Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Promised Land

Last week we decided to put the climbing gear away for a few days and head on a little backpacking adventure. We happened to be camping near the Alberta visitor center in Crowsnest Pass, and stopped in most days to enjoy their running water and free wifi. While flipping through some of the brochures we came across some information for these epic cave systems high in the mountains, and after further investigation decided they were worth checking out.

On day 1 we hiked in about 11 km to where we set up camp.  If you happen to own and ATV you can actually cut that down to only 2 km of steep hiking.  Sadly we don't own and ATV, so yeah, we got an extra 9 km of hiking.

It's was a bit demoralizing when we were passed by multiple groups of people on ATVs.  It was also pretty slow going, as the trail crossed Ptolemy creek 7 times.  In good weather all of the crossing can be pretty easily done on logs, but due to a steady drizzle some of these crossings were too slick to be safely done. On several occasions we had to de-shoe, wade through the chilly waters, and re-shoe on the other side.

We set up camp on the cool alpine terrain of the Ptolemy plateau.

On Day 2 we made our day trip to the caves.  Here is Kristal high on the scree on the way to the Cleft cave. The previous day's hike started all the way past the mouth of the valley in the distance.

Here is the view looking back out the entrance of Cleft cave, with Kristal silhouetted at the bottom.

It was a really cool cave, quite literally, with a lot of frost clinging to the walls.  Also a lot of interesting cave features.  Being relatively novice cavers we spent a lot of time exploring many of the nooks and crannies.

After a couple of hundred meters of weaving our way through the mountain, with a short committing squeeze section, the cave abruptly opened up high on the other side of the mountain.

Next up was a short hike over the col to the Andy Good plateau, where we were treated to this crazy landscape of limestone and snow.

We then went to check out Gargantua cave, which boasts 6 km of passages and the largest natural cavern in Canada (290 m long, 30 m wide and 25 m high).  The thing is absolutely huge.  But for all its size, we actually didn't find it as interesting as the Cleft cave.  Of course we only explored the large upper section, unwilling to commit to the long trek through the entire cave system.

Here is Kristal on the phone. She managed to get some reception within a few meters of this one spot.

On the way back to camp we discovered our new favourite method of descent - the glissade!  Basically skiing down a snow slope on your feet. Sadly it only works when there are snow slopes around.

That night we got to experience perhaps one of the of the scariest events of our lives.  Let's just say it is not very comfortable being stuck in the middle of an exposed alpine meadow in a crappy little backpacking tent while a storm of epic proportions rages around you.

On the hike out the next day we encountered more than one tree like this lying across the approach trail that was not present on the hike in.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Frank Sliding

We've spent a lot of time in the last few weeks bouldering at Frank Slide. I was starting to think we had begun to get the lay of the land until last weekend when we met up with locals Trent, Kyle and Morgan who gave us the inside tour. It was pretty baffling to see how many new problems they've established, how well they manage the questionable landings and just how much potential Frank Slide has.

We kinna sucked at taking photos but here's a few shots.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Waterton Lakes

So the most exciting thing that's happened in the last week has definitely been the arrival of my new nephew. Congratulations to Mark and Beth!

In between some fantastic baby snuggling we made it down to Waterton Lakes National Park. We arrived late in the evening without much of a plan. When we crawled out of the tent the next morning, Jason pointed at a random mountain and suggested we climb it.

I was a bit skeptical, but it turned out to be a pretty easy scramble with awesome views, a cool window to the prairies, and a lovely seat for two on the top.

After flipping through a tourist info guide, we decided Red Rock Canyon was also a must see. It was well worth the visit with some cool hiking, natural waterslides that almost worked, and one pretty sweet bouldering problem.

Due to the abundance of chossy rock, the Waterton Area doesn't have a lot of established long rock climbs, but I did manage to find some info on a six pitch route up the southeast ridge of something called Yarrow peak. It sounded interesting, so we followed the vague directions and set out. After nearly three hours of epic hiking we finally found possibly the most horrendous rock on the planet. Our six pitch ridge climb, while only 5.6 (if that) was absolutely terrifying. It was steep, exposed, and about eighty percent of the holds would shatter into a million pieces if you breathed on them the wrong way. After several anxious hours we hit the top of the ridgeline and managed to breath a sigh of relief before having to navigate the scree filled descent.

The six pitch climb ended up being a 9 hour, 12.5 km, 3000ft round trip. (And my route selection privileges have been revoked for the rest of the summer).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Crowsnest Pass

Some pics from the last week spent in Crowsnest Pass, doing some scrambling and bouldering at Frank Slide.

Scrambling up Mount Ward involved a lot of scree...

Some snow...

And some pretty alpine terrain...

The summit wasn't enough so we decided to scramble some of the ridge lines.  Here is Kristal on the way to Mount Alison.

Here is another party on the summit of Mount Ward.

We scrambled the ridge line all the way to the other side of Window Mountain Lake before coming back down.  Here's a view of Mount Ward from our descent.  It was a lot further than we thought it was. :)

A much needed dip in the lake after 7 hours of scrambling.

After all the hiking on the previous day it was a welcome break to just go bouldering for a couple of days.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Beartooth Mountains

We spent our last day at Vedauwoo being chewed up and spit out by some good old off-width cracks, but Kristal still had enough energy at the end of the day to dance up a nice unnamed V6 slab problem.

After that we made a much needed stop at one of our favourite small towns in the middle of Wyoming, Thermopolis, to enjoy a soak in the free hot springs.  While there, a fellow traveler told us about some Native American petroglyphs just up the road at a place called Legend Rock.

Next up we decided to check out the Beartooth Mountains in southern Montana.

We spent a couple of days hiking and climbing in the beautiful East Rosebud Lake area.

We climbed the popular moderate route The Ramp, which climbs the left side of the 800 foot buttress in the photo below.  It's mostly low angle 5.6ish climbing with a few great 5.8 and 5.9 sections.

On our way north from there we happened to be driving on July 4th, and as we were coming into the small town of Roundup, Montana we found that our route was blocked by their Independence Day parade!  We eventually ran out of side roads to drive around and ended up having to watch the parade.  It actually turned out to be pretty entertaining, especially when they started throwing candy and Mr. Freeze's at us (a welcome relief from the 34 degree Celsius temps).

After the parade was over we had enough candy to last us through the endless prairie.