Hitting the Road
Lynx Along the Side of the Road
The weekend before Aaron and I had been able to get out and do some laps in Maligne 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
Stanley Falls Senior From the Approach
Aaron and I have often discussed the virtues that make a strong ice climber. It has been generally agreed that the most important attribute is a selective memory. One should be able to recall with some degree of clarity all of the plastic ice climbed in a spectacular setting, in unseasonably warm weather with bomber pro and just enough stemming to ward off the pump. That same indvidual should fail to recall, with some consistency, the frozen hands (complete with Screaming-Pukies), nasty approaches and the runout and desperate stretches of manky ice on less than ideal pro. Needless to say the approach into Stanley and Shades of Beauty is far from epic, but I could only laugh at myself as I was repeatedly amazed at how long it took us to work our way up to the climbs.
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 Upper Section of Stanley Falls Senior
I had climbed this route twice before and once with Aaron. Needless to say it is a worthy objective in its own right. It typically forms up with two obvious steep sections of ice with a nice rest stance in between. Aaron had been on the sharp end of the rope on the last pitch in Maligne Canyon the week before so I was lucky enough to get the lead on this amazing line.
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
Shades of Beauty (Left) and Rick Blak Memorial Route (Right)
The descent from Stanley was significantly more pleasant than the ascent. In what seemed like very little time we were back on the main trail working our way along the much appreciated donkey trail up to Shades of Beauty. From discussions during our hike down from Stanley, Aaron and I had agreed to climb Shades in its entirety along with the Rick Blak Memorial Route and skip out on Sunwapta Falls. For obvious reasons trail blazing through isothermic snow seemed tolerable once only on this trip. Aaron was also convinced a traverse from Shades to the base of the Memorial Route was possible without descending the entire route. I had my unfounded doubts, but regardless we now had a plan.
Topping Out Pitch Two of 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.
Aaron Starting Up the Steep Pitch Three of Shades of Beauty
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 Nearing the Top of the Steep Ice on Pitch Three of Shades of Beauty
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 base of the Rick Blak Memorial Route
Upon reaching the base of the route we were a little shocked to see the crew following us up the approach was actually on the Memorial Route. Go figure... The lead from the party ahead of us had just topped out and the second was working his way up the second pitch , in nice style (remember this point), as I started up the easy approach ice on pitch one.
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.
The second pitch of the Rick Blak Memorial Route
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.
Working the Bottom of the Second Pitch of the Rick Blak Memorial Route
Both Aaron and I would like to have climbed Curtain Call but we will likely have to wait for the climb to form up closer to something resembling grade 5 (fat chance) before we attempt it. As if that was not enough to keep my head from swelling, we learned that it was Giles' third day ice climbing and he only fell once. This explained the sketchy rappel technique, but did little to explain the ease with which we watched him dispel of the grade 5 Memorial Route.
Working the Upper Section of the of the Second Pitch of the Rick Blak Memorial Route
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.
Looking Down From the Top of the Climb on Rappel
You had to concentrate on maintaining balance and working towards thicker sections of ice, but there were ample opportunities to stem off of the rock and/or ice to ward off any sort of pump. The climbing through the steeper sections and the crux presented cool moves with wild exposure. As my cry of "This is Wild!" 2/3 of the way up can attest, this was one of nicest lines of ice I have been lucky enough to climb.
Looking Up At the Crux Section of the Second Pitch From the Rappel
After about 30 metres the ice kicked back to a final 10 metres of grade 3 ice before topping out at the chains. I set up a station and could hardly wait for Aaron to get to the first rest so I could start blabbering about how cool the climb was. We once again quickly set up our rappel and dropped down a full 60 metres to the base of the first pitch ending an amazing run of climbing and completing the Beauty Creek Hat Trick.
The Reality Check...
The Rick Blak Memorial and Likely a New Mixed Line to the Left - Note Willis working onto the Dagger
Perhaps it was some sort of twisted message telling us not to think too much of our little Hat Trick enchainment. Whatever it was, when I finally touched down from the rappel I was presented with a very cool scene. Willis, the young gun from Canmore, who had hauled Giles up Curtain Call the day before, was hard at work on what I can only assume is a new mixed line about 20-30 metres right of the Memorial Route. At one point earlier we could hear him pounding pitons and we had seen some rock gear when they were packing up.
Willis working onto the Dagger of Ice on a Probable New Mixed Line
It was incredibly cool to watch him work his way up that route. We took 5-10 minutes to watch him work onto the dagger of ice before heading down.
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.
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