6 pitch 5.7 corner climb
Escargot Corner is one of, if not the favorite, trad route among the local climbing crowd in Banff National Park
. This is due no doubt to the rock quality being above average for the area. Its approach involves a few hours of hard earned elevation gain and thus keeps the ardent sport climbers at bay. Positioned on Mount Norquay’s
west face places this route into the same objective range as the more published trad routes on Mount Louis
and Mount Edith
. Escargot Corner is approximately 900’ involving 6 pitches of 5.6-7 climbing, not all sustained, but mostly vertical, very similar to the Joy route
on Mount Indefatigable
. It was first ascended by Murray Toft and Allan Derbyshire in 1980 and has since become a classic. You basically follow two large right facing corners, sometimes in the corners (4 pitches), sometimes out onto the face to a sub summit on Mount Norquay’s southeast ridge. This face contains considerable fossils (photo) which I suppose lends itself to the naming of this route.
If you don’t know where you are going, you can get lost on the approach. This is not some “pull off” the road objective and there are quite a few different approach options. Not that I recommend crossing the TransCanada on foot, but my partner had been there before and thus I did not question this authority (Cartman variety). Park at the official viewpoint over Vermillion Lakes just west of Banff (1.6km) (there is a pair of Bald Eagles that nest here annually). To do this will require that you are traveling eastbound on the TransCanada.
Cross the TransCanada as well as the high wildlife fence on the north side of the road. Proceed via animal trails north under the power lines staying left of the west ridge. Hopefully you will find a cairn or two and after an hour or so find yourself below a stiff scrambling section of course rock (photo). Many parties climb this section, but to scramble it, follow the large bush filled crack to the top. Be careful not to dislodge rocks on anyone below. Once to the top of this section, traverse left and then ascend right until you can descend to a boxed in gully of sorts that puts you right at the base of a clean looking face with two right facing corners. For those of you who have done the Joy route on Mount Indefatigable, this climb looks remarkably similar.
1st and 2nd Pitch-
100+/- meters- From the scree gully at the base of Escargot Corner, start climbing a left scrambling type section aiming for the bottom of the first right facing corner. If your belay partner remains in the scree, this will involve two pitches to reach the first bolted station. Alternatively you can use a tree en route as a station, following the traditional notes, making this two pitches. We simul-climbed for a bit and combined these two pitches into one pitch.
35+/- meters- From the bolted station, climb up an overhang in the corner where there was a piton in 2006. This is one of two places where the corner pushes you out a little. Climb up and over it on good holds to a small ledge, with bolt belay, on your left.
50+/- meters- One of the crux pitches. Follow up the corner to a semi hanging bolt belay on the right or a bolted belay on the left where it is easier to stand. Although this pitch is sustained, it can be well protected which cannot be said for every pitch on this route.
35+/- meters- An easy pitch up the corner below some larger overhangs and a bolt on the right. Traverse right past the bolt to a two bolt belay at a huge block. This pitch is not easily protected and I advise using a very long runner if one at all on that bolt your traverse over to get to the belay station.
Its purpose no doubt is to protect you on the traverse.
45+/- meters- Continue up onto the face via a broken crack. Move left at the end back into the corner until it peters out past a steep airy section near the top and traverse due left to your last bolt belay. I was tempted to follow the crack higher until I noticed the station to my left.
Scramble through ledges to the top and traverse right and down to find a large boulder that had a rap chain threaded through it in 2006. With two ropes, we were able to make one rap. There is supposedly another station if you only have one rope, but I did not personally see it. I caution that you pay attention to your ropes as this ridge can be extremely windy and you could easily snag a rope on the pull down. We had a few minor down climbs, but for the most part followed the ridge all the way back down to the TransCanada. There is a faint trail to follow most of the way.
When to Climb
I climbed Escargot Corner in early May and it was more than dry enough. Despite its west facing appearance, it seems to dry out quicker than many routes in the area.
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Full set of nuts and cams to 3”, maybe a large hex or two. Plenty of draws with several long runners. Helmet, Climbing Shoes, Belay and Rap Devices, etc. At least one 60 meter rope.