Great route. Many classic pitches stacked on top of one another. Good snow conditions made turning the pencil easy...
On & off early, kinda warm.
Climbed with Seth in six pitches. Left the car around dawn, found another party head of us, one behind us. So much for climbing during the middle of the week. Lost about an hour waiting for the team ahead but it was nice to soak in the impressive views. All the climbing was fun but the final two pitches really made the day. Back at the car well before dark.
Atmosphere, ambiance, intensity, reputation...
A true classic.
We'd been working on getting this climbed for 3 years, but due to circumstances beyond our control, hadn't. Finally, we got it climbed, and what an awesome climb it was. Don't take this one lightly.
The Day at the Circus, a Recreational Therapy Excursion
by Brutus of Wyde
Old Climbers Home,
As the Boeing 737 stretch house slammed to a stop in the Munchkinland of Calgary, (inadvertently crushing a Customs agent) Nurse Dorothy and Toto blinked at a world of endless color and strange people.
It was late winter, 1998, and Nurse Dorothy was taking Toto for a walk. Toto was in search of a brain, a heart, and courage. Not to mention improved ice technique and good 6.2% Canadian brewski. Dorothy just wanted to tick some great routes and get back to Kansas in one piece.
The helpful Calgarians pointed the pair in the direction of Polar Circus with the useful advice "Follow the yellow-pit road, eh?"
[Polar Circus is a popular and classic ice climb located in the Canadian Rockies off the Icefields Parkway. Climbers from throughout the world come to Canada to test their skills (and empty their bladders, sometimes unintentionally) on this incredible, 700 meter tiered frozen waterfall. Originally rated Grade VI, the first ascent of this route required eight days, fixed ropes, and substantial aid on the steepest sections.
In what was to become a typical situation on this beautiful wall, the climb was crowded even during the first ascent, with two parties competing for the prize. The second ascent party, narrowly missing being the first to bag this great line, eliminated all but five meters of aid from the route.
With the evolution of modern tools and techniques, "Circus" has since been downgraded to Grade V, W5, and is typically climbed by competent teams in a long day from the Icefields
So it was that, with a party of British climbers bivied above, and a party of Slovenian climbers in hot pursuit, Dorothy and Toto started up the approach to Polar Circus in the predawn of March 9, 1998.
Scrambling and teetering up the ice-crusted approach slopes to where they had cached one of their packs (The Tienneman Squarecrow) and one of their ropes the day before, Dorothy glanced down nervously at the Slovenian Roller Derby headlamps gaining rapidly on their heels.
"Be careful Toto, but hurry..." By the time Dorothy clipped in the leash and Toto started up the first pitch, dawn was breaking and the steely eyes of the Slovenians were greedily scanning the ice below Toto's heels.
As Toto barked "Off Belay," both Dorothy and the Slovenian team started up the pitch, the Slovenian male-witch leader climbing over Dorothy's top-rope. It became apparent that there were too many climbers in too small an area of the climb.
The Slovenians exchanged unintelligible comments while the leader warlock glanced at Dorothy and Toto. "Sie sint Toad, meinek Liebscheg, unt deiner kleinek Hund Buick auk!!!" Likely the Slovenian equivalent of "I'll get you, my pretty. And your little dog, too!"
As Dorothy arrived at the belay, a volley of curses was heard from the Slovenian second below. Seemed that one of his tools somehow broke a pick.
"Ve're done." said the Slovenian leader craftily. "Ve vill hust go up and look at the rest of the klimb." With those words, the pair of aerobic monsters hopped on their broomsticks and flew up the easy snow slope above, leaving Dorothy and Toto to follow close behind.
At the next ice wall, the heavy-footed Slovenian spikes were already gouging their way up when Toto and Dorothy arrived.The pair hunkered down and cooled their heels to the side of the gully, out of range of the flying monkey-sized blocks of ice raining down from above. When the fusilade finished, Dorothy quickly skipped up the pitch, with Toto scampering obediently behind.
After another slow-motion sprint up easy snow slopes, Toto bypassed shattered remains of the ice formation known as the Pencil without bothering to stop and place protection. His playful barking echoed off the towering walls of the canyon. Soon the pair were simul-climbing a waist-deep trench through the long, avalanche-prone traverse to the base of the upper head wall.
Far above, the British team could be heard whooping and hollering news that the top of the climb was theirs.
More waiting: The first two pitches of the wall at the head of Polar Circus could be linked as a 70-meter simul-climb, with relatively easy territory at the beginning and the end. But with another flock of flying ice-monkeys sent by the Slovenians gouging huge craters in the slope, Dorothy and Toto found a sheltered location and sat down for an hour-long picnic lunch, the better to watch the huge chunks of mountain falling from the circus above.
Momentum slowed. Toto's eyelids drooped. Sleep stalked the pair. Suddenly, snow sent by the Good Witch of the North began drifting down from the sky, accompanied by small spindrift avalanches, jerking them back to frightened alertness. It was time to move. Caching one of their two packs, "The Goose" at the base of the head wall, they started up.
Still risking bombardment, Toto led the long pitch as quickly as possible, sniffing out the trail of yellow snow and ice, nearly nipping at the heels of the Slovenians in spite of the delay.
Dorothy followed, and eyed the next pitch. Still shaking off the soporific effects of the lunch, she wisely declined the lead, arranged Toto's leash, and sent him ahead. Two pitches of easy ice landed them at the large platform below the final, crux section.
More waiting. The British Lion team rappelled past, commenting on the cavalcade of ice being jack-hammered out of the climb by the Slovenians. "Looks like they're cleaning off the crux section for you anyway, mates.
More gutteral curses plummeted from above, accompanied by chunks travelling at interplanetary velocities. A Slovenian had just broken another of their picks while negotiating the curtain of ice off the penultimate belay.
"PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT MAN BEHIND THE CURTAINCurtainurtain!!!"
More waiting: Ever so slowly, the last Slovenian pulled over the top. Time to move.
Within the few minutes it took the Slovs to rappel the top pitch, Toto had led up to the ice-curtained alcove, hooking his entire lead, placing only cursory protection. As the Slovenians clipped the anchors in the alcove, they exchanged a few words, mostly amiable, then the Slovenians vanished into the mist below.
Dorothy arrived for a quick changeover. Growling, Toto hooked around the curtain and up through the steepest section, carefully protecting the 15-meter, shattered vertical crux out of respect for his dwindling energy. Wicked Slovenians dispatched, they now had the climb all to themselves. As the ice eased off, Toto's tail wagged furiously. He could smell the top, and was eager to mark the topmost anchors as his own.
Toto scampered up the finish and gazed into the vast upper bowl and distant craggy towers of Mt. Cirrus playing hide-and-seek in the clouds. The climb was below. The yipping of the little black dog echoed off the vast walls. Nurse Dorothy left "Squarecrow" at the last belay, and quickly joined Toto.
With the day drawing to a close, the two spent a scant few minutes at the top before beginning the rappels. Dereka, the Good Witch of the North, floated up in a bubble, and congratulated them.
"But how do we get down?" asked Dorothy.
"Why, you've always had the ability to go home" the Good Witch replied. "Just close your eyes, tap the snow off your Switchblades three times, thread the ropes through the Ablakovs, and begin the rappels, saying "There's no place like Rampart, there's no place like Rampart..."
"Toto too?" Asked Dorothy
"Toto too!" she nodded.
As the pair sWitched on headlamps and descended into the darkening gully, heading toward Rampart Creek Hostel, the steaming sauna, soft pillows and down comforters, the Good Witch smiled beatifically, waved her wand, and vanished into the spindrift.
What an amazing climb! Definitely deserves its reputation as one of Canada's premier ice climbs. According to guides, it has never been in easier shape than this year - grade 4/4+. We had warm temperatures which was concerning, and we considered bailing had the sun been out due to the avalanche danger. Thankfully we had cloud cover and it remained cold up high (snowed on us) which made it perfect! Ice was in plastic but dry shape.
We, too, had a spooky experience and a loud bang as we were rappelling in the early afternoon. Sounded like a huge cornice collapse and we were running for the anchor (between tiers). Nothing came or was heard, and the bang repeated itself a few times until we realized that Parks Canada were bombing slopes a few kilometers up the road. The highway was closed for a couple of hours and we could see the warden truck and line of cars on the highway - phew!
A classic with Adam. Thanks to Kevin Craig for his notes. We had planned it and just happened upon his trip report on the Vision the day before. As of March 1, pretty much same as Kevin reported, including the huge thundering noice on the first tier (I combined those two pitches by simul climbing on 60's) of the upper pitches. I actually yelled avalanche to my belayer as I tried to pound a screw in. Weird deal, same as Kevin, we heard it, I felt it on the ice, we saw nothing. My theory goes like this. As I was bringing up my partner to the top of the first tier of the upper pitches, I witnessed some small ice starting falling when the sun hit the Ribbon. The Ribbon is adequately steep that small chunks of ice fall unobstructed right on the top of the base of the first tier formation. I believe if you are below or climbing on the ice, the echo and vibrations from this effect, due to the huge walls on both sides, are quite magnified. Or at least that was the excuse I was looking for to proceed. All ice was good, snow trails fast. The free air rap over what's left of the pencil, should be a paid ride at Disney. Of cousre since I was with Adam, I got to enjoy it in the dark. He likes his beauty sleep and needs it. Cheers.