20151212: One of these weekends we’ll sleep in (Balfour Wall + Shades of Beauty)

Driving northbound on the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 North), one transitions from Banff’s dense ice-capped peaks of the Divide to caribou country and the edge of the arctic tundra in Jasper. There are glaciers and icefields spanning hundreds of square kilometers, whose meltwater feeds milky green-blue glacial lakes. Enormous waterfalls that become major rivers eventually flow into three oceans.

It shouldn’t be surprising then that the Icefields Parkway offers some incredible waterfall ice climbing for all abilities. The annual CMSC ice climbing weekend trip would be a good chance for me to absorb some stuff from those more experienced in climbing systems.

Attendees: Joad, JS, JG, E, D and M, K another female, and me.

Joad’s official trip report:

Beautiful trip with balmy -5C temperatures, and water running on our gloves, but enough ice, often plastic, to swing nicely our ice tools.

We climbed at Balfour Wall on Saturday. Top roped on 4 ropes, with about 8 climbing lines available.

Climbed all 3 pitches of Shades of Beauty on Sunday, with a 6:00 a.m. departure from the Rampart Creek hostel to make sure we could complete the full ascent and descent in daylight. Solid leading [by E, D, and Joad]… Plus great teamwork by everyone, especially on our Saturday feast that offered enough food to feed almost all hostel guests.

pc.gc.ca  Parks schematic showing the locations of Balfour Wall (Murchison) and Shades of Beauty (Tangle Ridge from Beauty Creek) with respect to the Rampart Creek hostel.

To elaborate:

Friday after work we carpooled into Rampart Creek hostel.

Driving with E we were treated to a mix of tunes ranging from Rammstein to Tori Amos to classical guitar, from what I heard between catnaps. I’m so glad I wasn’t driving even though the road had been scraped and gritted. We arrived at the hostel around 9:30pm or so though it felt more like 3 in the morning.

Saturday 5:15 wakeup call, 6:30 departure for Balfour Wall (Mt. Murchison).

Balfour wall ice climb
Mt. Chephren in the background, as we hike up to the base of the ice at daybreak.

While the ice was not as full as it can be, there was lots of it to play around with. D led the WI4 on climber’s right oh-so efficiently it belied how very hard and dense the surface ice was. K climbed it next and I watched her fight to get good placement. I also had to really whack in the tools with aggression otherwise they were just bouncing off, comically frustrating when my other arm was getting pumped because I decided to hook into something just a little too high to lock off… There was plenty of icefall as the line got climbed and picked out more and by the end of the day it looked rather different than at the start.

Later in the afternoon we could hear the water gurgling behind the ice; K dubbed the right line ‘the toilet’. Joad and JG climbed in behind the curtain and started chopping down some unconsolidated stuff while she was climbing the front. Understandably she found it rather disconcerting.

K and I had a good time griping with M about lack of women’s-specific ice climbing stuff and the bane of too-wide front bails while enjoying the gift of sun and blue sky.

As we drove back to the hostel, Mt. Wilson loomed large and stately in the snow. The pulloffs from the highway were cordoned off and restriction signs posted due to a climber being bitten by a bear earlier this month.

Dinner – what a potluck it was! Boursin cheese and crackers, avocado, chicken wings, M’s deliciously spiced secret recipe chili, potato wedges, Greek salad, and a perfectly al dente pasta salad with raisins, almonds, quinoa, black olives… We had so much food left we offered to share with the hostel custodian and the other two climbing parties – though it appeared they had an overabundance of supplies, too. Dessert was had in the communal living room; chocolate and K’s sprinkle sugar cookies in holiday shapes. After that, none of us had capacity in our bellies to justify breaking out the cupcakes and butter tarts.

Shortly thereafter I retired to the bunkroom to read, while the others turned in or lingered sociably or checked out the hostel sauna.

Rampart Creek hostel.
The walk to the sit-down outhouse at the Rampart Creek hostel.

Sunday 4:45 wakeup call, 6:00 departure for Shades of Beauty (Tangle Ridge).

Ice climbing is not about sleeping in. At least Joad had the decency to not call for a 2am alpine start. The approach is a 90-minute hike along the top of the impressive Beauty Creek canyon in Jasper National Park.

Shades of Beauty
Approaching Shades of Beauty

I’d tried Shades of Beauty with Joad during the CMSC ice weekend two years ago but we hadn’t had time to finish it.  This time we were at the ice by daybreak albeit under grey skies. With three rope teams we made it up with plenty of daylight to spare, and enjoyed the privilege of the ledge view of the Sunwapta River.

Rappel, walk off, then glissade down to the trail for the hike out. Mmmm, cupcakes and butter tarts in the parking lot. Funny how crisp air cuts some of the sweetness; the overly sticky sweet desserts were somehow just right for this après-climb and some of the guys finished off the Rickard’s. We were in Lake Louise for dinner by 6:45 and home by 10:30.

Phew, a full weekend with a satisfying amount of quality climbing. “It’s what makes staying in a hostel and tromping around in the dark worthwhile”, said K.





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