Climb of a historic route on one of the most photographed mountains in the Canadian Rockies. The Bow Valley Rock guidebook
cites the 1925 climb by legendary guide Lawrence Grassi and friends as probably the first technical rock climb in the Bow Valley. The grade is given as 5.3 and the route is said to be cursed by bad rock throughout although we found the rock on the climbing pitches to be reasonably solid.
The Rocky Mountains South
(out of print) calls the climb the NE Buttress and says good climbing to F5 which is an old rating which covers YDS 5.3 to 5.5.
Both guidebooks have very cursory descriptions.
We approached by turning off the Trans Canada at the exit for Stewart Creek Golf Course/ Three Sisters Resort which is 5 km East of Canmore. This area is under development by the Three Sisters Resort and new housing developments and a new golf course are currently being developed. The best access would appear to be go straight at the 4 way and go between the two golf courses but parking may be an issue.
We went right at the 4 way and then left onto the dirt road to the gravel pit.
At the power line we went east along the powerline trail until almost to service road for golf course and then hit a bike trail leading off south side of power line(flagging on tree) After 20 min hit an old mining/logging road. turn left for 2-300 feet till hit flagging. You want to stay to the left of the Three Sisters creek. Head
right( South) up through trees following flagging. Main idea is to travel up and South on the left side of the drainage until can turn left and gain treed ridge that runs NW from base of N face of Little Sister.
At top of NW ridge follow flagged trail up N ridge past treeline to rocky part of ridge. Follow trail over and around various rock buttresses. final broken rocky parts can be taken straight on or to the left side.
Took 3 hours to the base of the rock face. About 3150 feet elevation gain to here.
Route DescriptionFive partial Pitches of up to 5.5 with some scrambling in between to access upper mountain which is scrambling along NE Summit ridge. About 1300 feet(400M)from base of rock to summit. Total gain from car to summit about 4450 feet(1360 m)
When reach base of buttress/rock face follow along the North face for 200 feet until at the base of a chimney/large crack system that you have been watching since breaking out of the trees. There is a better/easier line another 10 or 20 m further left/East(as per Tom Wolfe) that is 5.3/5.4.
The east line looked slabby and was wet so we went with the chimney which is probably not be the original Grassi route. Scramble up 20 ft to base of crack.
The first part is too tight with a pack and so I went right 5 feet and climbed the face on solid rock which was better but probably more like 5.5 or 5.6. Above the tight spot it lays back and you scramble up half a rope length to a two pin rap station.
Best to belay from here as most of a rope length is needed to get past the steep narrow chimney ahead. It has no comfortable belay spots in it.
The chimney starts out as an awkward very tight crack(no room for pack) protected with two pins but it opens up but is vertical. Next it overhangs but you can move out on the right wall to bypass.
None of this felt any easier than 5.4 or up to 5.6 but was all solid good rock. Pass a two pin rap station and then up easier parts as the chimney opens up to a sloping ledge with some rubble. Pin and horn for belay. Next climb crack/chimney in righthand corner which goes up 75 feet to a bowl with rubbly ledges and rap station in middle. This area was very loose.
Above/up 30 ft from rap station is a ledge which runs around to left above a small buttress (cairn) and out onto North face. Traverse left by following the 10 ft wide ledge for 200 feet to left side of north facing slabs in a large gully. The other route probably comes in here. Scramble up alongside large vertical left wall(75 ft high) past a Pin and up to either of two short steeper slabs (which felt like 5.4) to gain the very large ledge which is the top of the N buttress/shoulder. It is covered with big 10 ft boulders and is 100 by 200 yards and at base of the big wall on NW side of North face.
Travel across ledge to base of wall and follow down and around to the
right 100 yards to base of gully system that accesses the upper part of west face. The bottom of the gully is blocked by overhanging wet drip/waterfall 80 - 100 feet high. Climb left hand face starting off back where you turned into gully. Some friction face climbing on good rock that requires good foot work although it usually had good hand holds for balance. Again felt more like 5.4 to 5.6. Some fixed pins in place and at top there is a two pin rap/belay station to the far left where you may not expect it because there is still 50 - 60 feet of an upward 5.3 traverse to easy ground but the rap station set up for 25 m rap.
Travel up slabs and scree to another rap station that would require two ropes to reach to bottom of waterfall. Travel up the rotten gully and escape out to right to gain broken ridges and very rotten gullies which lead to the NE summit ridge. Scramble right along the ridge on very broken rock to big cairn which is separated from actual summit by tower which can be bypassed on right.
We downclimbed and rappeled the route. A 50 m rope will work.
There is a seven station rappel route off the south side of Little Sister to the col with Middle Sister but we did not use it.
Helmet, harness and good approach shoes or rock shoes.
A reduced set of nut and cams to 2.5 inches since there is a lot of fixed pins and rappel/belay stations on the route.
I carried a hammer and 2 knife blades, 2 angles and 2 lost arrows since we were going into the unknown. Limestone frequently only has thin cracks to work with and the freeze/thaw cycle will loosen existing pins.
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