Sport climbing in Alberta's Bow Valley

 

So you're thinking about getting away climbing in the summer, looking to climb 5.12 and up and wondering, 'where the heck to go'? Look to the Canadian Rockies' Bow Valley, which is home to some of the best and least visited sport climbing. This may be due to a couple of things, most area articles focus on Yamnuska and if you like traditional climbing and a 'bit' of loose stone, with excellent views and exposure, it is good. The other reason is that it's in Alberta, Canada, somewhere between the 'East' and Squamish. The local guidebook, Sport Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, has 1,000s of routes, which may become overwhelming. I will give my opinion of where and when to go and route suggestions.

 

What, The Bow Valley, is that like Yosemite Valley? Well, sort of, but instead of the Nose we have Yamnuska, and instead of Ansel Adams we have Bruno Engler, but that's about it. And we may well now have just as many restrictions on enjoying the wilderness as Yosemite Valley. The Bow Valley provincial park lays East of Banff National Park and just west of Highway #40 (Kananaskis). It takes about 45 minutes to reach once you leave Calgary on Highway #1 heading west. The summer temperature is usually in the low 20C range. Precipitation can vary from small amounts of rain to full on storms that can last days. Acephale is the best crag for rain, as it can usually handle a couple of continual days of solid rain, but if it lasts for more, it will get run over with surface rain and will seep after long-term rainfall. Most other crags will get wet with a day of rain. The upside is limestone does dry fairly quickly and when the weather changes, the wind usually picks up and helps dry alongside the sun.

 

Summer in the Bow Valley is excellent for climbing, as it rarely gets too hot to climb and just warm enough to climb on those steep limestone lines of Acephale. If your coming up here in early June and you want sun, head up to Bataan. It's warm in the sun on 5C sunny days, as it holds the heat and has a very good wind-block and faces mostly south. But a reminder, it is a hike to get up there, just over an hour to the 'Break Wall' and about 1,800 feet of elevation gain – its 2,600 ft up to the Eyes of Bataan (Nirvana). Bataan has a host of superb 5.12s and 13s. If your coming here for a July, August, or early September trip, Acephale will pretty much take care of your time and efforts. The 'Phale sees sun up to about 10:00 am, then leaves until the next morning; always good to have a down jacket. The hike is pleasant, about 40 minutes to the Junction Wall and about 700 ft of vertical. The Upper wall is about 10 minutes uphill from the Junction wall and you'll gain another 400 feet. Acephale is home to 3, 5.14s and a host of 5.12s and 13s, but truly lacks a 13a. When you just decide that you've had enough hiking and you want an easy day, head of to Grassi Lakes of Canmore, which can be very busy, as the walk is only 10 minutes and the locals venture here after work. Grassi has some very high quality 5.12s. If you are still super keen and want to hike less, but still want to pull down, head off to Heart Creek's Bayon wall about 25 minutes up Heart Creek and maybe 100 feet of vertical gain. The Bayon is steep, short and bouldery and host numerous 5.13s, and a couple of 5.12s. If you seek a bit of solitude and want to walk just over an hour with a slight uphill gain, head off to Planet X of Cougar Creek, where the current 3 routes are 30+ m long, steep, burly and excellent climbing – worth the walk and effort. There may be more completed lines, as a few projects are in the works, but for now, you've got a 13-,12+, 14-, and another 12+ (out left). I have included a few warms ups as well, but the main focus is 5.12 and up; have fun and enjoy.

 

Bataan is a warm, really nice, wicked stone, up to 13+:

Driving from Calgary take the first Canmore exit after you cross the Bow River, it will turn you east, then you'll hit the 1A Highway. Go left/east for about 3 km, and on your left you will notice a small pullout just after a small gravel pit/slope. Be careful of the large trucks heading into Canmore, they move fast, are not very agile and prefer not to brake. The trail, heads up the right slope, around the trees, then traverses up the big hill. Follow the main trail on top of the bench, left for a couple of minutes and then look uphill into the trees and you'll see a smaller trail and maybe a cairn. Follow this trail for about 10 minutes and just as you leave the trees, you'll see a large single tree, follow the trail (right) around it and up the rock/slab tiered hill (don't get stuck following the trail left at the big tree). From here it's about 10 minutes to the gravel pit, where you'll follow the left side of it on a faint trail. There are two Cairns marking the trail entrance from the tope end of the pit, from here you'll be on the trail all the way to wherever you decide to stop and climb. About 30 to 40 minutes to the end of the pit and another 30 to 40 minutes, to the 'Break Wall'. The walk down may be more physically draining than going up.

There is a new area at the First Cave, about 20 minutes from the pit, but when you coming up here for a holiday, go to the 'Break Wall' (Sweet Hereafter), at least, then you can warm up and move on up to the Nirvana area. (Always easier to hike back down than up) The routes I am suggesting are classic, good, and will give you just enough to do for a few days. There are other routes up here, but these will keep you moving.

First stop; The Break Wall (aka: Sweet-Hereafter) It will take about 1 hour from the parking, maybe a bit more with all your gear, but 1:15 at a slow 'guide' pace.

Fresco

11b 30m

Sweet Hereafter

12a 30m

 

The next area is just up and around the corner. Called the Choss Pile cave, noticeable for the large, low lying roof with a bunch of talus underneath it. The route Crushed Velvet is on the 'Slab' wall to the left and down a few meters from where the roof ends.

Crushed Velvet

12c 30m

 

The next wall uphill is the 'Cheese Crater' about 5 to 10 minutes. If you are heading here for your warm-ups, you'll be happy as well, for the main developers, Chris and Ian Perry (Father and Son) have done an excellent job of building quality routes.

Significant Digits

11c 30m

Golden Finger

11c 30m

 

About 60 m up from GF is the 'Swiss Cheese' wall; hard to miss, as it's really big, pocketed and steep. You can warm-up on Pushing 40.

Pushing 40

11a 37m

Welcome to the Skylounge

12b 30m

 

The next wall after 'skylounge' is where you'll find Nirvana aka: the Eyes of Bataan.

Nirvana

13a 25m

24 frames per second (aka: the Book of the Dead)

13a 25m

Vishnu

13c 25m

Jacobs Ladder

13c 18m

 

Up past the 2nd eye is a wall called the Pacific Theatre, pretty much gets sun all day and can be really hot.

Freedom in Chains (Roger's rig)

13c 30m

Leaning in the Wind

12c 30m

Dressed in Pearls

12a 25m

 

There are some routes out right, on a wall called the Tipperary, but my suggestion; if you want to climb these routes, go to Barrier or Cougar Creek, as it's a long way to go for a 5.12 and a few 11s and 10s; Even if they are really good routes. This has nothing to do with the builder(s) just a suggestion for the traveling climber.

 

ACEPHALE is a cool, the best area climbing, up to 14:

From Calgary, West on Highway #1, and you want to take the Heart Creek exit, then re-enter the #1 Hwy heading East, back towards Calgary. You will crest the hill, then as you head down ensure you are in the right lane and as the guardrail ends and the Hwy turns left, ease into the ditch. If there are no cars, look for the trailhead, about 100m from the guardrail. The trail leads towards the power lines, up dry creek, ventures left, then turns right into the trees to follow the left side of the creek. You will cross over a large tree about 5 minutes into the walk, from here it heads into the woods and when you hit a fork, a couple of minutes further, you will need to take the right trail; from here you're pretty much on track. In about 20 minutes you will hit a waterfall, walk up hill and cross the slab. In another 10 minutes you will walk into a huge boulder; from here head upstream over the dry creek for a couple of minutes, and you will see a trail heading up into the trees; then you will be at the Junction wall.

 

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 will NEED a 70m rope, as 4 of the 5 routes are 35m long.

 

Loose Yourself

512b 29m

 

 

Go Ask Alice

5.12c/d

35m

Hickory Dickory Dock

5.12b

35m

The Bucking Horse

5.12b

33m

 

The next section is the Sea of Holes; Steep pocketed, wet and dirty and lonely.

Pandora

5.13c

30m

 

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

From right to left as the way you come in.

 

Last Dance

5.13a

25m

The Dark Half

5.13b

25m

Nemo

5.13a

25m

Where's Mom

5.12a

20m

Neoconstructionist

5.11b

15m

Wet Lust

5.13c

25m

Deal With It

5.12c

22m

Naissance de la Femme

5.13b

20m

La Part Maudite

5.12c/d

20m

Illy down

5.12c

18m

The Irradicator (AKA Coral Beauty)

5.12a

18m

Girl Drink Drunk

5.12a

18m

Nikel Bag

5.10d

13m

 

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.

 

Swelltone Theatre

5.12d

25m

Le Bleu du Ciel

5.12b

25m

Le Stade du Mirroir

5.12b

25m

Bataille

5.11c

23m

Angry Inch

5.13c

30m

Porthole to Hell

5.13c/d

22m

The other warm up

5.11a

10m

Sweet Thing

5.13b

25m

Whale Back

5.13+

25m

Gingus Americanus

5.12c/d

20m

Fully Gingus

5.13d

30m

Copocabana

5.12c

20m

The Hype

5.13b

28m

The Hood

5.13a

22m

Altius

5.12c

22m

Leviathan

5.14a/d

30m

 

 

Beam me up Scotty

13c/d

20m

Punter Project

5.14+ '?'

30m

Endless Summer

13d

30m

Existence Mundane

5.14b/c

28m

Army Ants

5.13c

25m

39 Steps

5.13a

18m

Jump Prick Jump

5.12d

18m

 

Heart Creek is a short, very good, nice walk, up to 13+:

Parking is accessed similar to Acephale, by taking the Heart Creek Exit, re-entering the #1 going east, and at the crest of the hill, you can either part west of the creek, or east of the creek; depending on how many cars there are. The trail is well established and you may run into walkers, hikers, picnicers, and other climbers. The wall to hit is the BAYON; an excellent concentration of 5.13s. Short, bouldery and tough on the skin. The wall is at the end of the main trial, (any further and you in water) to the right and into the trees from the Waterfall wall, about 30 minutes from the parking area on a gentle 'up' walk. Described from left to right (closest to the waterfall).

 

Old Timer

13c

15m

Beat Farmer

11d

15m

Palm Sisters

11d

15m

 

There are two routes right of Palm Sisters; there OK.

Tub Trauma

13a 15m

 

There are 2 new routes/old projects to the right of Tub Trauma.

May the Funk be With You

13a

15m

Salty

13a

15m

Dutch Boy Magic

12d

15m

 

There are 2 boulder problem routes at the right end of the wall.

 

Grassi Lakes, an Easy day out, easy walk, up to 12+:

Drive up past the Canmore Nordic Centre, the Spray Lakes road, it turns into gravel about 2 km after the Nordic Centre. When you reach the top and are on the right side of the reservoir/dam, the parking is a couple of minutes down the road on the left. Walk back to the Green Locked gate, and head down into the crag. The first wall really is the best, called the Ghetto. A couple of minutes downhill is the Rectory. Most of these routes have glue-ins. Grassi has a lot of climbs, and a lot of climbers, but these selections will keep you psyched and off the fully choss rock of Grassi.

Raw

11d

18m

Voice of Fire

12a

25m

Le Nettoyeur

12a

25m

 

This wall has a few other routes; kind of over top of one-another, or are link ups.

The Rectory you'll notice a large boulder, just off the trail as it flattens out. This wall has a sort of cave start. The route to do is Blunt and it's the 3rd route from the left. The direct start into Blunt, out right, uses regular hangers, and you've got 4 of them to clip, then you will hit the 5th glue in on Blunt, just after the right traverse. If Blunt direct looks dry, its very good, but often wet and a good locator for where you are.

Blunt

12a

20m

Cool Sensations

12a

20m

Nice Try

12c

22m

Massive Attack

12c

17m

Fuel

12c

17m

 

 

Planet X at Cougar Creek; a new, small # of routes, big, up to 14:

Take the same exit as Bataan, head onto the 1A Hwy. And take your first left into Elk Run industrial park, the RCMP station is on your left, you will pass an excellent café on your left, Valbella. Head up this road and just after crossing over Cougar Creek, turn right into the parking lot. From here, head up the paved trail, (North) to a normal trail, follow this trail as it crisscross' the creek, so be careful not to get wet! The walk will take 1 hour to reach the fork of the canyon and you will pass many climbs, but do not be worried, as the Planet is way better! At the canyon fork, (just after the small blocky overhanging wall on your right ends) the canyon opens up; go right.  You will see a climbing wall in the sun (Canadian Fork) straight ahead, try not to walk to it - stay on the right side of the creek, if possible; (depending on run-off). This is where it's a bit tricky. If you are on the right side of the creek, you will naturally head up and right into the small treed drainage, where you want to go. If you are at CDN Fork (which runs West-East), as the wall turns left (North) turn around and look south and up into the trees, where you will see a small drainage; go get it! Once you are walking up the drainage, there is no trail, just walk up the creek and either side; in about 10 minutes, the creek turns right and you will run into a 60+m wall. This is Planet X. There is a white rope project on the centre right of the wall. There is a tree that has grown up the centre right wall, in case the white rope has disappeared. From here, the routes are left. The best thing to do is find Shooting Star; which climbs the right facing shallow corner and then out the big wall, with anchors way over the lip. The base is centre/left almost where the creek hits the wall; about 18 bolts all normal hangers.

 

Sticky Buns

13a

32m

Shooting Star

12d

35m

Milton Project

?

35m

Fudge Packer

13d/14a

30m

Milton/Guyn 12c

12c/d

18m

 

This wall has room for many more routes and one could get a full, uninterrupted 60m route.

 

Logistics and info:

 

Food & Drink:

Canmore is very nice, and not nearly as busy as Banff, it still has a lot of the original residents, who are down to earth, working people. To find out more, check out the Canmore Hotel. There are some good pubs, like the Drake, Creekside, Burios. Excellent restaurants like Crazyweed, Murrietta's, The Quarry, Zona's and the new Rock'n'Ice. Wicked cafés such as Nocci, Beamer's, Summit, Bagel Company. You have your choice of the local grocer Marra's, or the large retailers Safeway or Sobeys. Alberta liquor stores are privately owned and you will find excellent selection of Beer and Wine and good prices. Google Canmore.

 

Camping:

The Provincial park campsites cost about $17.00, and are very nice, clean and pretty quiet. The Bow River (Three Sisters Exit, then Right), Bow Valley (Exit onto the 1X Hwy, then left at the signs) and Lac des Arcs (Heart Creek Exit), the Bow River is the quietest and more secluded than Lac des Arcs and closer to Canmore for food, drink and hanging. There are a lot of motels with decent rates and the Quality Inn/Chateau Canmore and Rocky Mountain Lodge are sponsors of the Canmore Ice Festival, so they like and know about climbers and climbing. Google Canmore.

 

Stuff:

There are a few local stores for Climbing equipment and accessories, like Vertical Addiction Railway Avenue, close to the Sobeys entrance. Valhalla-Pure in Canmore, Mountain Magic in Banff & Monods (does sell some climbing gear). In Calgary, Wicked Gravity is the local shop and yes there is that other small shop called MEC. All have websites except Monods.

 

Gear:

Bring at least a 60m cord, 16 draws and water, there is water at most crags, but best to bring your own. Best to have a 70m cord. There are a few routes at the 30m + length and may require close to 20 draws.

 

Animals, always a good subject:

As you know, most areas have their issues with some kind of nasty thing, maybe Poison Ivy, Snakes, or torrential rain and mud slides. All the Rockies have are those nasty ticks, which you'll mostly find at Bataan, as it faces south and home to Bighorn Sheep and ticks love sheep. Oh yeah, those Bighorn Sheep, they're big and are really-really quick on this terrain – they have yet to chase anyone, though I did try to get one to chase a particular short Frenchman, as he was running up to it to take it's picture, but still unsuccessful; damn! Acephale has Grizzly Bears, they really like Acephale, as they've been living in this region for a long time. But, they are much less of a worry than reported. They have little interest in us and would rather not deal with humans at all. I have seen two Grizzlies on the way to Acephale, no attacks by a killer crazed Grizzly up at the 'Phale. Cougars (not the ones from the bar!) are around, but do stay away for the most part. I have never seen one yet, which is a good thing, as seeing one is kind of like seeing a Ninja; mostly associated with a nasty ending. 

 

Grades: Always an issue, but important.

 

 

Map:

Websites:

Sport and Mixed Climbing

TABVAR