Curtain Call on the 2009 Ice Season

Curtain Call on the 2009 Ice Season

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 52.28790°N / 117.31304°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Apr 26, 2009
Activities Activities: Ice Climbing
Seasons Season: Spring

The Plan

Looking up at the BeastCurtain Call
Curtain CallCurtain Call
"So what's the plan for tomorrow?"

This was the question Aaron was asking around 10 pm on Saturday night April 25, 2009. We had already been on the rock for several weeks and ice climbing had not been on my mind for about the same amount of time. All that said, after a week of very winter-like weather, typical spring in the Canadian Rockies, I answered "I think we should go check out Curtain Call."

"Really?" was the reply.

Curtain Call is a classic grade 6 ice climb that dominates the view at the base of Tangle Ridge along the Icefield Parkway an hour south of Jasper. It is another one of those climbs I would love to be able to say I "have" climbed. The reality is that my stomach has turned in knots every time I have driven under this gnarly beast for the past 6-7 years. I have seen this ice climb form up in
varying conditions. Most years it has been too "bad" for this father of two, but this year formed up fat towards the end of the season. Luckily Aaron was down with shoulder surgery so there was no real expectation that I would head that way this season.

Well Aaron has been back climbing much faster than the physiotherapist in me would like or expect. This coupled with the unseasonably cold weather we have had this last week and the somewhat regular jabs from Aaron that we should go look at Curtain Call lead to the suggestion we at least go take a look...

How many great adventures start with that same objective?

Getting Going

I picked Aaron up at 7 am on the morning of April 26, 2009. It was obvious that neither of us was convinced we would be ice climbing that day as we both had our rock and mixed climbing gear with us as well as the bolting kit in case the weather really crapped out. We had oursleves adequately deluded that Curtain Call was a long shot as we set out down highway 93 south of Jasper to the Tangle Ridge/Beauty Creek area.

No Questions Asked

Route on Curtain CallOur route up Curtain Call.
We arrived at the parking area below the climb around 9 am. After scoping the climb with binoculars from several vantage points there really was no discussion about whether or not we would bother hiking up. We quickly loaded up and were making our way accross the open field that leads to the base of the approach slopes.

The approach to Curtain Call is reasonable by Rockies standards. It follows either a slide path to the right and traverses back accross to the base or works straight up through the trees and open slopes right beneath the climb.

After some token post holing at various points along the way, we finally arrived at the base of the climb 45 minutes after leaving the vehicle. "That's enough to get your bowels moving!" Aaron proudly proclaimed as we eyed the ice up from below. The climb had obviously seen some sun over the last several weeks, but we were both hopeful the cooler weather recently would have consolidated things at least a bit.

We quickly organized our gear and Aaron decided to take the first lead adding that I had better hurry up before he lost his nerve.

Pitch 1 - Steep, Sustained and Manky

Getting into the BusinessAaron Getting Into the Business on Pitch One.
In Your FaceAaron Starting Up Pitch One.
Aaron started pitch one on the left side of the climb on what looked to be the "better" ice. The initial 15 metres proved to be steep with sketchy ice. Solid feet kept this early stage reasonable. Aaron then tackled some overhanging and sun-rotted ice that lead him to a cave 1/3 of the way up the first pitch.

Having to deal with less than stellar ice conditions Aaron knocked off a large piece of ice that had eyes for only me. Seeing the whole thing unfold I dove madly up and to the left narrowly avoiding the icy meteor. Unfortunately I was on a very steep slope and quickly found myself sliding downward. I was able to arrest the fall just before reafing Aaron off the climb.

While in the cave Aaron recovered before attacking the next 20 metres of dead vertical ice. This next section proved, in my opinion, to be the crux of the climb for us. The ice was not confidence-inspiring, but it was solid enough to warrant continuing on.

As Aaron methodically worked his way through this section taking 2 much deserved and reasonable rests along the way, I started with the usual head games. It went something like this. "Sure he looks like he is struggling. He just had shoulder surgery in September, I mean really. It just has to be easier for me. I mean yeah its steep, but it can't be that steep...can it?"

I lost sight of Aaron as he rounded the crest running it out to the belay in a cave just to the left of the final pillar of ice. It was a complete rope stretcher and I found myself staring straight up at the base of the climb. At this point all the head games were promptly quelled and the realization of what was to come hit me like a tonne of ice.

I followed the first pitch thankful for the bottom 2/3 to be on toprope. Around the upper 1/3 the ice improved significantly and the kicked back just enough to take some of the weight off your arms. Winded and pumped I finally made it up to the belay. It was fine lead anyway you looked at it, and I believe Aaron's best to date.

Pitch 2 - Steep, Technical and Talk About Exposure

Traversing Onto the FaceTraversing Right Onto the Face.
Negotiating Steep IceWorking the Left Side of the Final Pillar.
The second pitch was difficult to assess based on our belay position. It seemed most obvious to climb up on the left side of the final pillar before finding a place to traverse out right onto the face. The challenge was figuring out where the best place to traverse would be.

I started up the ice straight above us and found it much steeper and more technical than I expected. Thankfully the feet were solid throughout which helped ward off any sign of a pump. After about 15 metres and facing an overhanging roof, I started making my way right out onto the face. The thing about traversing with ice tools is that you can't swing too high or you have no leverage to remove your tool. Needless to say this is exactly what I did and I subsequently found myself in a five minute battle with my left tool pushing and pulling every which way in an vain effort to free the tool. In the end I was forced to make one move up to gain the necessary leverage to free the cagey Viper from the ice. Now thoroughly pumped I moved back to the left to recover before committing to the face.

It was with some trepidation that I leaned out and had a look at the face. To my utter delight I was presented with a small cave in the middle of the face some 2-3 metres along a small but solid ice ledge. As a very famous man once said "I love it when a plan comes together." (Hannibal - The A-Team) The exposure on the traverse was spectacular looking down between your legs some 80 metres to the slope below.

I rested in the cave a short while before attacking the steep ice to its right. Given that I had just climbed sideways 5 metres I was hesitant to place any gear too low as I was cognisant of the impending rope drag. I was able to make my way up the steep ice for a reasonable distance before placing another screw. From this point I could see that the ice kicked back in another 10 metres and I quickly made my way up on near perfect ice to this next session.

The next 30 metres proved to be the highlight of the climb. The ice was just off vertical and reasonably solid the entire way. Somewhere near half way up the second pitch, the pillar had a large horizontal fracture that ran the entire width of the climb. Although healed and solid enough, it was still quite obvious. The moves up and over this feature were very cool especially being that you could see almost clear through the pillar to the rock in behind.

I continued my way up systematically balancing the pump in my calves with the pump in my arms. The ice remained solid the entire way and the climbing proved to be quite enjoyable except for the weighty rope that despite my effort to avoid was causing some added challenge. As I neared the top I could see the landscape begin to roll back and as I pulled over the top and felt the sun on my face I let out my token Whoooo!

I quickly set the belay and brought Aaron up.

The Descent

Curtain CallCurtain Call from the Descent.
The Descent From Curtain CallThe Descent Down the Avalanche Path
Once atop the climb, we briefly discussed the descent options. The ice up top had taken two great screws for the belay. As well, there was a plethora of V-Threads in place that Aaron tested and easily pulled out by hand. Having witnessed that we required no further discussion and we quickly headed for the avalanche slope up and to the climber's right. It was an easy, not to mention safer, descent down snow and rock.

Half way down I traversed back into the base of the climb to pick up the pack which Ed the Raven had kindly left alone. Once all the gear was gathered I headed back down the slope snapping multiple pics along the way.

The Road Home

It was hard to believe we had ticked off this impressive climb, especially considering how late in the season we were, and how "off the cuff" the entire plan had been. I suppose that's just how it goes sometimes.

With that the Curtain Falls, pun intended, on the 2009 Ice season...or has it?


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-10 of 10

AJones - Apr 27, 2009 10:57 am - Voted 10/10

I'm pooped

My whole body is sore right now; had a fairly intimate relationship with an ice pack most of last night. It was worth it though!!!

HS - Apr 27, 2009 12:09 pm - Hasn't voted


Nice work, you guys! Sounds like you nailed it in good style. Definitely a great season-ender! So you say you've been rock climbing already....?


AJones - Apr 27, 2009 12:49 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Stoked!

Hi Heidi; I've been to the Juno wall five times this year. It's the only place that has been warm enough to climb. Our first time there, we did a long ice climb in the morning and then climbed at the Juno Wall (in the sun) in the afternoon.


jrjonesy - Apr 27, 2009 12:20 pm - Voted 10/10

Great job!

Way to go guys! Looks like it was a beautiful and intimidating climb.


klwagar - Apr 27, 2009 3:57 pm - Voted 10/10


I climbed the gullies at Easter and thought it was pretty done for the year. (the running water sound behind the ice for instance!) Wow, great story and great photos.


GCutforth - Apr 27, 2009 10:39 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: wow

Two weeks ago I was saying the same thing. The recent weather kind of forced us to revisit the ice season. To be honest the weather on the climb felt very much like ice climbing season. Frozen hands and cold belays.


pvalchev - Apr 30, 2009 4:03 pm - Voted 10/10

nice tr!

my day on it 3 weeks ago was very similar, reading this really made my memories come alive... thanks for sharing!
(the first pitch was for sure harder for us too, i thought, the 2nd was spooky w/ the traverse to the little cave, and i remember the horizontal crack too!)


GCutforth - May 1, 2009 10:21 am - Hasn't voted

Re: nice tr!

Thanks for the note. Your post and pics on Gravsports planted the seed for me. With the cooler weather we had here there was really no excuse not to go check it out. I still can't believe Hedd-wyn finished the first pitch on a broken pic. Great job!


chris_goulet - May 4, 2009 2:31 pm - Voted 10/10

Great TR

Your TR made it to SP home page, right on top! I overheard Aaron mentioning SP at the Arts Festival in Hinton on Saturday April 25. When I introduced myself, he said 'You're the Mount Robson guy, right?' I was amazed when he told me he was going climbing tomorrow with you. So late? In the art show in Grande Cache on Sunday, my mind wandered enviously to what you'd be up to that day. Well I couldn't have a better answer than this TR. Love the lines like 'a large piece of ice that had eyes for only me', and 'avoiding the icy meteor'. Great job on this grade IV, WI6 and thanks for the TR. Maybe see you on ice next season.


GCutforth - May 5, 2009 9:42 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Great TR

Hey Chris. Thanks for the note. Aaron had told me he had bumped into you the evening before. What a small world.

I drove by Curtain Call on Sunday and it still looked like it was good to go.

Take it easy.

Viewing: 1-10 of 10



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.