 route, which was climbed six years before Cunningham was born.
“Compared to previous attempts, the climb had very little snow and ice, as it’s been a very dry and warm fall in the Canadian Rockies,” said Elzinga.
“This resulted in the last two pitches requiring a lot of care: M5 insecure climbing with variable quality pro on ice runnels and choss to the summit ridge The route tops 15 metres below the summit.”
The Anna Smith Memorial goes at IV M5 AI3 TD 450m and climbs 11 pitches.
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Yesterday we honoured our friend Anna Smith who at the age of 31 passed on a expedition to the Indian Himalayas. Fantastic Anna There she is,laughing Anna She's laughing At my tied-off knife blade,the thin ice. Suddenly she screams. The finishing shower of spindrift buries her. And then she's laughing, Anna, Blessed by avalanche leading on,high and wild and mighty photo:Anna on our route The Proposal/Cirrus Mtn., Nov 2014 #boldandcold #grippedmagazine#themountainiscalling#realalpineadventure
Approach to Mentors Valley
Driving north on the Icefields Parkway, past the Weeping Wall for 2.2 km. Park at a small pull-out on the west side of the road. Cross the road. Walk along the ditch for about 100 m, passing a small drainage pipe along the way, reaching a second culvert, which has an old rockwall built along it.
Follow the steep meandering trail through the forrest until a large open alpine meadow is reached. Looking across the meadow, follow its southern edge, shortly emerging in the main drainage near a junction of two streams; nearly at treeline. Approx 1.5 to 2 hours.
Anna Smith in Yosemite
In June 2015, Smith travelled through California and visited the Needles, Yosemite and Moab. Smith was interviewed for a short series called El Cap Bridge.
I had the opportunity to climb with Smith for a few seasons, including a month in Chamonix. Her contagious laugh would echo off valley walls. She’s dearly missed by many in the climbing community.
Before I met Elzinga, I knew about his reputation for bold climbs and list of epic first ascents. In the Canadian Rockies, Elzinga has made the first ascent of Slipstream WI4+ 1,000m with John Lauchlan, the first ascent of The Elzinga/Miller 5.9 WI4+ on Mount Cromwell, the first ascent of the Northwest Ridge of Mount Alberta 5.9 V with Barry Blanchard, and dozens of new ice and mixed routes over the past 45 years.
He made the first winter ascent of the North Face of Mount Robson in 1989 with Barry Blanchard and Ward Robinson in -40°C temps. With John Lauchlan, he made a -42°C ascent of the Ramp Route V+ M5 on Mount Kitchener in the dead of winter over four days.
Abroad, Elzinga made the first ascent of the South/Southwest Ridge VI of Mount Logan in 1979 with Raymond Jotterand, Alan Burgess and Laughlan over 15 days. With Steve House, Elzinga climbed the previously unclimbed southwest face of Brahamasar II up a 1,000-metre burly alpine line. On the mighty Nuptse, Elzinga and Peter Arbic climbed within 350 metres of the summit after spending nine days climbing The Southeast Pillar. It’s the high-point for an alpine-style attempt on the grade VI wall.