Canmore Wall is an imposing feature in the Canmore skyline, sandwiched between the summits of Lawrence Grassi and Ha Ling Peaks to the west and the Ships Prow/Three Sisters to the east. It is a seldom climbed feature no doubt due to the hump of an approach (several thousand feet). Canmore Wall has four published routes (2012) on its broad face, three put in during the 90’s and Kurihara, established in 2011 as a tribute to Jiro Kurihara, a local Canmore resident climber who died in an avalanche in May of that year. Hummel, Duerr and Zilbauer freed the line.
Kurihara is a fully bolted sport route that includes eight full (long) pitches of climbing along with one access 5th class pitch and one 3rd class traverse pitch. We thought the grades were on the stiff side in comparison to other routes in the area, more particularly in comparison to Sisyphus Summits, a 5.10d sport route on Ha Ling’s neighboring north face. Part of this opinion is no doubt attributed to the less than stellar rock quality of Kurihara which is partially attributed to lack of ascents in comparison to the much older and well-traveled Sisyphus. Well-traveled limestone routes in the Canadian Rockies are much cleaner and safer. The bolts are spaced further apart as well, when comparing these similar sport lines.
The fixed belay/rap stations on Kurihara were poorly designed by modern day climbing standards. The bolts in general are placed too far apart and tethered together by old strands of rope. Nothing is equalized for the rappel. Two of the harder pitches have ill placed bolts allowing for ankle busting opportunities via ledges at their crux. Outside of that, we were thankful that the first ascent team put so much effort in developing this new route on such a remote (albeit easily viewed) wall.
The first third of the route is chossy and rather mundane. The remainder of the route features long sustained pitches in order of difficulty, 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c and 5.10d followed by another good pitch of 5.10a before a chossy finishing pitch (5.9).
The approach beta is a bit hard to follow in the FAer’s notes. To simplify it a bit, one approach is to park at the extreme west end of the Peaks of Grassi subdivision in Canmore. Follow the well-established trail up and back east to a significant junction. Take a hard right and head up the hill on a good trail. It seems to peter out in an avalanche zone. Angle up and right to cross the debris to locate the trail on the other side. Turn left fairly immediate and follow a flagged lesser trail up to another well maintained bike trail. Turn left and fairly immediate turn right up the large drainage. There is no trail from this point forward. Follow this large drainage up the slope and take the right fork below Canmore Wall (some snow in July). Follow this fork on its right side to the wall itself. The route starts on the right of a large two pitch pillar in a short gully. It took us (two fit climbers) two hours getting a bit lost our first time up. It is a hump, I advise light ropes and gear. Your entire day could be in excess of 3500’.
Route Description1500’+/-, 10 Pitches, 5.10d
1st Pitch- 25m- 5.6/ The route starts in a short gully on the right side of a two pitch high pinnacle that is separated from the main wall buy a large gully on its left side. I recommend soloing this first pitch. It consists of maybe one move at the grade protected by one bolt. When you get to a cave below your feet, look to your right for the fixed station. This is the most dangerous belay in terms of rock fall, partially due to the next pitch having such choss rock and the lack of cover and angle for the belayer.
2nd Pitch- 60m- 5.9/ This second pitch has the worst rock on the entire route which is saying a lot. Move softly to avoid killing your belayer. Follow the bolts up a nasty corner, trending right to the top of the pinnacle and fixed belay just below summit of same.
3rd Pitch- 40m/ Not really a pitch, but the FAer’s are calling it one and even placed several bolts along the way to use if you want. It is an easy scramble (3rd class) right and over to the base of an arête on the main wall.
4th Pitch- 55m- 5.7/ The FA beta is a bit off on this one. He mentions “stay on the left past the second bolt”. If you really do that, you end up with no bolts wandering up a crack onto loose rock. Better wording would simply state to stay on the arête direct following bolts straight up. The belay is in the shade to the right of a large corner above. One or two moves at the grade.
5th Pitch- 55m- 5.10a/ The rock vastly starts to improve now that you have accessed the main wall, but it is still quite virgin chossy limestone, no nicer way to put it. This is another so-so belay in terms of safety from falling rock caused by the leader. Follow the bolts up nice rock that deteriorates a bit as it trends left. A pretty solid pitch with fun edges.
6th Pitch- 30m- 5.10b/ This is probably the cleanest, and thus quite possibly the best pitch of the day. However it is mostly slab climbing with thin edges, not a lot of interesting features. The bolting is such that you do face an ankle buster after the 2nd or 3rd bolt. Comfortable belay ledge awaits.
7th Pitch- 45m- 5.10c/ If you notice, this route goes 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c and 5.10d through this main section of the wall and my partner and I, who switched leads on these four pitches, would both say these 5.10 pitches were plenty stout for the grade, particularly due to the rock quality. I pulled on more than one under cling that pulled out. This pitch starts off hard from the deck, providing yet again another ankle busting opportunity whilst reaching for the second clip. 5.10c slab moves get you through the beginning. After several clips you make an exposed traverse right and up to a fixed belay below a roof.
8th Pitch- 45m- 5.10d/ I led this crux pitch but have to say that the pitch below was just as difficult from a technical perspective. Traverse straight right to two bolts that are placed close together. The only rock I trusted here was one large jug. All the small holds seemed pliable. Proceed on the hairy traverse for one more bolt (extend this one), then head up to a slab (extend again). Here we cleaned a huge arch of hanging rock. Traverse back left along a low-angled slab into the dirty corner. Climb the corner with bolts out right as you trend left into another chossy corner. Eventually belay out right of this corner on a comfortable ledge.
9th Pitch- 35m- 5.10a/ Similar to the hard slab moves at the beginning of pitch 7 start out pitch 9. After the first couple of meters, the climbing eases up as it trends left up and to the base of a chimney.
10th Pitch- 45m- 5.9/ Climb the chimney to the top of the wall. The second section is unprotected and chossy as hell. Move softly to avoid rock fall on your belayer who is out of sight. The belay is a single bolt back from the top of the wall on a flat slab.
DescentWalk down climber’s left about 5 meters to a fixed rappel. Rap the route skipping the top of the 6th pitch. The ropes drug down quite a bit of rock with these raps. Beware to duck before each final rope tug. Double 60m ropes a necessity.
External Links100’s of Canmore and Banff National Park multi-pitch rock climbs, ice climbs, alpine climbs and scrambles, just scroll down to routes
Banff National Park, Parks Canada
Best Coffee/Breakfast/Lunch in Canmore: Castillos As of 2012, my favorite breakfast/lunch spot. Patio, espresso is strong, food is fresh. Someone there instituted service with a smile, typically unheard of in Canmore anymore.
Best Climbers Hangout: Summit Café, most likely place to find me in season or my brethren shooting the bull about beta. Best “large” breakfast in town, good coffee as well, serve Mennonite meats from Valbella, which is the best place to buy free range products anywhere in the world, right here in Canmore.