Acephale by JD LeBlanc

Acephale is located in the north facing drainage (the dark side) of Heart Mountain in Alberta’s Bow Valley (approximately 1,000 km east of Squamish). It hosts some of the hardest and best sport climbing in Canada. In my experience it is the best sport climbing crag in Canada, but I wouldn’t just take my word for it - get on out here and start sending.


Acephale now hosts one of the hardest routes in North America, thanks to the “Punter” (AKA Levente Pinter) - Bunda De Fora 5.14+. Outside of that, within one rope bag drop you have a burly 13+, a 14-, another 13d/14a then, another 14 followed by a ‘techy’ 13c. OK, so the crag has some really hard routes, however you’ll also find some of the best 12s (Deal with it) and 13s (Sweet Thing) around. If you want to climb 11s, it’s best to hit up Grassi Lakes, Bataan or Lake Louise, because at Acephale the11s are warm-ups.


Acephale has two main areas - the lower wall and upper wall. The lower wall has many stellar climbs from the 11 to 13+ range (plus some warm-ups). Included in this is a newer area called the junction wall (not a lot of name creativity here) where the 4 routes are 30m to 35m long and all in the 12- to 12+ range. The lower wall is best described as slopey and crimpy on slightly steep devious stone. The main issue with the lower wall is that the upper wall is around the corner, in this authors’ opinion.


The upper wall is where a bunch of “best-ever” routes are, and you don’t have to climb 5.14. There are a lot of wicked 5.12 to midland 5.13s. The lines are classic non link-ups, clean, crisp and new, maybe a bit of boot rubber. You can unpack your bag, grab some draws and walk a few feet to each climb. You won’t have to wait to climb your route (unless it’s the warm-up).


The upper wall can be considered a sport climbers’ haven, even enough to keep Dave Graham et al busy as can be seen in his 8a scorecard. This is the staging area for Bunda De Fora, in the Endless Summer cave. To quote D.G. on Bunda De Fora - “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...” This part of the crag is the 14 climbers’ paradise. The strong U.S. Crew (Dave Graham, Joe Kinder, and Isaac Caldiero) along with the Punter had a wicked end of season here. Punter managed a good comeback after 4 months off climbing, to send another Scott Milton FA - Fully Jingus. Joe Kinder sent Endless Summer, Leviathan, and Beam me up (among others). Alongside Kinders’ sweet climbing, D.G. flashed all those, then sent the Canadian 14 standard, Existence Mundane (a 1996 Milton FA), and after some sick effort, ticked Punters’ Bunda De Fora (for more info, search their cards – some funny quotes).

As indicated earlier in this article, warming up can be a bit of an undertaking. They can be deceptive and gnarly. The lower wall has Nickel Bag and Neoconstuctionist and at the start of the year they are clean of any chalk and dusty. The upper wall has one warm-up Bataille, and one link into its’ last 2 bolts. Remember this is all under the presumption you are not part of the strong U.S. crew (warming up on Sweet Thing).


Lower wall classics to hit up would be ‘Deal with It’ and ‘Lose Yourself’. This may be some of the best climbing you could do - regardless of the grade. The upper wall; ‘Mirror Stage’, ‘Jingus’, ‘Swelltone’, ‘Sweet Thing’ and the ‘Hood’ will provide excellent and fully rewarding climbing. And now for the 14 climber, you have the entry standard of ‘Endless Summer’ followed by ‘Leviathan’, ‘Existence’ and top it off with Bunda. If you still have some gas left, the project ‘Shine’ still awaits – bolt movement approved.


One of the cooler aspects of Acephale is when you climb, other climbers are always keen to support and help out from trying to send Bataille to Bunda De Fora. Don’t always trust the local beta either, like if they tell you ‘project for a materialist sport climber’ is a wicked route, or that the ‘accursed share’ is an uber classic, just ignore them and look at the chalk usage. Oh and beware the ‘dude’ from Canmore who comes up every once in a while and yells at everyone about raping the environment, cutting trees, bolting, rehearsing routes, using ropes, chalk, and driving those gas guzzlers. He’s hard to track down, as his spewing diesel and oil van hits town he just blends in with all the other ‘dudes’.


Throughout the years of sport climbing, Acephale has stood quietly in the wake of Squamish. The locals have been putting up high end (for their era) routes that are distinct and complex. Most FA’s were huge efforts as the seepage and fitness usually hit at the same time. The classic ‘Hood’ seems not so steep and burly these days, but before the existence of climbing gyms it was impressive. There are many hard lines to come out of this crag, who knows what the next generation will bring.


The summer weather is usually perfect for sending and if it rains, you can often still climb at the upper wall. The locals are mostly nice, and the crag Grizzly has not eaten anyone yet! She’s eyed up Scott Milton on occasion, but reasoned simple grazing would fill her up better.


Calgary has the Calgary Climbing Centers and Canmore the Vision gym which play key roles in building climbers. There are solid gear retailers (MEC, Wicked Gravity, Vertical Addiction, Monods and Mountain Magic).


Authors’ note: in talking at the C.C.C. Chinook one day 2 or 3 years ago, a climber asked if I had ever climbed ‘Deal with it’, an FA back in 1992/93. This made me realize that as climbers we often personalize almost all we do, but the reality is if our routes can hold their own, then we have done something for climbing. Personal accomplishments are simply that, personal; and somewhere in 20 plus years of climbing, hanging in a downy and drinking coffee on some gnarly north facing crag watching the sun roast the other side of the valley, you just may realize this.

Acephale beta:

The access is solid for now - parking in the ditch has not yet been as issue. The hike is about 30 minutes to the lower wall and 45 minutes to the upper wall.

Season is June to September, but it is limestone and it will seep.


Rack of 12 draws for most routes, however 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.


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


Dogs and animals, the crag has actually raised a few dogs, and there are some who consider it home (mine included). So if you don’t like dogs, let the owners know, or  just ask the dogs to leave you alone as most are better behaved than their owners. One local dog (the grand Kuvvenator) is really good at protecting all climbers from the local area grizzly, and ensuring the other dogs behave. We all seem to coexist very well, with no animal issues yet (aside from the curious ninja-skilled pack rat on Pandora’s Box).


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