Hitting the RoadMaligne Canyon. This had been the first ice climbing we were able to do together in about a month. An odd combination of sickness and bitterly cold weather (-40 degrees Celcius) ensured that we would be taking up a sedentary spot on the soft, warm and horizontal couch as opposed to working our way up any cold, and vertical hard water.
Needless to say we started our trip down the Parkway with some sense of anticipation. Based on some beta from our good friend Harvey Struss (a Seasoned Jasper Hardman in his own right) Aaron had proposed we try for some sort of enchainment in the Beauty Creek Area that would include Stanley Falls Senior, the Rick Blak Memorial Route, and Sunwapta Falls - Left Drainage. We were somewhat unclear about how everything would work, but regardless we were keen to get out and make something happen.
About 45 minutes south of Jasper a lynx made its way accross the highway and posed for us while we desperately tried to get pictures in less than ideal light. Regardless it was a very cool scene.
The Hike In
We were still a little unclear as to exactly what our game plan was as we made our way up into the upper valley of Beauty Creek. Given its sunny exposure we chose to attack Stanley Falls Senior first. As Shades of Beauty has acquired somewhat of a Classic reputation, Stanley is essentially the less good looking sister. Given this unjust lack of popularity there is rarely any sort of trail up to this spectacular climb. Being the younger of the two and most definitley having the longer legs, I offered to break trail. I would love to pass along that the selective memory attribute discussed earlier would apply here, but I do recall with too much clarity an unrelenting slog through 60-90 cm of isothermic powder over a plethora of deadfall for the first 10 minutes. This relented for about 2 steps before I started through a suncrusted section (never thick enough to hold my weight) covering more isothermic snow. This last section seemed to suck mojo from soul with depressing ease.
We did finally make it up to the base of the climb after 20 minutes and those first views of Stanley warming in the morning sun were spectacular.
Goal Number 1 - Stanley Falls Senior
The ice, being warmed by the morning sun, was not quite plastic, but was very close to it. The first section was steep and I milked the rest stance in between for a while before working my way through the steeper upper pitch. There was an easier line to the left, but it was hard to pass up the vertical line of good ice straight above. I got a full value pump from the climb, and definitely had to focus to pull the bulge atop the climb. Aaron followed with no problem and we quickly set up our rappel and shortly found ourselves retracing our footsteps back down to the main trail to Shades of Beauty.
Goal Number Two - Shades of Beauty
During the second vertical slog up to Shades, albeit along a trail that I very much appreciated, we heard voices below. Aaron and I made the assumption that this was traffic for Shades as neither of us had ever seen climbers on the Memorial Route. We decided to tick Shades first and then head over to the Memorial Route.
After securing our pack via the standard anti-raven protocol (i.e. upside down, hanging from an ice screw, with every strap and buckle tightened down) Aaron lead off on pitch one of Shades. Typically a straight forward pitch, this proved to have a slight sting in the tail as the ice steepened near the top. Aaron cruised the pitch and belayed me up behind.
I have to give Aaron credit for trying to take it, but I did get the next lead which did not dissappoint. After some initial manky ice, the ice consolidated and the short grade 4 pitch proved to be quite enjoyable through the upper 2/3.
Aaron was back on lead for the final pitch. He took a proud line up the middle of the wide expanse of ice. This was the steepest I had seen this pitch of ice in the 5-6 times that I have climbed it. He climbed the bottom 30 metres in fine style before moving out of sight atop the vertical bulge of ice. He cruised the last 30 metres and quickly brought me up. I had been anticipating a nice toproped pitch on steep ice with no pack, but Aaron quickly informed me we needed the pack. Regardless it was a fine pitch of ice and we both agreed that it was significantly more challenging the usual "crux" second pitch.
Aaron had me look for a traverse to the top of the Memorial, but this proved to be impossible. We set up the rappel from the chains atop the climb and were quickly at the base of the third pitch. By the time I made it down to the ledge Aaron was already out of sight searching for his proposed traverse line to the Memorial Route. His first plan came up short and I suggested we just walk off the standard descent of Shades and make our way back up to the Memorial Route. Unphased by the doubt in my voice, Aaron persisted and did eventually find an improbable looking line down a small chute between the two climbs. After some exposed but straight forward down climbing we did make it to the base of the Memorial Route saving a significant amount of time.
Goal 3 - Rick Blak Memorial Route
The beta we had been given was that this first step could be soloed, but it proved too rich for my blood and I quickly placed a couple of screws to surmount what was essentially a short pitch of easy grade 3 ice.
We waited for about 15 minutes for the party ahead of us to rappel the route. The leader came down first and introduced himself as Willis. The second in the party, named Giles, eventually appeared over the lip of the climb making a very tentative descent down the climb. Both Aaron and I noticed the trepidation in his rappel technique. After some discussion with the two we learned that they had climbed Curtain Call the day before. Curtain Call is a Grade 6 ice line in the area that has a fearsome reputation and is seen as one of the true testpieces in the range. This was impressive in and of itself.
They quickly gathered their gear and started a 20 metre traverse to the right to the base of a mixed line I had noticed earlier in the day on the approach.
I was back on lead for the second pitch of the Memorial Route. The ice started out thin but I was able to get some reasonable protection in by varying the angle of the screws. There had been some traffic on the route which made the climbing a little easier in terms of tool placements. The ice was just off vertical and thin but I seemed to be able to secure relatively good tool placements. Some more steep ice was surmounted before the crux of the route. This proved to be about 5 metres of a 60 cm wide ribbon of vertical ice. An intermediate rappel station is situated halfway up the second pitch and one is able to clip it prior to commiting to the crux. I certainly was not complaining about that option and happily clipped the chains on my way by. The climbing on this pitch is best described as cerebral and thought-provoking but it was never desperate.
The Reality Check...
Hats off to you Willis and Giles. Hubris has never been an issue for me, but with your Curtain Call story and the probable new mixed line, thanks for ensuring that it never will be.
In the end completing the Beauty Creek Hat Trick proved to be one of my most memorable days of ice climbing. It was three challenging but absolutely amazing routes on generally good ice. We were both completely wasted by the time we got home, but an excited greeting from my wife and kids perked me up enough to keep me going long enough to see them to bed. A fitting end to a great day.