Pony Express is one of my least favorite moderate routes on Yamnuska. The climbing was not sustained or unique in any fashion really. Once I reached the crux pitch and thought I was going to be rewarded for climbing some rather bland pitches below, the rock quality turned a bit ugly. Andy Genereux felt the need to put this route in (among a cobweb of other routes) in 2003. He added a left hand variation finish which I apparently missed or would have given it a go at a higher grade (5.10b). I recommend you go for it if you find the need to do this route as the 5.9 original finish was nothing to write home about.
Besides lacking creativly and loading up the wall with soft, over bolted and at times meaningless routes, Andy is also a bit lazy. He had his dog ferry up his drill and bolts for this route, thus the name “Pony Express”.
There is a new (2008) flagged trail below Yamnuska that takes off at the base of the scree descent. This is the best approach for the western routes. At the Y in the approach trail, take the left Y versus the normal right option. Continue until at the base of the first patch of loose scree. Look for the flagged faint trail down and to the left. Continue following the flagged trail as it ascends the western treed rib below Yamnuska. This trail will put you right at the base of the obvious corner system that makes up Missionary’s Crack among other routes. Locate a small left facing corner approximately half a rope length to the west (left) of the the Pumpkin’s first pitch (also known as Unnamed’s ramp). You should be able to see at least one bolt leading up to a scree ledge.
700’+/-, 6 Pitches, 5.10a
1st Pitch- 45m- 5.8/
An easy pitch for the grade in my opinion. The whole route is bolted too much including this pitch. You really don’t need those 2-3.5”’s that Andy references. With one 2”, a few nuts and the existing bolts, the pitch seems to protect fairly decent. Climb the short and easy corner past two bolts to its terminus above to a loose ledge. Continue over easy ground to a ledge. Take on the sticky sharp slab, past a bolt, then left into a shallow groove. Angle right past two additional bolts to the fixed belay that is shared with Unnamed.
2nd Pitch- 35m- 5.4/
Not really a pitch, nor even 5.4 grade in my opinion. Basically walk the ledge to your left through the block, unless you are fat, then climb over it,
past one belay station and down slightly to the next one west.
3rd Pitch- 30m- 5.8/
About the same difficulty as the first pitch. No specific challenge for the grade to mention. Climb left and up from the belay, place an offset nut or micro cam in the under cling, then move out right of the yellowish rock past a bolt. Follow several shallow corners above and pass a bulge on the left. Pass two more bolts (did I say too many bolts already?) to gain a comfortable belay ledge.
4th Pitch- 30m- 5.9/
Did not feel like 5.9 to me….definitely on the easy side of the grade. Climb the sticky limestone slab above. I did not place any gear on this pitch myself. Three bolts protect the steeper section. I advise combining pitches 3 and 4.
5th Pitch- 35m- 5.10a/
Andy’s description is hard to follow here. But basically move left from the belay and start following the line of bolts coming in from below or climb the easy slab above without protection to the base of the pillar above and the shared belay station for several of the easier routes on the west end. Clip a double length runner to the station if you wish and move back left to the base of the pillar and follow the bolt line. There is some suspect yellowish rock between two of the bolts, I chose to bypass this rock on the right and then move back to the bolt above it.
I did not place any gear but rather ran the route out between the bolts and was comfortable with it. You do have gear opportunities. Continue on better rock past four more bolts to a small ledge on the left. You are basically sport climbing these last two pitches if you are comfortable with the grade. There are tons of bolts present for a mixed route.
6th Pitch- 35m- 5.9/
Kept waiting for the surprise on this route since Andy gave it his highest rating, but was disappointed by the time I finished this last pitch. Climb straight up from the belay past 3 bolts. There is a small roof in the middle. Please be wary of the obvious jug handle here, it is quite loose and could kill someone below if dislodged. Instead, move right, overtake the roof and then move carefully back to the bolt line making sure not to step on the before mentioned jug.
Move left up a slab via a finger ledge or two to clip a 4th bolt. There is a 5.10b variation left of the arête at this juncture, but I guess I missed it. A challenging move is needed to overcome the overlap section if you want to stay true to the route. On these last two pitches, you can always move out right via easier grade if you cannot make the moves in the bolt line. Again, I did not feel the need to place any gear on this pitch, even though you could sew it up if you wanted to. Step up to the shared finish anchor used for several of the routes in this section of the wall, just below the summit ridge of Yamnuska above.
Walk off the western flank of Yamnuska. You can leave your packs at the base of this route as it is not much extra energy to re-ascend from the trail below to the base of the climb. Continue east from there and descend via a large scree gully back down to the lower trail that heads east back to the trailhead.
60m Double ropes are usually best for Yamnuska. A single rack of cams to 3” and C3’s down to “1 were more than enough for us. One set of wires. Mostly shoulder length slings and a few draws. There are quite a few bolts on this route. Helmets a must on Yam as always. Biner your shoes to your harness for the walk off. Never want to rap Yam if you can avoid it.