However, Greg, my increasingly less dependable climbing partner, was once again unable to climb on the weekend, which left me partner challenged. A new medical resident had been in Hinton for part of the winter and had recently started bouldering with us on the Tuesday/Thursday bouldering sessions at my house. As well as being a strong boulderer, Liana is also a keen ice climber, rock climber, and dabbles in the dry-tooling game as well. We made plans for an ice/rock day on Sunday. The weather was shaping up pretty nicely with a cloudy high predicted to be 14 Celsius (57 Fahrenheit).
Liana arrived at 8:15 Sunday morning. Being young and kid free, Liana has yet to hear my lecture about arriving right on time (8:00) – those of you out there with spouses and kids will understand how we cherish every single minute of recreational time we get; being 15 minutes late means something when you’re 45 and only get to climb once a week. In any event, I resisted the urge to lecture, and we headed off for the first climb of the day – “Folding Curtain”, a two-pitch ice climb.
The approach to this climb starts 15 minutes from my house and is fairly mellow as far as ice climbs go (about a 20 minute hike). The interesting thing about Folding Curtain is that it is rated as grade 2 in the Joe Josephson Guidebook. I think this “easy” grade keeps lots of people from climbing it. The really interesting thing is that it’s not anywhere near grade 2 – it is solid grade 3, and depending on your line, will feel a lot like grade 4. I like to call it the steepest grade 2 in the world.
The first pitch climbs a series of small steep cliff bands. It rarely, if ever, forms up fat, and requires some delicate climbing with short tied off ice screws for pro. Today, with Liana, it looked more like a stream than an ice climb. There appeared to be about a one centimetre flow of water over a fast deteriorating and shrinking piece of ice. It all proved to be good fun however, and we soon arrived at the base of the second pitch, a little wet, but stoked.
The second pitch is 30 metres long and climbs a series of very steep pillars all the way to a tree belay. The ice on this pitch can be absolutely dreadful, with large dinner plating being very common. However, on this warm day, the ice was magic – one stick swings were norm. I placed four widely spaced ice screws and was soon on the top belaying Liana.
Two rappels later, we were walking back down the muddy road getting our minds prepared for rock climbing.
RockAnother 15 minute drive put us in the parking area for the Juno Wall. This limestone climbing area near Jasper sports a south west aspect and is one of the earliest places to climb at the beginning of the season. The approach to the Juno Wall takes about 40 minutes and primarily ascends a ridgeline until you can make an exposed traverse off the ridge and into the bottom of the wall.
The interesting thing about the Juno Wall is that the approach along the ridge is often plagued by high winds. As you’re walking up, you keep saying to yourself “Why am I doing this, the wind will be brutal?” But there is some trick of geometry and geology, which shelters the Juno Wall from the wind – so no matter how bad the wind is on the approach, it’s not even a factor when you get to the wall.
Today, I tried to prepare Liana for the wind on the approach, as I know it can be brutal, and I knew she would be wondering what the hell we were doing going climbing in a hurricane. While the walk up was windy, it wasn’t as bad as I’ve felt it, and like always, once at the wall the wind died right off.
While roping up we encountered another hazard of early season climbing in the Rockies – ticks. Liana had one on her pants, and a little while later, one summitted the top of my head. Luckily I had a toque on (that’s a wool hat for my American friends) and with a quick flick, Liana sent it back to the earth.
We started the rock climbing portion of our day by warming up on “Quarry Hart” – a nice 30 metre 5.9 that Liana led confidently. After that, Liana tackled “Turn Me Loose” – a little stiffer 5.10a; the crux involving a slightly overhanging corner feature with a cool finger crack (a rarity in limestone).
This was the first outdoor rock climbing of the year for me, so I was really enjoying touching rock again and feeling graceful – I never really feel very graceful while ice climbing; actually, my main feeling is stupidity, as in “Why in the hell am I doing this – I’m cold and scared?”
We managed to do three more climbs that afternoon – Jagged Little Thrill (10b), Prism (10b) and Helix (10d). I got my fat rear-end up them with no falls and no really difficulty, so I was feeling quite pleased with myself at the end of the day. Two pitches of ice and 5 pitches of rock was just what I needed to move my brain from a winter sports mode to a spring sports mode. Oh yea, we even had a bighorn ewe come and visit us while we were climbing and bed down about 50 metres away - another bonus of climbing in the Canadian Rockies.
As I write up this trip report, 10 days later, it’s been snowing here non-stop for the last four days and the temperatures have dropped to 15 below zero at night. Ahhhh… spring time in the Rockies; actually, aughhhh….. spring time in the Rockies!!!!