Acephale by JD LeBlanc

Named after a“Secret French-Society” Journal of writings, in the 1930’s. Acephale sits in the North-facing drainage (the dark side) of Heart Mountain in the Bow Valley, AB.

First building began in the Spring of 1991, after the other NEW area Bataan got too hot! A few fights with trees, the odd bear, and simply being by myself, I did my best to convince one of my best friends how awesome it was. Well, Joe Buszowski decided he better come up there with me and helped steer the building in the right direction. He not only was able to help build the trail, create ledges, but helped me climb and bolt the routes (really I think he first came up to make sure I would remain alive). I can still remember coming down what is now The Hood and talking to Joe, “what an awesome 12c, it’ll be”. Well looks are certainly deceiving. My then girlfriend, now wife, came up with me to finish bolting The Hype – good thing she had her headphones on, because I was caught in the tree for about and hour – it ate everything piece of bolting gear and continued to drop them on my body as I tried to get out of the damn thing. By the time I got down, life was changing for both of us. I was bleeding punctured, bruised and my vocal cords were pretty sore. The next season say Richard Jagger, who developed a few of the classics on the lower wall, Richard “Rick” Conover and Daren Tremaine and Ryan Johnstone. 1993, Shep Steiner, right out of the “Bow Valley Jail” (the bow valley in the late winter/early spring) and myself, a stove, coffee, food and lots of bolts really set Acephale into what it is now. Dale Robotham, friend and local area climbing rep also gave his first bolting to the upper wall. Our longtime friend Todd Guyn reluctantly came up there, with his really cheerful self – he grumbled, bitched, sent and poached the crag into submission. Then this climber, known only as Todd’s friend came up one day, the typical Austrian 8b+ punter – full guide at twenty-something–over-achiever. He sent, then with his bag of bolts, bolted some classics. He was known to poke fun of Mr. Guyn’s cheerful side – he might have even eluded to the fact that Mr. “G” should move to Britain, he might be happier. A side note, Guyn is not only a good guy, and a really freaking good climber, he’s a friend as well – in the ‘heyday’, he had climbed more 13s than any other in North America. Today he’s a full guide – winter’s in the heli regions of CMH and still pulls down and even builds routes. Scott Milton actually came up in the winter of 1990, before he went back to Europe, we went the wrong way– ended up at the right side of the upper wall. He certainly helped place the crag by sending Existence Mundane (thanks to Rage Against the Machine). Let’s not leave all the supporters out. There are many, my wife, Shep’s Mom, One of my long-time friends said if you build them, I’ll help or pay for them. Well, prior to TABVAR, it was a really impressive gesture and reality. The name was born during the’93 monsoon season, Steiner a PhD in Art History had proposed the Acephale name, it fit and we got carried away with route names of some of the society members, their writings and works of art, interlaid LeBlanc could not leave Henry Rollins out of the mixture. This crag is home to some of the hardest climbs in Canada and contains the largest concentration of 5.12s, 13s and 14s in Western Canada. So lets take a quick equipment check:

            Rack of 12 draws for most routes, BUT if you are going to climb at the Junction wall, you’ll need 16 - 18 draws to make you happy.

            Rope 60m usually works fine, but the JW requires a 70m, but if your climbing‘em and you’ve got a 60m you’ll likely figure it out.

            Bring water. There is the creek– at your own tolerance.

Dogs. The crag has actually brought up a few dogs, kind of their other home. So if you don’t like dogs, let the owners know, or better, just tell the dogs to leave you alone, as most are better behaved than their owners. One of the locals dog is really good at protecting all climbers from the local area bears, by letting the bears know she and we are there! We all seem to coexist very well, with no animal issues yet.

Grades: Always an issue, but important.

I’ve yet gone back to the a,b,c,d and set what I truly think – whether I wish certain routes were harder. I have even left in a few SLASH grades– so let’s here the news.

Where is Acpehale?



Walking Directions


The routes are described as if you where hiking up to them. I’ve bolded the one’s to hit.

When you hike up the trail, the first section is the Junction wall– it’s the first lower wall area you hit and is the junction to the Upper Wall. You’ll NEED a 70m rope, as 4 of the 5 routes are 35m long. (A nursery rhyme theme?)

1.      Loose Yourself                                             512b    29m

a.  Branches off GAA, and does so in a couple of ways thanks to‘white-trash’ rap.

b.  Excellent route, probably one of the best routes at the lower wall.

c.  You only require a 60m rope.

2.      Go Ask Alice                                                5.12c/d            35m

a.  Good, tough onsight– think outside the‘box’. Tough read, bolted for steep sissies. But when you hit the horizon, you still have 4 more bolts and you’ll wish you had more.

3.      Hickory Dickory Dock                                5.12b   35m

a.  Awesome, but be prepared for a couple of ugly falls if you blow it entering the headwall.

b.  Bolted like a Ceuse routes, except it wanders and waivers.

4.      The Bucking Horse                                      5.12b   33m

a.       A lot of effort and cleaning, and will be another classic.

A quick topo:



*Upper Wall topo NEW*

Upper overview


Mirror Stage

Sweet Thing

Endless Summer

The next section is the Sea of Holes– steep pocketed, wet and dirty and lonely. Andy Genereaux built most of these routes, except the Approach and Pandora’s (Buszowski). You know, they say“rocks fall hard” just try catching Andy on a sport climb.

5.      Project (which has been done)                        11d

a.  Could use some love.

6.      Static Dynos                                                   11d

a.  Could use some love.

7.      Approach Route                                             5.12a

a.  The approach route to the 2nd pitch classic Pandora.

b.  The only reason you’ll want to do it is to get up to Pandora.

8.      Pandora                                                         5.13c/d            30m

a.  Full 30m to the anchors, from the ground.

b.  It’s been‘pointed by a 2-handed cut loose dyno and by a gnarly deadpoint.

c.  First done with a bolt-on hold– that way was 13a.

9.      Pluvial Power                                                 11d

a.  Could use some love.

Lower wall main area– slopey, burly, technical and really hard to read– steep and long.

From right to left– the way you come in.

10.  Last Dance                                                     5.13a   25m

a.  Another Helmut the Austrian route.

b.  Harder mid moves than the DH, but a bit easier headwall.

11.  The Dark Half                                                5.13b   25m

a.  Thanks to Helmut the Austrian.

b.  Certain folks think‘a’, others swear‘b’, others just swear and swear,

c.  A committing finish (without the long anchor sling– wonder how those get there?)

12.  SR 16 (Shep’s rig #16)                                   5.12b

a.  Well it’s caused a lot of grief in the 2004 season, as the anchors are in a different spot than the“John and Jon” guide states– could be that the anchors are more to the right (up corner) than described.

b.  This route climbs the bottom of DH, follows the right leaning corner system– passes LD, then anchors way right.A good route if you’ve got nothing better to do.

13.  Nemo                                                           5.13a               25m– The standard.

a.  Well another classic with distinct cruxes separated by 2 unfortunate no-hands rests. It’ll feel nasty, powerful and pumpy.

b.      But I hear it’s really good for‘sore/tweaked’ elbows.

c.       Original grade was 13-, got downgraded by someone, but really 13a.

14.  Where’s Mom                                                5.12a   20m

a.  A bit of history and controversy, but the route is typical for the lower wall– you’ll feel off balance and out of there, then in gets steep and burly– when you pull the lip, look left.

15.  Neoconstructionist                                          5.11b   15m

a.  The warm-up– you’ll eventually hate it.

b.  AKA‘Pochay’s’ route.

16.  Wet Lust                                                        5.13c/d            25m

a.  The extension to Neo. As soon as you hit the 1st hold off the anchor, you’ll wonder what the heck just happened.

b.  Technical power climbing with the crux at just off Vertical.

17.  Deal With It                                                 5.12c   22m

a.  This is the ‘trade’ route – a bit sporty– classic mid 12 grade– if your sending 12s at Grassi Lakes, be prepared.

b.  Thanks to Henry Rollins for inspiration.

18.  Naissance de la Femme                               5.13b   20m

a.  Excellent, with a big sting at the top, just enough to keep the “kids” from getting too cocky!

b.  Named after an Andre Masson painting– one of the main ‘societal’ members.

1.      The short people currently state – “it’s way harder if you’re short”! Lynn Hill seemed to have little issues with it – maybe her 5’2” is taller that pepe’s 5’6”?

19.  La Part Maudite                                             5.12c/d            20m

a.  French names in Alberta?– hard, crimpy with a strong“old-school” finish. Old school 12c.

1.      New School has stated “one of the best routes …” Really not that good, but ok if you’ve done the others at the lower wall.

20.  Justine                                                            5.11+   18m

a.  This route has caused a couple of nasty ankle injuries– people say its good, but what the heck do people know?

21.  Subbacultcha                                                  5.12a   10m

a.  This is the route with no finish, it ends mid move, or so it’ll feel.

b.  Shit, it actually gets lot’s of traffic.

22.  Ice Cream Head                                             5.12d   15m

a.  Ugly, starts from way left, bouldery with a route-finding finish.

b.  The direct start may have been done by a couple of the “kids”– they’ll probably down-grade it to 12c…

23.  Illy down                                                        5.12c or 11d from bolt 2          18m

a.  Yep, used to be a great 12-, but one of the thugs ripped of the hold below the 1st bolt– know it’s a boulder start V4/5?

b.  Named after the espresso pod by Illy Espresso, used to be the “Effederin” of the area.

24.  The Irradicator (AKA Coral Beauty)              5.12a   18m

a.  Power-Boulder start with a old school finish and old school anchor

b.  Coral Beauty name stuck to the locals, as one section reminded one climber of the coral in his fish tank– and it really bugged the FA– so that’s almost better. (The FA also did Girl Drink Drunk and Justine).

25.  Girl Drink Drunk                                             5.12a   18m

a.  Technical start to a funky power steep finish.

b.  If your short, the bolts will yell and swear at you, then you’ll just…

26.  Nikle Bag                                                       5.10d   13m

a.  Very good, with some cool tufas.

27.  Keys in the Car                                              5.10c   10m

a.  Tricky, short and nasty, kind of like the person it was named after!

**If your at Keys in the car and looking for the upper wall, retrace steps and hoof on up.

Just before the upper wall, on the new trail – once you pass the ‘Boulder’ and then hit the trail as it turns up into the‘choss’ cave– go down hill about 3m, then there’ll be 2 routes to your right.

28.  Hypochondirac                                               5.12c   27m

a.  Another Helmut rig– Hard and quality.

29.  Two Towers                                                   5.12b   30m

a.  As good as HDD, but a bit harder.

Upper Wall, about 10 min. up hill to the right of the Junction wall - It’s hard, steep and kicks butt. Please follow the newly built switch-back trail.

30.  Project

a.  This is the first route right of the choss cave/roof, at the corner of the upper wall. It’s been tried, but needs work/love, as it just doesn’t seem to have any flow.

31.  Le Jeu Lugubre                                               5.12c   20m

a.  Pretty good route, funky hard start with a devious mid-section– think Sammy the Seal when you there.

b.  You’ll never say its greasy from too many climbers.

32.  Swelltone Theatre                                        5.12d   25m

a.  Classic under-achiever, usually gets overshadowed by the ‘other’ routes, yet it’s one of the best routes with the crux being the last bolt…“your so in there, your outta’ there”.

33.  Project                                                           5.13?   20m

a.  Needs someone who wants an FA with just a bit of labour and good on small pockets and one-move-wonders. Ask Johnstone.

34.  Full Fathom Five                                             5.12c   25m

a.  You’ll swear the bolts aren’t there, neither are the holds and then you’ll just be swearing. Always good to get a little frightened when your sport climbing?

35.  Le Bleu du Ciel                                            5.12b   25m

a.  Steep pocket pulling, with a distinct crux. Once you’ve passed the 2nd bolt, you’ll forget the chossy start, unless you fall off.

36.  Le Stade du Mirroir                                     5.12b   25m– upper wall standard.

a.  Same start as LBDC, breaks right at the big pod. Excellent route with enduro crux. Pockets, huecos, wrappers, sloppers, this rig’s got‘em all.

b.  The FA blew off the last 2 bolts– could have been a statement? But if you saw the tree than used to run up the right side of the route… (The very dead, grey, rock hard tree feel over all on it’s own a couple of years later)

37.  Project for a Materialist Sport Climb               5.12c/d            23m

a.  Again, one of these routes that’ll leave you wondering a lot about climbing and life, but has solid climbing. A route one should do, once.

38.  Bataille                                                         5.11c   23m

a.  Well a succession of 2 anchors, now one excellent longer route. The upper wall warm up and Dale Robotham’s 1st FA.

b.  Named after one of the main‘Society’ founders Georges Bataille.

39.  Angry Inch                                                     5.13c/d            30m

a.  Kind of interesting, but like Wet Lust, it’s really nasty leaving a“warm-up” and instantly having to pull and hang on.

b.  Got its name from one of the“off-broadway” show my wife and her friends went to in NY.

40.  Porthole to Hell                                              5.13c/d            22m

a.  Hard, bouldery, funky clips - hope you don’t bust a hold at the anchors! It’s a big fall.

41.  The other warm up                                         5.11a   10m

a.  The start of PTH, undescriptive, but it’ll warm you up and combine it into Bataille– Very good.

42.  Sweet Thing                                                  5.13c   25m

a.  Classic, burly, technical and pumpy– the most tried mid 13 in the rockies.

1.      Now that both the tattoo’d and the nipple ring’d skinny guys, have sent – the grade’ll be solidified, at least on the BB’s – WHEW!

2.      some ammo for ‘em – PLASTIC IS NOT A MEDIUM, but IT MAY BE A TOOL?

43.  Whale Back                                                   5.13c   25m

a.  Amazing route, harder the ST, excellent stone and technical crux.

b.  You’ll be hearing a lot of whinning about being short or tall…

44.  Gingus Americanus                                      5.12c/d            20m

a.  The Classic 12, steep good holds, power endurance, dynamic.

b.  This route was “assaulted” one year and the anchor had 3ft draws– that way you could skip the crux of clipping the anchor– oops did I say that out loud?.

45.  Fully Gingus                                                    5.13d   30m

a.  The continuation of GA, known as hard, crimpy and kind of ugly, but it’s really good in a nasty ugly way, says the FA, but he lies like the wind to get you to go with him.

46.  Copocabana                                                   5.12c   20m

a.  The right route that leads to the GA anchor. Bouldery and a pretty good route. Bring a long sling, or you’ll be sorry going to the anchor!

47.  The Hype                                                       5.13c   28m

a.  A bit of controversy, but in ’91 it seemed a good idea. Today it’s been getting more attention for‘pointing than slagging. A few‘sculpted’ holds.

48.  The Hood                                                      5.13b   22m

a.  Probably the most climbed 13b in the valley - definitely the most tried. It’s burly, funky and fun.

b.  You can climb this in the rain– if it’s really wet, other than the fishbowl, you’re likely standing in the middle of a monsoon– so get out of there!

49.  Hairballs                                                         5.13c/d            22m

a.  Kind of a non-route, it’s got no real ending, you go to TH or Altius. And described by the FA as hard, with really-really hard clips.

b.  Could be fixed up and an anchor.

50.  Altius                                                            5.12c   22m

a.  The most “changed” route at the crag, it’s lost a few holds and has gotten a bit harder. But when you hit the funk sequence at the 3rd bolt, you’ll be loving the route. Its really steep, big buckets with big pulls.

b.  This route has had many different sequences and the 2-handed dyno at the top is a must, once you’ve sent.

51.  Project Angst                                                 5.13?   22m

a.  It developed a blank section, still trying to go, but its’ true place is storage.

52.  Leviathan                                                     5.14a/b            30m

a.  Boulder power combined with Power endurance to the‘Barn-door’ finish.

b.  The 2nd 14 at the crag, and the only one bolted and sent by the bolter, and it wasn’t the FA.

53.  Beam me up Scotty                                      5.13c/d            20m                                                                                                                                      

a.  Excellent, boulder power the whole way - an Original Milton line, like bolted and cleaned. Levente Pinter sent it, Scott's injured ...

54.  Project Shine                                                  5.14?   18m

a.  Bolted, needs 1 bolt moved and someone to give it some love.

55.  Bunda De Fora                             5.14+ 30m

a.     Lev SENT, hard, hard and hard. He’s done the trilogy of 14s here and this one’s gave him a lot of attitude.

1.     From Dave Graham’s 8a card: “A rad Lev Pinter route. bouldery, thuggish, technical, and explosive, the route is dope. Took me around 5 days, and almost 20 tries, i'd say, damn hard. 8c+/9a? we'll see what happens with the grade...”

56.  Endless Summer                                          5.13d   30m – subjective 13+/14-

a.  Classic route, big moves, that just keep coming– a lip crux that adds a toll to the power– finished off with a slab funk move. Sporty and really fun.

b.  Could be 13d/14a. An old project that SM cleaned and sent one long summer.

c.  Click here for beta/topo: Endless_beta.pdf

57.  Existence Mundane                                     5.14b/c            28m– hardest route in the Rockies.

a.  Well it gets the nod for the hardest at Acephale and was the hardest route in Canada when Scott Milton Sent it back in’97. A hold broke and caused a bit of grief.

b.  This route has taken all 3 ascentionists the longest to do a route of this grade. So I’ve given it“C”.

c.  This route has a definite crux, that’ll eat your ankle, knee and mental well-being, and it’s eaten a few cords.

d.  Bolted in’93 and left dormant until SM took it over in’96 - but playing in a puddle in the rain caused a broken finger and another year.

58.  Army Ants                                                    5.13c   25m

a.  Bouldery, crimpy and harsh, but you’ll love it! Its’ kick is in the middle with a hold that seems to move upwards and in, as you go for it.

b.  Sat un-loved for a few years, but the youngsters have taken a liking to sending it.

59.  39 Steps                                                        5.13a   18m

a.  Different than the routes to its’ left. crimpy, bouldery and technical.

b.  Excellent route and a call back to technical climbing.

60.  Jump Prick Jump                                         5.12d   18m

a.  Well, this is a boulder start followed by a true slab topout.

b.      Interesting, kind of fun, & has the best story behind a route name.

a.       A friend was explaining his dream to Milton and myself, it went kind of like this: “… Robbers breaking into my house? … ran downstairs and saw this guy halfway through the window in our kitchen … I think I had a bat, and I was in my skivvies … I wanted him to come on in and greet me proper …so I yelled JUMP YOU PRICK JUMP!…Then my wife woke me up because she heard me screaming Jump Prick…”

61.  La Pause Cafe                                                5.11c               15m

a.  The start kicks. Could use an extension.

62.  Boner                                                             5.11b               15m

a.  Actually quite good. Could use and extension.