Monday, September 24, 2007

End of Canada Trip - Random Thoughts

Here i am, spending my last day cragging at Heart Creek with some Islanders that are not afraid of the cold, and compare it rather to their summer. Weather is gorgeous and my heart aches to leave this place. Some random thoughts/information follow to keep the memory working:

- Best coffee place around Vancouver - Gallilleo, just before Squamish, very good crumbles too! Best dinner place in Squamish - the Watershed Grill, good Thai salad.

- Best coffee around the Rockies - Lake Louise's Trailhead Caffee, with the best breakfast bagel i've tried on this trip - home-made omlette with vegetables and all, mmm, too good!

- My self-made favorite camping breakfast in Canada - cereals + oats (variety mix) with blueberries and maple syrop.

- Record partner non-show-up on this trip a) Kyle b) Jesse c) Adrienne who managed to not show up at the gym! All three without any warning before/after. People, you should learn some manners...

- Useful Canadian websites:
Weather -
Squamish partners forum -
Canmore/Canada partners forum -
More partners forums -
Topos Rockies -
Personal appreciation -
Conditions from the Guides -
Alpine Club, huts -
Avalanche Conditions -

- Thank you to everyone who has been nice to me (apparently a Canadian quality, based on Fergusen's book "Why I hate Canadians", interesting book btw), has shared a rope or offered beta or a couch to sleep on - i.e. Mica, Scotty, Brian, David & Emily.

- A random story I heard from the Islanders - during the 19th century, when trying to connect Europe to the US, after several months of prepation and setting up the cable through the Atlantic Ocean, just before reaching NYC, the cable setters...dropped the cable!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rockies, the Final View

And here are finally the Rockies again. Alone this time, back to Calgary, i quickly leave the city and head up for the adventures. The weather is bound on snow, meaning less climbing - and more viewing.

The first present is my stay at Canmore Clubhouse, Canadian's Alpine Club creation, and very very comfy place - especially after the night before spent at the Van airport chairs. I somehow get the privillege to sample the newly-built Bowsen cabin, and this is the view on the Three Sisters from the porch -

The next day the real exploring starts with the touristy drive up the Icefields parkway. Only a few kilometers after the park gate and the fee for it, this is the view i get - and enough to make me forget the fee.

As a sidenote, it is very funny to travel along these tourist routes in the Rockies - or should i say route, as there are not that many of them! Usually you see a couple of times during the day a stampede of people on one or the other side of the road, with cars parked and cameras out. That means either a view, or a wild animal. And it is usually worth getting out of your car for it, whatever aversion you might have for chinese or japanese camera clicks!

Next is a shot of another Zen lake out there, the Peyoto lake, shaped as a Wolf's head, and as blue and transparent as they get in the rockies. The recent snow adds its charm, and postcard shots are rather easy to come by.

After a long drive to Jasper, i treat myself to first, the Maligne lake, that prooves to be very maligne, and shovels snow and rain on me - and next, the Miette hot springs, and this view on the drive back. It is not the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, but close!!!

I discover a very welcome hostel near Mt Edith Cavell. I did think about climbing the East ridge, but it looked rather long and snowy up there, so I, as usual, chicken out, sleep at the hostel and than drive back into winter.

Tourism - Vancouver, Victoria, the Island

Being out of partners, sick of the campground and near the end of my trip, i escaped Squamish for some sightseeing activity with an expensive rental car. It was well worth it though, as the area around Vancouver is definitely one of the most interesting and beautiful ones i have seen in Canada (behind the Rockies though - but those are mountains - my playground).

This is a shot from Vancouver's copy of New York - not bad, and not far from the East side, an interesting hike to say the least.

And this Victoria, jewel of the Vancouver island, and the oldest city in Canada, from what the guidebook pretends. The port is not only home to boats, but also to water plains, that spit out business people into the dock and are very photogenic animals as a free by-product.

The promenade along the harbour is, like Canadians around here love to say, 'wicked' and offers several photo opps. MMM, becoming a full-time traveller and photographer doesn't sound like such a bad idea at times.

On my quick tour of the island i had to go back just after one day and only one stop at French beach (and no whales). These are the last shots of a less touristy port of Nanaimo, from where the Ferry leaves to Horseshoe bay. The ferry rides, by the way, are very pictoresque and make up for all the cruises i have not taken. Although not passionate about the sea, i can understand how one could be, especially when living around Vancouver.

Sea from another harbour walk, towards Nanaimo's Arts district (a disaster this time, not much to visit there).

Squamish Climbing or Cracks Rule!!!

Squamish climbing stood up to its name for me - i managed to sample some of its best cracks, mostly on lead too. Also mstly hand-dogging, unfortunately, but i have all the excuses possible for that one :).

After getting up Rock On clean and boosting my confidence a little, I had to try the Split Pillar, the famous 10b pitch on the Grand Wall. Getting there is rather exciting too, with a nicely run-out Mercy Me (as i did not dare go up Cruel Shoes - excuse there being my new Miuras hurting like hell) and a strenuous traverse to get the spirits up afterwards. The Pillar is wonderful though - especially if you handjam it. I'm sure i could have gotten that one if i had an extra big blue cam - but i did not and rested at the crux. Oh well, it is still an excellent pitch and it makes me proud to have led it. We rapped after the Sword pitch as the sun was going down and my partner was feeling weak. As i was doing all of the leading that day, I didn't mind much - although finishing the Grand would have been sweet. Bring 2 ropes for the rap though!!!

Here is another stellar crack - one of the most chalked and famous ones too. It is at the base of the Grand wall, easy access, and lots of traffic. Called Exasperator for a reason, it is a 2-pitch wonder. I dared lead only the first pitch, where already i had to backtrack and shovel with cams. Having only C3 2 and 0 and one or two TCUs, i chickened from the second pitch, but that's the way life goes...Me in full action:

Best part of that day - top roping Clean Crack, this is my partner on this exciting line, an 11b finger jam, totally worth it. Lower Malarmute all to ourselves, we had lots of fun exploring there - the layback climb to the right of Clean, and another jewel - Hand Jive, which i mercelessly handdogged to the top. Wow, that one hurts!!! It's been a while since my feet in the crack made me cry - this was the one. A definite must for cragging at Squamish, a beautiful view on the bay - and fearsome logging debris and train rails in the proximity. The best of both worlds.

Not to forget - Olympics are going to take place in Whistler in 2010, that's what is pushing the economy in the area up, and the road construction. Squamish is as busy as ever, and the blasting (at night) around the road construction sites makes the campground one of the worst i've stayed in so far (with the one in Red Rocks still being on the top of the list!).

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Vancouver Art Minute

During my tourism day in Vancouver, i discovered the city with its Seabus and Skytrain and pretty convinient trasportation system. It is also full of drug addicts of all sorts, proliferating from the East side to every corner. The tempretures are lenient for Canada, the ground ready with crime options - and there goes a community of sorts.

Otherwise, there are two good museums worth a visit - UBC's anthropology museum and the Vancouver Art gallery.

The anthropology museum, located at the BC universitie's heart - a similar idea to university museums at Harvard - has come up with this interesting concept of showing its storage through wooden boxes scattered around the museum, where, like a curious child, one can open a drawer and find japanese dolls, tea instruments or indian flip-flops at random. A good concept, as in most other museums, 90% of their property is hidden in the basement and storage areas under dust and webbing.

The totem poles and some potlatch masks are a good intro to these well-forgotten owners of the land culture. An impressive sculpture by Bill Reid, the Raven and the First Man, has an evil feel to it, similar to Emily Carr paintings at the Art Gallery. Many people's lives and memories destroyed, their spirit still remains overflying their favorite rivers, coast lines and hunting prairies.

The Art Gallery has a much more commercial approach, with the most crowded place being its art shop, filled with discounts on all impressionist goodies during these last days of Monet to Dali expo. The expo itself is not that interesting, paintings come from Cleveland, and apart from Morisot portrait by Manet, I can't remember anything else from it already.

The surprise comes from the second and third floor, with the Huang Yong Ping retrospective and some funny design works from Andrea Zittel - i.e. her Deserted Island project (more detail here).

Shame on me, but i have never before heard of Huang, a Chinese artist specialized in political sculpture with a message and good sence of humour. My favorites of his was the Vespucci bulldog and the 'Nationals' and 'Others' sculpture. His work is very interesting - his latest 'coup' was installing this stand with voracious insects and reptiles inside the Vancouver Art Gallery, that got an upheaval from the whole animals defence community and a final ban from a judge that ordered to remoove the poor animals hurting the sensibilities of unprepared visitors. Now the exhibit stands empty (although the zoos stand full), proof to the free speach dillemma.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Squamish the Chief

First day in Squamish and we get to the top of the Chief by a beautiful combination of routes - Snake to start, Memorial Crack (omnipresent Beckey creation) - awesome offwidth on perfect granite :

and than the Ultimate Everything to make it a fun 5.9 18 pitches day. Here is me contemplating the last 2 pitches.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Skaha, or Back into Summer

Sick of cold and big mountains, we are off West, wild wild west - canadian style! It resembles more French Riviera with wineries and rich tourists. Beautiful Lake District that has a climbing jewel hidden in its mist - Skaha. Developped only during the 90ies by some outdoor enthusiasts, it is situated in a beautiful canyon-like setting, full of rattlers and other unpleasant species - such as the fascist farmer who owns the parking lot at the base and chases climbers unwilling to part with their last 10 dollars for the parking fee... Anyway, capitalism rules, but climbing in Skaha is probably worth the $10 fee, i should not complain.

Both, sport and trad, mainly 1-pitch long, this is a very worth-while cragging area between the Rockies and the coast. Off for granite and Squamish now!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Up Mount Louis

Mount Louis was on my list - a very beautiful mountain one notices first on the way from Canmore to Banff. As all big rocks in the Rockies, it does have an approach - 1.5 hr says Dougherty guidebook , but again that guy must have forgotten his watch each time he was doing his hikes.

Anyway, these are the conditions we encountered - first snow for me, a beautiful morning!

And this is the mountain. Unfortunately i-cafe doesn't allow me to turn pictures, so let your imagination work! (EDITED - problem corrected :)

We did the Gmoser route up, a long long route with a crux at 5.8 and the Perrain variation on the top. Routefinding on loose limestone sucked though, even to find the start of the route we spent 1h... Summit reached, but not too many good impressions from the route. This mountain needs more modern developments, i.e. on the diamond-shaped face...

Here's the last picture from the descent - the most interesting part of the route. Big walls around there, awaiting someone with a drill and an imagination streak. Cold though!!!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Rest day - Hot springs!!!

My new discovery today are the hot springs. Nothing like it for a rainy rest day in the mountains. My only wish was for it to snow while lying in the 40-degree water outside. Not bad at all - and apparently there are lots of these across Alberta and BC. I wish i were here in winter to enjoy a long day of ice climbing with a hot springs end! Recommended address here.

Oh, and not that recommended - we spent the whole day yesterday trying to locate Bastille, a supposedly new nice 8-pitch climb on Tunnel Mountain in the backwaters of Banff. We finally finished the day cragging instead and still have no idea where that climb is. That much for the Sport climbing in Bow Valley topo and the Tabvar printouts. For all route setters - please please, try to make sense for other people than yourselves when creating those topos... Alpine climbing by Dougherty is not much better - not only it lacks any approach maps, it doesn't even state times for hut approaches (i.e. Castle mountain...)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Grand Sentinel

After Lake Louise quartzite cragging, we moved to a bigger objective, still quartzite - very interesting and beautifully colored rock. Only 4 pitches, Grand Sentinel stands out like the desert towers in Utah, guarding the Sentinel pass between Mount Temple (a formidable alpine piece from the N side) and Pinnacle Mountain.

The 2.5 hour approach limits crowds. Another Canadian thing - you are required to hike in 4s !!! if not you get fined, all because of the browny creatures - BEARS. Everyone here hikes with a 'bear spray', Canadian version of the thief gas that works as well on humans as on bears...

There are two lines to get to the summit, a trad 5.8 and a sport 10d. We started on the sport line, planning to do the trad line afterwards. But with only 4 pitches the Sentinel got the best out of us and the good intentions for the trad line stayed that, intentions. We watched two girls from the coast do both climbs though - kudos to the strong!

The Cardiac arête is deservedly named, and definitely a climb worth the hike-in. Sustained, crazy exposure from the first pitch on, mind-boggling 2nd pitch. The top is the biggest surprise - it's just big enough for two, and feels like it's all going to fall off in a matter of minutes - a big rock pile on top of a 100m spire. FUN!!!

Here is Micah following the second pitch with Sentinel’s shadow on the left, and afterwards me on the top of the rock pile - and the top of the world, as far as we were concerned that day.

And this is the wonderful wonderful view of the Moraine lake, part of the approach pleasures.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Canada trip - first days

Here I am, after a long summer of hard work, i am finally on a road trip - and not anywhere, but in canadian rockies, incredible mountains at the other side of the world.
First days I spend around Canmore and Banff, getting used to my new partner Micah, local scenery and limestone rock. First climb True Grit on EEOR crag in front of Ha Ling peak (see picture), whose North Face reminds me a lot of Eiger, and attracts me as much - but my partner feels we should wait before tackling that one. Plenty of other things to do around.
Second day sees us up Sea of Dreams just after Banff, with an awesome 6a 4th pitch that i even manage to proudly get up. Finally, today we go cragging at Lake Louise, one of the most photographed - and very beautiful indeed - lakes in the world. Quartzite rock offers very good climbing that reminds me of Buoux this time. Waiting out the weather is fun in the Rockies - and it doesn't rain that much.
Next objective - Grand Sentinel, Castle Mountain, Mount Louis, and than off to the Bugs!