Two O’Clock Falls is not located in the high mountains or shady canyons. It’s actually in the grasslands of Kootenay Plains! In the lowlands were is a heavy shadded area in the Hills that harbors a huge waterfall with W2-3 ice offering 4 pitches on a variety of lines.  This is where Damien and I ended up after discovering that Melt Out W3 along the Icefield Parkway in Jasper NP was under a wind slab that looked ready to avalanche. We parked by a gate on the side of Hwy 11 labeled 2 O’Clock Creek. We  were a bit confused by the book directions and just parked near where we could see the falls from the rd. We followed a dirt road beyond the gate into a campground and onto the trail. However, after followed the trail through tree and realizing we were not turning toward the falls we decided to just travel cross country. We were looking for a meadow that we were supposed to walk alongside. The area is sacred to the First Nations and it was important that we stayed on the side of this meadow since it was part of their ceremonial grounds. As we wandered the forest looking for the meadow and heading for the falls we came across lots of trees wrapped in cloth. This had something to do with ceremonies. We eventually stumbled across another road and followed it to the meadow we were looked for complete with First Nation structures. We stayed to the right on the road, but turned into the forest and traveled cross country to the falls hoping to find the trail we were supposed to be on. We eventually found it and followed it to the base of the falls.

The ice was pretty wet even in the cold shade. Damien racked up to take the first lead. Like Lousie Falls, the ice was damaged by heat and insecure. With the swing of an axe 2×2 ft sections of ice would go white. Massive dinner plates shattered from the route and it took up to ten swings to get a descent stick. Damien finished the lead. It was W3 what the ice quality made thing very spicy. I tested several areas to lead up pitch 2, but found the ice to be very questionable, possibly more so than the first pitch. When I put in screwed the surrounding ice turned white causing me to question if they would hold at all. In the end i decided to down climb  the pitch and bail after one to many sections of ice went white with swings or tools. we rapped off of two V threads. Nothing too prove. The conditions were just not good.

We followed the trail out and discovered the gate we should have entered into from Hwy 11 was actually unsigned and 1.5 km down the road from where we parked. We know for our return!

Lousie Falls is located in the last place you’d expected to see dirtbag climbers. The approach requires pass a posh resort : Lake Lousie Chateau. It felt kind of odd after wearing the same clothes for 6 days to walk through the wealthy masses observing ice carving and skating the the lake. Who needs laundry!? In any case, approaching the falls in about a 2.4 Km walk around the shoreline of Lake Lousie. The falls can be see though fro the Chateau. Our Plan was to only climb the bottom 1 or 2 pitches. The rest of the route is W4-5. Beyond our current level and it was late the the day anyway. The trail beside the lake leads to the bottom of an open slope about 50-60 meters below the falls. We left he main trail and followed the boot-pack up to the base. It is important to be cautious and wear a helmet as you approach. Climbers from above drop massive ice chunks down from the upper pitches. Staying to the right is crucial to avoid being hit and obtain protection from overhanging rock.

We racked up on the far right side of the falls. The first pitch to the first set of bolted anchors looked straight forward and doable. However, as Damien began to lead he discovered from ice quality issues. The sun and warm temps had damaged the ice quite a bit. It was insecure no matter how many times he kicked into the wall. Getting an ice axe to stick took about ten swings due in insane dinner-plating. And once the axe did stick it was often almost impossible to remove. Damien got up the first tier to a small ledge. The conditions were too dicy for his comfort, so I lowered him and took over the lead. The ice was as bad as he reported. I was able to ascend just under a meter. I had insecure feet but two good ice axe hooks. I’m not sure how since i was pressed down hard the the hooks, but one of my axes popped and I took a lead fall. By other axe held and the umbilical caught me oddly enough. All in all i fell about a meter back onto the ledge. The only damage came from my hammer hitting me in the mouth and slightly chipping my tooth and bruising my lip. I got lucky.

After that we decided to call it a day and packed tings up. I guess I’m truely a climber no since after 5 years I finally took a lead fall. 🙂

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls is just how I remembered it. Spectacular and HUGE! We walked through the canyon before daylight making it feel e3ven more majestic and reached he bottom of the Upper Falls (turn right at the 2nd junction) just as the sun rose. Accessing the ice is a bit tricky. We have to climb over the boardwalk, step down onto on icy boulder and then slide down said boulder to the frozen river. The wall of ice is in great shape thought he pillars have broken in the heat. The ice on the far right is W2 and as you move left the wall steepest and the grade gets more difficult. We opted for a W3 Line in the center. The ice can be climbed in a single pitch and wrapped with a 70 meter rope. But it is easy to use a 60 meter and climb the routes in 2 pitches due to a huge platform about 1/3 of the way up. Damien led the lower pitch which is pretty much W2 for all routes. This was the first pitch of ice I ever led about 3 year ago. I led the second pitch of W3 and set up an anchor from 2 trees. PLEASE always check the cord and webbing left behind by previous parties before using them. There was already an anchor there and I ended up building my own since I could not trust any of the knots.

Damien and I ran some laps on the upper Pitch and the W4/W3+ pitch on the left for the rest of the morning. We rappelled the second pitch with a V thread. Note that this is a big tourist destination so folks will be watching and taking pictures the whole time. I wanted to put out a top jar for the climbers!

 

We were told by two climbers yesterday that Crystal Tears was in and awesome. However, because of the warming trend the climb would probably only be in for one more day. Damien and I headed out from Canmore, Alberta to Grotto Canyon before daylight hoping to get the route first since its narrow in places. We followed the main canyon to His and Hers at the headwall and then took a left turn and continued down the canyon. After about 30 minutes there was a junction on the right. The Climbers from the day before said that they hard marked the turn off on the right with a ribbon. We didn’t see a ribbon and though we ventures a bit further down the canyon we could no find one elsewhere. So we assumed someone had removed the ribbon and turn right. This was obviously a climbers trail. It switchbacked very steeply through the trees  for almost 300 meters before reaching screes. We followed a clear boot path to the left and into a gully were this was a thin melting waterfall.

Damien too the first lead. The ice didn’t look great and when he hit in the sound was hollow. the ice was pretty much detached from the rock and there would be some mixed moves. Damien hooked the top of the ice and ended up taking down about 1 meter of the ice route! We examined mixed climbing options but saw no simple way to gain the upper pitches. We decided to bail. Back at the bottom of the canyon we ended up locating the Ribbon several meters further down the canyon. We followed a set a boot prints we hadn’t noticed in the earlier darkness and discovered that we had climbed the walk down earlier. We also discovered several climbers bailing from the route due to the melted out, ripped off portion. The warm weather definitely has taken this route out, at least for now.

Grotto Falls was in great form and fat this week even with the warm weather. Damien and I ventured into Grotto Canyon for our first ice cimbing venture in Alberta on Tuesday. The canyon walk definitely requires spikes. Some portion of the frozen river a extremely slushy/water though so be prepared to get wet to wear gaitors! The bottom of the route has several good places to put your packs that are dry. The ice was melting on the sides of the falls pretty fervently, but away from the edges things we dryer (as fall as ice goes). However, as the day wore on the ice began to melt pretty much everywhere and things get very wet indeed. The ice had formed in such a way that the route gets steeper and slightly longer the further left you go. Everything is pretty much a W3 on the first pitch though. There are two bolt anchors (one left and one slightly higher on the right) on top of the second Tier of the falls. The Third and final tier is short. It ranges from W3+ on the left to W2 on the right. On top of the 2nd Pitch there are normally bolt anchors but the ice flow had covered them. There are many trees and Damien and I set up a red rap station/anchor on the big tree to the left.

Damien and I spent the day taking turns leading and running some laps. It was my first W3 lead so I was pretty stoked! Today we ended up returning to climb the route several times again after discovering that Crystal Tears of was out. Grotto is definitely getting a lot of action right now and the route is getting a bit picked out.

Glacier Crest was supposed to be an easier day after completing Video Peak on Sunday. Instead we got a little more than we bargained for! Avalanche Danger was marked as considerable mostly due to a storm that was supposed to come in later in the evening. Therefore, we decided to be a pre-dawn start from the Asulkan TH. There is a great ski track that travels up the Asulkan Valley. After about 1km the forest opens to a big open space and trail junction. Stay right (left goes to Wheeler Hut). The trail continues back into the forest. There are lots of signs marking the turnoffs to different trails. The Turnoff (left) for Glacier Crest Trail  is right after crossing the stone bridge. The skin track begins to ascend from here using many switchbacks and thus endless tight kick turns.  After gain probably about 900ish meters the trees begin to open up on a broad flatter ridge. The hump of Glacier Crest can be seen and the track traverses toward it. Thsi also make the end of the major switchbacks which in celebratory! Views also begin to present themselves on the ridge.

Finally the treeline is reached and the ascent of the final ridge with requires a few switchbacks again. Then a traverse to the summit. There was one steep sections which required us to bootpack our skis, but everything else was doable. Looking down will make you dizzy. Lots of exposure on the ridge, but it is not a knife edge. The summit is broad and big enough to removes skins and set up for a descent. There are few options. We watch some folks ski directly off the summit into the moranie bowl. This option is probably a double black diamond and had lots of rocks to navigate. Another option was to ski through the trees directly back into the Valley. Yet another was to continue several meters along the ridge and drop into the bowl where the angle was ever to slightly less intimidating than the summit direct descent, but featured no rocks. Finally there was an option to backtrack along the ridge and ski off a lower angle slope into the bowl.

We first decided that our best option was to ski down the lower angle slope into the bowl. Two others skiers were also weighing their options. One had dug out a small pit which he let us examine before making a final decision. There seems to be a large slab on top of insecure facets. That didn’t see good on the rolling terrain into the bowl. They decided to descend via the trees which we had no beta for. We opted to backtrack to the summit again and then a bit further on to descend into the bowl. Meanwhile as we were making our decision the weather situation was declining. Temps dropped, some snow flurries fell and the sky filled with clouds. We wanted to get off the the summit!  Instead of skiing the extremely steep initial part of descent we felt it better to boot pack our skis until the angle eased a bit. Damien stamped out a flat spot on the side of the slope and we clipped into our skis for the descent.

Like the previous day on Video Peak the powder was stellar. and we were luckily that flat  light didn’t seem to be an issue this time. The snow stopped, but the cold temps and cloudy skys remained and we made some bouncy turns down the main summit slope and into the rolling bowl. In fact we became joyous turning through the pristine slopes of the upper moraine of the Illecillewaet Glacier. This descent was going to  be a breeze!… just kidding!

About 1/4 of the way down back to the valley the once soft rolling slopes turned into a moraine minefield. We were faced with navigating through a maze of ice walls, cliffs, protruding rocks, trees, boulders… any kind of terrain trap you could think of basically. This wasn’t going to be a chill as we imagined. I can’t give detailed advice on the best way to descend other than do not go fast or approach the top of the hill expecting that there is a slope down. Often there were cliffs. Usually as ever road bock there was some kind of an exit. However, we did have to drop down a few cliffs about 2 meters high. There’s a first time for everything. The experience was very intense and the moraines seemed to go on forever. But to be honest I relished the challenge even though it was stressful.

Finally we reached the lower creek and we were able to breathe a little easier. We followed an up-track at that point which got wider the more we descended. Here the skiing went back to be fun and not quit as stressful. This track linked up with the main trail with the valley which we followed back to the parking lot.

So, more than what we expected, but no regrets! I like living on the edge!

After spending a frigid night camped inside out CRV at the Rogers Pass Discovery Center Damien and I began our ski tour to Video Peak just as the sun rose over the horizon. We were familiar with the route through the Connaught Drainage from our tour to Balu Pass the previous day so we were able to move pretty quickly. There was a great skin track, but to someone unfamiliar with the territory it can be a bit of a maze. You can take the first major turn right and cross the first bridge to the other side of the creek or take the second right further up to cross a different bridge. And once on the other side there are several different side trails. they weave within the drainage. The general idea is to just stay in the drainage on the right side of the creek using one of the bridges. Ultimately it seemed all trails on the right side eventually ended up traversing the bottom of the slopes going toward Balu Pass.

The key to Video Peak is to find the uptrack the branches off the drainage trail. It is located at the bottom of Ursus Trees on a distinct round roll in the valley as the trees begin to thin in the drainage (best to use a map). The uptrack is pretty steep and travels along side a gully and then left through the trees to Ursus Minor Bowl. From the Bowl you get the first views of Video Peak. At that point I was pretty sure we wouldn’t make it as Video seems impossibly far off in the distance. We took a break here for a bit and decided on a turn around time of 2:30pm (it was 11:00). From there we pressed on following a good track that switch-backed across open slopes to Hospital Bowl and the base of Video Peak. To my surprised the track went fast and as we neared the peak is actually seemed to seem less daunting and very manageable. There was a good track that left under some rock bands on the right side of the summit and switchbacked up to the ridge. The skinning went pretty quick. We wanted though that this is very steep slope and a fall would lead to a ridge to the bottom. We had our whippets ready to self-arrest. The kick turns were tight as well. The skin track ended on the ridge several meters from the summit where the rocks were wind-swept and the terrain steepened. We took off out skis, pout them on our packs and booted the rest of the way to the summit making it to the top at 1:30pm.

We were greeted with some spectacular views of the surrounding Mountains and Glaciers. But the sun did not last and as we prepared for our descent flat light set in. This made things a bit more interesting. We skied down skiers right of the summit. The  snow was superb and each turned was effortless and bouncy. Endless virgin powder that wasn’t too soft or too heavy. Everything was just right and perfectly amazing! I don’t think we’ve ever experienced better turns! The one issue was the flat light since we we experience some unexpected dips in the terrain and fall face first  into the snow. Damien actually managed a full somersault. The powder was so pillowy, however, he barely felt it… but it also made it difficult to get up!

Once back in Ursus Minor Bowl the skiing got a bit more tricky as we entered the gully. At first we stayed to the left were there were less obstacles. As things get steeper we moved right away from the cliffs. However, about 150 meters from the bottom of the gully we were forced to enter a narrow and somewhat sketchy looking final funnel via dropped down a 2 meter cliff. It proved to not be horribly horrendous though we had to be careful of boulders and terrain traps in that final funnel. We made to back down without a hitch though and easily followed the wide skin track back to the parking lot at 4pm. Time for a wonderful freeze dried dinner and another night sleeping in the front seat of the car!

We didn’t know exactly what to expect when we arrived at Rogers Pass. We originally intended to climb Video Peak on the first day of the trip, but due to our unfamiliarity with the landscape we altered plans and changed our destination to Balu Pass. The track starts at Rogers Pass Discovery Center. We ran into some issues figuring out the junctions and other trails that seemed to branch off the main ski track. After pausing to evaluate every junction we discovered that there are two right hand turns off the main trail that lead to bridges that cross creek. It does not matter which bridge you take. They both lead to the mian track on the right side of the creek which is where you want to me. Once on the other side the trail branches off in several places. But those side trail all seem to lead back to the main skin track (so long as you don’t take a side track the goes directly up a slope out of the drainage). The main track basically makes a bee-line across the Connaught Drainage to Balu Pass which is visible straight ahead in the distance. Gorgeous vista of the Ursus Group and Sir Donald are present throughout the trip and get better as you ascend the switchbacks up to the top of the broad pass. Once at the top of the pass we explored a bit taking in views of the glaciers on the other side and endless wilderness. We also climbed a bit up the right side  of the pass  through sparse trees toward Balu Peak (aka: 8812) before preparing for descent. We wanted to get in some tree skiing. The slopes from the pass offer a mellow ride down. The snow was pretty much stellar being not too soft and not too hard. The Goldie Locks “Just Right” phenomena.

Once reaching the drainage is is pretty easy to ski most of the way back, though we hand to carry out skis in one area. We did release our heals about halfway down as well. A great intro ski to Rogers Pass.