Best of the Best
Ha Ling Peak, standing
high above Canmore, in the Canadian Rockies
The Rockies are Canadaís most well known and easily accessible mountains.
Rising up to nearly 4000 metres, the Rockies are also among Canadaís highest
south of the Yukon.
Although there is a lifetime worth of alpine rock and ice climbing, I was more of a cragger when I lived nearby. As such, the information on these pages is focused more on the sport climbing and cragging of the Bow Valley.
Canadian Rockies run along the BC-Alberta border from the Northwest Territories
through into the US. The most developed climbing areas are along the Bow
valley between Banff and Calgary, primarily around Canmore or in Kananaskis
Country. These areas are accessible from the trans Canada hwy (hwy 1)
and the Kananaskis highway (Alberta route 40). The Ghost River Wilderness
area, north of the Bow Valley, is accessible via secondary route 940,
and generally requires a 4x4 for access.
The weather is the biggest disadvantage to the Rockies. Most of the
crags are snowbound or at least wet until May, though die hards can often
find a patch of dry rock on sunny days in late March or early April. Barrier
and other south facing crags in Kananaskis are generally the first to
be climbable in the spring. Throughout the summer the weather is generally
decent, with temperatures in the low 20ís, though owing to the nature
of mountain weather is very unpredictable, and afternoon thunderstorms
are quite common. Forecasts, available online from the Environment Canada
WeatherOffice, are notoriously
unpredictable. The best bet is just to go for it, but bring a mountain
bike or do one of the many great hikes if the weather turns ugly.
There is a bit of everything in the Canadian Rockies, with hundredís of
peaks running from the US Border north for hundreds of kilometres. Much
of the limestone in the Rockies is of poor quality, and does not lend
itself to good protection, so despite the abundance of long, steep rock
faces, many are rarely climbed. That said, there are still a large number
of fine alpine rock and ice routes, though sport crags seem to be popping
up all over the place. Suffice to say, whatever your climbing penchant
is, the Rockies have something to offer.
The majority of the shorter cliffs in the Rockies host only sport routes,
hence a set of draws and a rope is all that is needed at most crags. For
the most part the routes are a bit overprotected (particularly if you
come from a more traditional area such as Squamish, or Yosemite), so at
least 12 draws is standard. Some of the older areas such as Grotto Canyon
and Barrier have a few mixed and gear routes, so a rack is not completely
useless. Back of the Lake at Lake Louise has a number of outstanding gear
and mixed routes and much more solid rock than can be found elsewhere
in the Rockies.While the crags are generally sport, there are a number
of fine alpine multi-pitch climbs on the numerous peaks throughout the
range. Although most of the routes are not incredibly difficult by todayís
standards, they are generally of a very serious nature and should not
be approached without sufficient experience and preparation (read - they
often offer little protection and often involve devious route finding
and poor rock).
My experience with other climbers in the Rockies is that they are generally
a very friendly bunch. In keeping with this notion, please observe the
following common courtesies while climbing in the Rockies:
- Donít set up a top rope on a route, except by leading it first. Most
crags have lots of loose rock at the top which is a dangerous hazard
to other climbers. The only exception is Burstall Slabs which is an
accepted top-roping area.
- Do not leave any garbage at the crags. This includes rap slings. If
you have to bail, leave an old biner.
- Do not bring dogs to the crags.
- Do not manufacture or reinforce holds when establishing new routes.
- Protection on sport routes should be enough to make the route reasonably
safe. Pitons or nylon slings are not suitable sport anchors.
There are a number of guidebooks for the Rockies.
Sport Climbs of the Canadian Rockies by John Martin and Jon Jones
describes over 1400 sport routes from Lake Louise to Kananaskis country.
Bow Valley Rock by Chris Perry and Joe Josephson and Banff
Rock by Joe Josephson (both currently out of print) describe the
multi-pitch routes from Banff to Kananaskis. Ghost Rock
by Joe Josephson, Chris Perry and Andy Genereux describes both the sport
and multi-pitch routes of the Ghost River Wilderness area. All of
these books are published by Rocky Mountain
Books. Barrier Bluffs, the Guide describes the multi-pitch
and gear routes at Barrier, as well as all of the sport routes up to the
late 80ís. In addition, there are a great number of guides to the numerous
scrambles and alpine routes throughout the Rockies. New route information
may be found on the web site of The Association of Bow Valley Rockclimbers
|The Kananaskis area covers the foothills of the Rockies.
Access is via hwy 40, which heads south from hwy 1 30 km east of Canmore.
There is quite a variety to the crags here, from the technical near
vertical routes at Barrier, to the steep walls of Prairie Creek, the
Squamish Apron style friction climbing on the Burstall Slabs, and
the conglomerate rock of Cowbell Crag. As well, this area covers Yamnuska,
the most popular multi-pitch (~500m) cliff in the Bow Valley.
|Canmore is the last town outside of Banff National
Park. There are a number of crags within the general vicinity of the
town, mostly sport crags in the various canyons of the area. In addition,
the east end of Rundle (EEOR) has a number of longer sport and gear
routes, and Ha Ling Peak, which overlooks Canmore, has the longest
sport route north of Mexico at 22 pitches.
|Banff and Lake
|There are two small sport crags within walking distance
of Banff, as well as one larger crag a few km to the north. Back of
the Lake at Lake Louise has some of the best climbing in the Rockies
on outstanding quartzite.