Saddle Mountain’s southeast face offers some of the steeper and varied multi pitch rock climbing in the entire Canadian Rockies. The rock is quartz which is typically more stable than typical limestone in the area, but Saddle Mountain lies among active glaciated peaks and therefore this impressive quartzite wall is young and can be as blocky and chossy as any limestone wall in the area. The colors of the wall coupled with the direct view of Mount Temple’s massive north face gives one a sense of remoteness and grandeur. I saw little evidence in 2019 of folks getting on these routes. They are typically quite stout for the grade for the Canadian Rockies and have been left mostly unmolested by the Canmore bolting crowd. The 1.5 hour approach and 1600’ elevation gain keeps the social crag climbers at bay as well (who can be found in abundance down by the lake). This wall offers wild and wooly climbing with good sun exposure, intro trad climbers will not fare well on this steep wall full of surprises.
In comparison with Toys in the Attic’s 5.9 pitches, the 5.9 climbing on the Saddle Spire route would appear much less difficult or sustained. However, from a choss perspective, this is a more serious route. The first pitch is not as clear cut a corner as the local guide book suggests. Rather it is mostly obscure climbing through loose rock. The 2nd pitch does proceed up steeper ground that makes for a bit more enjoyable climbing. The tower pitch (third) itself is short, but involves a fun airy traverse out to the east face and then a good finger crack to its summit where a modern (2019) rap awaits. Rap down from the tower back to the man wall and climb the best pitch of the route, a deep recessed dual corner. I climbed the steeper left side. The right side would require wider gear to protect. Plenty of stemming and features leads to a narrow ledge below the large intimidating roofs above. Traverse out left on the next pitch to loose but easier ground sans roof. Then traverse back right to a corner finish up chossy rock. Do not get sucked up and left into climbing dangerous chossy shale as I did. Even though this route is way down the hill from Toys, I still prefer the fixed rap off the nose vs a walk off via the south gully. Leave your bags at the nose, rack up and walk down to the start of the route to avoid having to descend the hill afterwards. Someone left a ton of cams and lockers (2019) bailing off of the first pitch no doubt unimpressed with the rock.
Park at the upper Lake Louise parking lot (perhaps the crux of the day). Hike up the shared Saddle and Fairview mountain trail. Stay on "Saddleback" as it switchbacks up the hill almost even with the base of the cliff off to the southwest. Pay attention at the first contact with a large drainage. Cross it towards the cliff via massive cairns (2019) and continue along a climber’s trail as it meanders up and down along steep terrain to the very base of the cliff. Continue along the base of the cliff until you are dramatically introduced to the massive and steep southeast wall complete with one of the best close up views of Mount Temple’s north face. The obvious tower can be spotted half way down the slope and in the middle of the face. It is in the foreground but can be made out. Its height is about half way up the wall. You will only be climbing on the last 40’ of it to reach its summit and rap back down to finish up the main wall. There is a small grouping of young trees right next to the wall where you will start. The first pitch trends up and left towards a pointy roof on the left side at the base of the tower itself.
1st Pitch- 170’-5.9/ The local guide has this pitch at 5.9 and referenced it as “quite sustained” but I did not find any real 5.9 moves. You could start a variety of places at the base of the wall, but following the topo in the local guide, the objective is to get below a pointy roof located below the left side of the tower itself at the end of 50m. The text in the guide refers to climbing corners, but its definition of what a corner is must be loosely defined. By trending up and left, I ended up on a relatively comfortable belay ledge with a bail rap, complete with four! Lockers, 3! cams and a miles worth of cordelette that could have slung the tower itself. Someone got pissy about the rock and did not trust their gear much for the over kill bail rap. Uneventful climbing on this pitch.
2nd Pitch- 115’-5.8/ Delicately climb the steeper ground above your belayer. This pitch is a bit shorter than the guide suggests. You end up on a large ledge at the left end of the tower with plenty of gear belay options. Belay at the right end of the ledge to set up the tower pitch itself.
3rd Pitch- 45’-5.10a/ The topo leads you to believe you will be traversing right to the right side of the tower and climbing it from there. In reality, there is a modern bolt (2019) along with an old piton on the south face of the tower, the face you are starring at from the belay. Stem up to clip the bolt and then hand traverse right through the piton and make the crux move of the route (“very committing hand traverse”) via an exposed stem/traverse right out to big exposure on the east face of the tower. There is a #.5 horizontal placement that you can plug as you make the hand traverse out into space to locate a decent foot edge. A deck fall on the ledge is possible before landing this last move if you can’t get the .5 placed. Climb a finger crack from there to the summit of the tower and a fixed rap in decent shape as of 2019.
Take a short rap off the tower.
4th Pitch- 30m-5.9/ By far the best pitch of the route. Climb the recessed double crack corner directly behind the tower. The left crack is the more feasible at the grade. This is the best rock on the route and you still have to be delicate about what you might yard on. It lands you on a narrow ledge below a massive roof. The topo would have you continue with a blind traverse out left, but that would be a poor choice regarding potential rope drag. Rather build a gear anchor at the right end of the ledge with medium gear.
5th Pitch- 20m-5.8/ Traverse up and then directly out left to by pass this massive roof/OW section. I continued on run out ground into the loose shale. Rather stop on a ledge and set up a gear belay to avoid further rope drag and assess a better finish than I took.
6th Pitch- 30m-5.6/ Following the topo, I trended up and left to meet the top of the Spire Corner route to the left and then headed straight up runout ground into the very chossy shale. A more vertical and therefore much more dangerous section of shale than the finish for Toys in the Attic by comparison, rather move right along the ledge to a corner finish on better rock (what the text in the guide referenced). Not having that text portion, just following the topo, I climbed directly up the shale and had to pray to the climbing gods that I did not fall. There is no viable pro that would hold in the crevices of this shale layer. Look up, if you see the precarious blocks teetering on each other forming a hole in the sky, make sure to move right 15 meters along the upper ledge system to an actual real corner, left facing, and finish on it which is the same finish for both the Spire and Spire Corner routes.
You could go down the south gully right in front of you, but the raps down the “nose” or prow of the wall located uphill from the top out offers less effort no doubt. Hike to the top of the wall and you will see where the wall protrudes out. Scramble down the grassy slope to the top of the very edge where a modern hardware (2019) four single rope rap is located on the “nose” or prow of the wall. Ten minutes to reach from the top of the route. The nose is obvious and cairned (2019). Once you reach it, scramble down a few meters to a small ledge and your first set of chains. First two raps are on climbers right going down and then one on the prow itself and a final one down climber’s left to the ground. Best to suit up for the Saddle Spire at this prow so when you rap, you do not need to descend back climbers left to your packs as return to the main Saddle trail is the opposite direction.
60m rope. Single to C4#4. Double to #1. Alpine draws (60cm slings). Helmets a must, chossy route, even by Canadian Rockies standards. If you leave your packs at the base of the rap route, you can leave your approach shoes down with the packs. Southeast facing wall.