by ROSS BALLARD
Dec. 12th – Rest Day
Driving into Banff around noon, we spend a couple hours looking in climbing shops and stop in at the Rose N’ Crown for a sneaky quick drink. Tyler gets some wire to keep his crampons from sustaining further damage and I buy a small coffee press that will live in the rig for the remainder of the season. We drive out to the Banff Springs Hotel and park down below at Bow falls. From here the famed building reminds me of Hogwarts, but instead of British wizards, it’s full of rich yuppies. We walk into the place and check out all the fancy shops and art galleries. We get some strange looks. Is it the duct tape on my parka? We pass a “fashion” boutique that has more furs than there are animals in the Rockies. On the way back to the truck we laugh because the rig looks as out of place in the parking lot as we do inside. We head back to town and have dinner before hitting the highway back toward Jasper for our next climbing destination.
Dec. 13th – The Balfour Wall 20M WI2-4
After French toast, garlic sausage, and fresh coffee we gear up and hit the steep approach to the Balfour wall. Due to our late breaky, two other groups have beaten us up the hill and snagged the steeper ice; we walk to the far left of the wall and Tyler leads a nice grade three line to the trees. We set our anchor and soon have a few climbs each completed. The other groups are friendly and we trade ropes climbing the two steeper walls in succession.
After a few rounds we switch back to our line and climb the opposite end of the rope. In the far left corner of the wall there is a steep ice chimney that carves its way to the top of the cliff. I give my rope a flick to set it in the runnel and climb the steep ice leading into the chimney. I slide my body into the icy crack and climb up, sticking my feet in the face and pressing my back against the ice. It is very awkward but extremely fun. After I come down, Ty has a go and agrees it is the coolest feature we have climbed so far this trip. I am feeling strong and bold so I pull the rope and rack up to lead the beast. I take deep breaths and envision sinking my tools home over the bulge at the top. Tyler puts me on belay. We both agree the climbing is hard WI4; not super tall but straight vertical and in your face the whole way. I climb the first few meters up to the chimney and stick my leg down in a hole that has not formed in yet. I place my fist screw and take comfort from the grinding sound of the solid ice. Pulling up and out of the hole I wedge my hips in the chimney, awkwardly climbing two more body lengths before driving home another screw. After this the climbing gets more difficult as the ice becomes flat and featureless. I move up a few more body lengths placing one screw and stop just below the bulge; I unclip Tyler’s Christmas present, a shiny new ten centimeter baby screw and set it to the ice. I notice the ice is too thin where it’s resting, but as I go to change the position it slips from my icy paw and falls down the wall. I curse my fumble; with no other short screws I am forced to crest the bulge with no protection directly below it. I set my feet high making sure my knees are well clear of the ice so my crampons don’t blow out. I sink one tool then the other blade deep in the frozen loam and pull down hard stepping slowly over the breakable cap and scrambling up the snowy slope to the trees above. ELATION! My hardest lead to date on ice.
I pull the remaining rope up and put Ty on belay. He gets to the top with a big smile on his face. Despite dropping the screw it was a good lead. I am proud of this one and feel jazzed for the rest of the day. We leave just before dark and drive down the highway toward the last climb of the trip.
Dec. 14th – Melt Out 100M WI3 / Wapta Falls Am I doing here? 30M WI3
We wake at six am and drive just down the road to where the classic climb ‘Melt Out’ is clearly visible on the side of Tangle Ridge. We hike up the pounded trail for twenty minutes and set our packs down on a huge flat boulder at the base of the falls. We gear up and Ty takes the sharp end leading up the rambling WI3 ice. I belay while snapping a few photos and watch Ty hit the top and head for the bare rock which has a convenient bolted anchor. I come up and once again put Ty on lead so I can take photos. The second pitch is much like the first; fairly steep and rambling ending in a bolted belay. I take the third pitch which meanders up a narrow gully spaced with open water pools. Trying not to dip the rope I scramble up the last ice ramp to a tree covered in old webbing. It looks like a pack rat got at the tasty slings so I cut them off and stuff them in a pocket for disposal. After Ty climbs up we look at the view for a bit then set the rope for rappel. Looking down off the top of the second pitch is very surreal as you can see straight down to the tiny dot of your pack at the bottom. I snap a couple photos of Ty looking like an ant below me. On the deck we decide to bail and do another climb.
We drive just down the road to Beauty Creek and ditch our big heavy rope for a single thin cord. I scrap half the rack taking only five screws and quick draws. We are aiming for the Sunwapta Gullies and for the first time on the trip we find no donkey trail. Strapping on our snowshoes we leave the rig at 12:30 and cross the shallow creek to break a path into the climb. Close to an hour of punching through isothermal snow brings us sweating and cursing to the mouth of a small canyon. Gearing up for the second route of the day, we leave the rope in Tyler’s pack and each clip a couple screws to our harnesses. We solo up the canyon climbing several hundred meters of rambling snow and WI2 which eventually ends in a beautiful grotto. Tyler has been here before; what is regularly a beautiful wall of stepped ice is now a steep blue pillar sparkling with early season chandeliers. He wants this lead bad so I hand him the remaining screws and uncoil the rope. I find the middle mark and double the cord making a half-length twin rope. Ty sets his tools with confidence and climbs the steep pillar with calm strength placing three screws on the way. Once we are both at the top we pack up the gear and trudge down through the forest to our snowshoes. We are both punched tired but super happy with our day. We walk slowly down the trail and back to the rig. Too tired to organize the gear we throw the packs in the camper and head back to Jasper. After a teen burger Ty has a coke and I slam a coffee so we don’t fall asleep on the drive home. Good roads, no Star Wars snow, and few reckless drivers result in a safe trip back to the valley. It’s good to be home.
I would like to thank Tyler Stayer for being a great friend and mentor. It was a pleasure to share this adventure with him.
This is Ross Ballard reminding you that a day without dark roast is a day less rich, so double check your check list before leaving home.
Thanks for reading!