It is November the 25th. Our goal for the day is Whiteman Falls in the Kananaskis Country. In the light of our headlamps we heed up the creek. When the first frozen ice appears we put on harnesses and crampons. Being ready first i start to climb the initial easy ice. As i reach the exit i hear the noise of roaring water and see the light of my headlamp reflected in dark water: In front of me lies a small lake, surrounded by icy edges, seemingly not passable. It’s still early in the season. Matthias comes up, astonishment on his face. The adventure seems to start already here: Falling off from this rock means taking a very cold bath and returning to Canmore.So i´m quite curious watching Matthias drytooling the little passage - to my surprise, nothing spectacular is happening. Then it is my turn to safe the day. The placements hold, soon i achieve soft, welcoming ice and we are able to follow the Canyon up to the mighty column of Whiteman Falls:
Big, bright and impressively it looms over 80 meters up to the sky. Hugh mushrooms are forming the first pitch. Matthias starts out for it. Some medusas are seized the hight of of church domes.The sound of the ice axes are echoed back from the encircling walls. It is really a stunning place we ´re in. Climbing up to the belay on the pillar, i get direct contact with this most bizarre forms. On belay i look up for a long minute: Above us rises the ice now vertical into the sky, a powerful monument of pure water, frozen in treachery shapes of long daggers and pipes. Hard to judge the ice quality and the possible placements for screws...it is for sure a long way to go. Matthias sets out for it. Looking at him i feel overwhelmed by this great white shining line, the cathedral like rock and the endless forests building up behind. As soon as belay is achieved i follow up. A beautiful and demanding climb.
On November 27th we find ourselves again in the darkness on the Icefields Parkway. We approach “Dancing with Chaos”: a long cascading white line falling down on a huge rock wall. The initial ice pitch is easy ice followed by a steeper bulk of chaotic ice: the name is well found, although i have seen many worth creations of ice. The ice demands some weird movements but i can find some good placements for protection. The dance turns out to be a nice one.
We´re living in the rhythm now, heeding against north in the early morning again, the acquainted darkness rushing by, the forests, the silhouettes of the mountain ridges. With shining headlamps we approach “Shooting Star” . We don´t talk much. Shortly before we reach the ice a thick morning fog appears, veiling in the whole scenery. Then the curtain rises and “Shooting Star” awaits us with all it´s might. We gear up and then the climbing starts. The ice is thin, i have to take care. In the upper section fragile medusas are formed, demanding swift and quick movements. Somewhere between the loose ice i find an ice bulk of thicker consistence. Perfect for a 10 cm screw. And on goes the climb. Spin drifts are coming down, covering my face and my neck with snow. When i finally reach the thicker ice, the hollow sound of the ice axes makes me aware that the whole upper part of the fall is detached from the wall. But apart of the nerve killing sound the ice is good. When the rope is running out i build a belay on screws, not a most confidential one, but one i can live with. Matthias comes up and leaves for the second pitch, good ice, but slightly detached from the rock. Then a snow couloir leads up to a large bowl. On the headwall a mighty column has formed, large medusas building it´s extremely aesthetic pedestal. It is a great sight! I sit down, drink some tea and breath. The initial medusas have to be climbed with care. When i reach the free standing pillar i put in my first screw. Now the steep part starts. Looking up i see the vertical ice looming above me and I focus on the moment. The ice is hard, this fall had not had much repetitions yet and i have to find the balance between scratching and hitting the ice, knowing that this fall demands some carful treatment. Shaking my arms out i pull myself up the last meters. As soon as i am on belay, Matthias starts to come up. He gives me a high five and goes for the last pitch, a mixture of ice and a lot of snow. More spin drifts are coming down. Suddenly i hear Matthias cry out. Vibrations of stress go through me. White masses of snow are rushing down. It is not the first time i experience this: we have been seriously avalanched on an ice fall once, and the memory of it never has left me. But we´re lucky! The avalanche is of no big seize, soon it is stopping. I feel the rope moving again and the sign for belay given a short time later. I follow up and focus on speed. But when i reach the upper part i simply have to stop and gaze in disbelief. The sight is just awesome: A huge round rock is chocked above the rock walls, an incredible sculpture of nature.It is looking like the mythical stone of Sisyphus, left here as an eternal symbol. But there is not much time, we are in the middle of an highly potential avalanche gully and the wind is getting stronger. So we hurry up, Matthias is pressing on, he quickly builds a v-thread and smashes in a kniveblade. With four abseils and a walk down the snow couloir we are at the bottom of the climb again safe and sound.
Due to the tricky avalanche situation the next days sees us on the “Weeping Wall” ticking two of the classic lines there.
More snow is coming and the trail of snow drifts on the ridge lines above Canmore let us decide that it´s time to give our nerves a break and go for some safe drytooling to “The Playground”. After the warm up routes we go for the M10+route “Swiss Cheese”in the cave.We checked the route already a week before but could not send it yet. Mat, memorizing the moves completely now, sends it on his first try today. Great, i am really happy with him. I try the route myself, but fall off somewhere in the middle. Next time!
Two days later we are there again. My first try fails cause i´m too nervous. But on my second try everything works out fine and i can clip the anchor after a clean RP.
We still have not been in the Ghost for climbing but we know that we simply have to go there!!! The Ghost is a special place. Here the impressions of Matthias:
The day is rising with a red light, that puts the huge rock walls above us aflame, while we are approaching on the frozen drainage of the Ghost lakes. Our objective for today is “Rainbow Serpent”. A mythical line all hidden in a natural wonder called “Recital Hall”. We have teamed up with Steve Swenson, a real connoisseur of the Ghost. The ice is cracking under our feet and I take in the cold fresh air. There is a wonderful peace filling the air here and I enjoy every step of the approach. We reach the the foot of “Aquarious”, the access fall of the “Recital Hall”. Tanja is racking up to climb this very aesthetic 60 m pitch of ice, thats separating the big rock wall. She is gaining fast the belay and Steve and I are following up. I pass Tanja on the belay and enter the “Recital Hall”. First my eyes fall on the unformed shape of “Fearful Symmetry” but after a few steps more I cant believe what I see - It’s too beautiful: “Rainbow Serpent”! It is one of the most aesthetic ice pillars I have ever seen and standing in front of this nearly 100m high natural wonder fills me with deepest admiration and respect. The sound of our voices get’s amplified by the natural structure of the “hall”. I am climbing up the easy ice to the huge first freestanding pillar. I put a screw at his base and with carful tool placements I am getting on it. While I am on the middle of the pillar two big black ravens come in to the “Hall” and the crackling of their voices follow the sound of my ice axes... I am getting nearer to the end of the pillar when out of sudden with a deep crack and boom the whole pillar is cracking and settling. Luckily nothing more is happening - we are the first to climb “Rainbow Serpent” this season. Over the medusas on the right side I gain a good belay on the foot of the upper pillar. On two bomber screws Tanja and Steve are coming up. The look of the upper pillar is tremendous. The sun is caressing the ice and creates wonderful reflections. The ice itself consists out of thousands of little icicles frozen together. A wonderful view, but it will be tricky to climb. I am starting in to the pitch. Four easy meters bring me to the upper pillar. I am looking for the first placement for my right tool on the fragile ice when I am cutting loose a double fist sized ice block. This time I am not fast enough and it hits me full on my chin - luckily no open cut. Steve is cheering from the belay and a little bit on the left I find good ice and swing on to the fantastic pillar. There is a lot of air under my feet and the exposure is incredible beautiful. I have to stop and to look down to savor the greatness of this place. The pillar is getting narrower towards the top but the ice quality gets better and with a last look down in to the far away ground of the “Hall” I am topping out. A deep happiness is filling me letting me forget the cold and the wind. I am grateful, that I could be on such a wonderful place with such wonderful people as Steve and Tanja. When they come up we shake hands, but it’s really cold and they have been both waiting on the belay- so they are double cold. Steve is building with high speed a perfect v-thread and off he goes. Whilst I am following down Steve has build already the next v-thread. I am waiting now, to have a little bit longer here with this view. On the way back to the car Steve is talking about his plans for the next months - the way he speaks about his projects and deeds of the past -I feel big admiration for him and his modest way to live and tell about his live as a climber and alpinist.
One more day is left for us in the Rockies before we will turn back to the Alps. The snow settled and the winds are quiet - so we decide to do the classic Bourgeau left fall in Sunshine. The low temperatures on that day gives us a good challenge and so we sit all satisfied the next day in the warm plane back to Europe - Canada was great - we will come back !!