Uisdean Hawthorn and I are in Canada for September, with alpine objectives in mind. This country is vast. You zoom out on Google Earth and realise you’re actually a tiny speck on the map, with nothing but vast swathes of wilderness in every direction. Driving along the Icefields Parkway is spectacular: broad glacial valleys, green alpine forests and chossy brown mountains rising into the blue. The road signs even say, ‘Next Town: 250 km.’
Lake Cephron from the Icefields Parkway. Photo: Uisdean Hawthorn
The scale is almost incomprehensible for Brits. It takes five days of constant driving to cross Canada. Even something so commonplace as vehicles are in new proportions: cars are the same size as vans, campervans are mobile homes and RVs are the size of coaches and lorries. The trains snake their way through the valleys and take five minutes to pass (we counted 172 carriages on one). The waffles are two inches thick and the prices are double.
Big. The view from halfway up Mt. Temple.
Oh, and there’s warnings about bears everywhere. ‘You will need Bear Spray. You will get eaten if you see a bear.’ So far, Uisdean and I have only heard loud rustlings in the trees at night, but we nearly screamed like girls.
But the Canada we came to see is thankfully bigger than the bears, supersize cars and waffles. We’re here for the world-class hardcore alpinism, where the stories are rich with the names of legends: House, Blanchard, Lowe, Anderson, Prezelj, Twight, Haley, Walsh, Cheesmond, Wharton, Slawinski… and so on… and so on…
We were particularly inspired to visit Canada by Nick and Will’s second ascent of the House-Anderson on the north face of Mt. Alberta last year. Just look at that face: it’s aesthetic pyramidal shape, remote location, committing feel and good-quality climbing make me want to be standing on that summit more than most. If I get to stand on the summit after a route on the north face, I’ll be very content.
The weather and temperatures have been very mixed during our first ten days. Cool and crisp, wet and humid, cold and snowy, hot and dry. Thankfully the sport climbing is good so we’ve been keeping fit. After chatting with all-round nice guy and Canmorite Raf Andronowski, we got an idea of the climbing and conditions (‘the rock is just so bad… it’s just shit’).
In our first weather window we had an aborted attempt on Mt. Kitchener’s Grand Central Couloir, which ended with warm temperatures and drizzle at 3 a.m. It was good to stretch the legs, but I was worried I’d have a repeat of my trip to the Alps this summer – melting snow and falling rocks. Upon returning to the car, we drove straight towards Lake Louise and Mt. Temple.
The 1000 m north face of Mt. Kitchener. GCC goes up and left from the big ‘schrund.
Complaining about the temperatures and my terrible bivi spot. Photo: Uisdean Hawthorn.
Uisdean under the bivi boulder beneath Kitchener. The muddy trench in the foreground is where I pretended to sleep.
We headed to Mt. Temple’s Greenwood/Jones. It’s one of the most ‘popular’ Rockies alpine climb which sees perhaps one ascent a year. As always the numbers mean very little, but it’s given something like ‘V, 5.9, A1’ and features 1600 m of height gain to the 3544 m summit.
We set off at about 6.45 am, roping up for the initial pitch before soloing a few hundred metres of total and utter choss. We then started simul-climbing, leading two longs blocks each, again on loose rock. A couple of sections were probably E3/4 5a/b.
There was a lot of snow on the ledges which separated each big headwall of rock, which proved interesting in climbing shoes. We made steady progress and Uisdesan put in a couple of good leads on poor rock when we were slightly off-route. (N.B: on the ‘leftwards traverse at three-quarters height,’ traverse a full 50/60 m before climbing up. We only went 30 m.)
The crux went free and was fine, with some decent rock and good positions. We finished climbing at around 5 pm and reached the summit after some interesting front-point traversing at around 7.30 pm. We shook hands, although I think an exploding fist bump would’ve been more appropriate.
The north face of Mt. Temple. The Greenwood/Jones goes up the rock left of centre.
Uisdean charging and chossing.
Nearly there… Photo: Uisdean Hawthorn
Darkness saw us reach Sentinel Pass after descending the south-west ridge. We walked the final 15 km back to the car beneath a blanket of stars, singing loudly to scare the bears. We were pleased to have climbed the route in good style and in reasonable time. The usual weather has returned, so we’ll be watching the forecast and making plans for the next adventure into the alpine.
Thanks to everyone who’s been helpful on this trip, including Jon Walsh and Raf Andronowski.