Tonka (aka “The McKay Route” or “The Gift”) is an eight pitch sport route that Joe McKay worked on for who knows how many years, just to the left of the popular route Gooseberry on the east face of Tunnel Mountain. For a long time, Joe had Tonka tied into Gooseberry for several pitches and just never got around to finishing the route. He finally finished Tonka in 2009. For the most part, you can see where he experimented with going left and right via removed bolts, but eventually took a line fairly straight to the top of the cliff. It is obvious that the third pitch became contrived in that several holds were chipped away which is not commonly accepted as good form in the Canadian Rockies, but needless to say, the east face of Tunnel is not much of an aesthetic climbing wall to begin with.
The first two pitches seemed way too soft for their given grade. Joe gave the third pitch a 5.10d grade with a question mark. I concur that this could easily be 5.11. This is the before mentioned contrived pitch and I will have to see more folks get on it and get it clean before I am willing to commit to a grade (even though I led it). The fourth and fifth pitches seemed in line for their respective grades. The sixth pitch was by far the 2nd most difficult (5.10c or d), but was far more entertaining and true to the wall than the third pitch. The seventh and eighth pitches were, once again, soft for the grade in my opinion, but the final pitch was truly an exposed pitch (and quite fun). I just thought the positive holds made it more of a 5.10a pitch.
The east face of Tunnel Mountain is one of the most easily attained rock faces in or around the Banff area. Tonka’s start is just to the left of the popular trad route, Gooseberry, which was established way back in 1967, ancient by Canadian Rockies standards. 40 years later, Chris Perry established Ballista, and Joe McKay, Tonka, both eight pitch 5.10 sport routes that top out. Now the wall is set up for more attention no doubt.
From any number of Tunnel Mountain Drive pullouts on the left, hike through the forest towards the east wall of Tunnel Mountain. There are trails all over the place, but get to the wall and head south. An alternative is to park on the right next to a lodge of some sort and make for the grassy clearing to the left across the road (south). This is actually a ground covered water reservoir. Cross this grassy clearing to the far side (west) where a manhole marks the start of a trail that leads to the base of the wall. Take a right fork that heads up to the wall and then circumvent the wall to the left looking for the marked Gooseberry route (“GB” and an arrow on the wall). Once you reach the wall, this might take 5 minutes of traversing left. Tonka starts at an obvious undercut (sort of a cave). Look just to the right of the cave for the first bolt.
Route Description750’+/-, 8 Pitches, 5.10d
1st Pitch- 30m- 5.9/ This is more of a 5.8 pitch in my opinion. Unremarkable and a bit loose, this pitch leads through a corner and about eight bolts to a fixed rap station (comfortable belay). Start at the right hand side of the cave.
2nd Pitch- 20m- 5.10a/ Off the ledge, Tonka trends right here a bit through five or six bolts via a small corner and bulge past another ledge to a not so comfortable belay just out of reach of the shade provided by a small tree up and left.
3rd Pitch- 25m- 5.10d/ This pitch starts out well enough, but becomes blank through several bolts and this is where someone chipped away making several edges/flakes. The current somewhat dirty and precarious climbing is hard to lead cleanly at the 5.10 level (my partner had to retreat and have me lead it despite being a decent 5.10 climber). It is probably a sandbagged pitch at the current grade (followed by a question mark on the topo). Move left up and past the tree ignoring the cut bolts out left, following the obvious bolt line straight up from the tree. Easy 5.10 climbing gets you to a ledge followed by a tricky bulge and then into the blank steep climbing. They have bolted this section very close which would allow anyone to aid this section who needed to. This belay is comfortably situated on a decent ledge.
4th Pitch- 30m- 5.10a/ Stay with the most direct bolt line out left (Gooseberry is directly to the right). The rock is real solid on this pitch as it provides a ton of short angled holds and steps. The route trends back right through an overhang to another comfortable belay ledge.
5th Pitch- 40m- 5.9/ Climb out left and up through a sporty small roof section by stemming through it to avoid the loose holds. Then follow much easier ground back right up to yet another comfortable belay ledge.
6th Pitch- 30m- 5.10d/ This is a fun slab pitch. It competes with the last pitch in terms of interesting climbing. Follow the bolts through a scoop on awkward chiseled rock. Move out of the scoop up to a slab and take on thin moves (crux) as the pitch curves abruptly out right. Towards the rap chains it eases. This will be more of a hanging belay to the left of a huge block. You could easily combine the 6th and 7th pitches in my opinion.
7th Pitch- 20m- 5.8/ This pitch is quite soft for the grade. It looks far more intimidating than it really is. Be careful of the block out right and move up and right on really solid limestone, finding huge positive holds along the way following a corner up. Pretty soon you surmount loose ground to yet another significant ledge out right below bolts that angle out left above the rap station. A Gooseberry station is directly right again.
8th Pitch- 30m- 5.10b/ Even though possessing the most exposed move via a traverse over a bulge out left, I thought this pitch was soft for the given grade as well. The holds, more like cracks, are all there in quite positive fashion. Make a steep committing and somewhat blind traverse out left past three bolts making the crux move up and left to the 4th bolt utilizing a solid hand jam. Then angle ever so slightly back right up real good, but sharp, limestone on 5.9 ground, kind of stemming and face climbing at the same time. Make a stem move left under the roof and continue up easier ground to the final rap station. You can un-rope here and walk off via the hikers trail on Tunnel Mountain or rap the route.