Early Worm (a play on “early bird gets the worm”), located on the lower south face of Mount Bourgeau is a new route put in by Dave Thomson in 2008. By Canadian Rockies standard, Early Worm is quite sustained at the grade, even for a sport route. The limestone, unfortunately, is not as water worn as its brethren routes to the east of the waterfall (Bourgeau Right Hand, WI 4R). Rather this higher left wall is comprised of the typical sharp and textured limestone found on many routes throughout the Canadian Rockies. Where this is a plus for your feet, it can become a negative, by the sixth pitch, for your fingers. I suffered one straight out puncture wound and my fingers became quite numb toward the end. I am used to this kind of rock, but not at this steady feed of sustainability. Dave set up Early Worm in modern style such that it is meant to be rapped with one 70m rope.
Early Worm does kind of provide everything a sport route could offer. Several roof pulls, a ton of side pulls and balancing moves, a short finger rail, sort of an arête, an incredible setting to observe wildlife (we witnessed a herd of goats above) and plenty, if not a bit too many, bolts. However, due to the sharpness of the rock, I was not complaining about how tightly bolted it was. It also provides mostly semi hanging belays and its share of steep chossy rock in places. The first pitch dealt with a cruxy roof. The second pitch was the most sustained and really owned me mentally on lead. The third pitch involved easier climbing except for an even bigger roof to pull than the first pitch. The fourth pitch was definitely more laid back than the first two until the final couple of meters which involved a tough crux move on the route. We combined the final two pitches, the first of which dealt with a chossy arête of sorts, and the last pitch I thought was the true crux of the climb, just before and after a short finger rail traverse.
Drive to the end of Sunshine Road off of the TransCanada. This is the same exit used for the ski hill. Park in the ski hill parking lot and hike to the northwest through a bunch of the ski hills maintenance equipment. At the other end of the ski resort's maintenance area, next to the river, you can pick up a trail heading west through the trees. Follow this decent trail up the steep grassy hill below the big walls above. The Bourgeau slab routes are to the right of the waterfall and where this trail eventually leads. Early Worm makes a direct line above three trees (2009) on the larger wall to the left of the waterfall. Stay with the trail until you are about even with the left wall, then traverse over a drainage to just above those trees. The first bolt is about 6m above the ground.
Route Description650’+/-, 6 Pitches, 5.10d
1st Pitch- 38m- 5.10c/ The first bolt is up a bit (on easy ground) then the rest of the route is actually tightly bolted, no doubt due to the sharpness of the limestone (you don’t want to fall on this kind of rock). Crimpy face climbing gets you to a roof that is fun to pull, but the rock is a bit chossy. There were several challenging moves on this pitch I thought.
2nd Pitch- 35m- 5.10c/ This is by far the most sustained pitch of the route not giving you much rest for a 5.10. The steep and challenging balancing moves keep coming at you for the grade, but no move stands out as the crux when compared to the top of the 4th and 6th pitches.
3rd Pitch- 30m- 5.10d/ This pitch goes easier than the first two in terms of how sustained it is, but the roof does involve a significant pull and is definitely the crux of the pitch. A little looser and more difficult than the roof on the first pitch. Traverse out right from the belay and step down a move before making a bee line for the roof. Pitches 3-4 comprise the easiest section of this climb.
4th Pitch- 35m- 5.10d/ I led this pitch and as Dave suggested, found use for a shoulder length sling on the last bolt to help with a small traverse taken at the end. This was a much easier lead (5.10b early on) than the 2nd pitch I thought until the last several meters (5.10d). You end up on a very steep section, slightly bowed out and have to unlock a non-positive move or two to clip the next bolt. I would consider this section second only to the final crux on the sixth pitch in terms of difficulty, but it is short lived and the pitch is not as hard in general as several of the other pitches. Once you get through this crux section , it eases off quite a bit as you traverse out right to the station. The rappel rings are out left, but the bolt line follows the station out right.
5th-6th Pitches- 52m- 5.10d/ We combined these last two pitches with a 70m rope. The last pitch was the crux of the climb in my opinion. Maybe I was tired and my fingers hurt too much, but I thought the 5th pitch was as difficult as any of the others, even though Dave has it a bit softer on his topo. Move up and left over the arête. Watch out for loose holds here. Continue up via several hard moves to the left of the arête to a small ledge. The sixth pitch continues up to a fairly easy finger ledge that runs right a few meters. The ground right below and above the finger ledge was tough for the grade. Finish off to the top.
Rap the route with a 70m rope. Be careful, sometimes it is a full 35m rap. The last two raps are not the same as your stations. The second to last is to climbers left and the last one is to climbers right of the actual route.