By the end of February, we're done with all the climbs we wanted to do in the Ghost and in the Banff/Canmore area. It's time to move north as our to-do-list still shows a few routes along the Icefields Parkway.
Because this area is a long drive from Canmore, we thought we would try to live in the bus along the Parkway for a couple of weeks at the end of the season. This would save us long commutes to the climbs. We didn't know how much of a cat-and-mouse game we'd have to play with the rangers, but we would find out (we ended up staying there 4 nights before getting the boot from a Ranger).
This Sunday, February 29, we take the bus back out of its storage lot and park it in the driveway for a few days as we get it ready to hit the road. On March 3, we finally leave the comfort of our cozy home and move back into the bus. Direction the Weeping Wall. The drive along the Parkway is very scenic. Much more enjoyable than the few times we drove it at night, approaching and returning from climbs in the Nordegg area. Just past Lake Louise, the bus starts losing air pressure... likely from ice in the system (both the brakes and the suspension depend on air). We manage to make it to a large pullout at the "Big Bend", a huge switchback (hence the name) just a few kilometers past the Weeping Wall. Since there is no explicit "No Overnight Parking" sign, we decide to settle there for the night.
The next morning, we climb "Central Pillar" and "Teardrop", one of the best complete lines up the entire Weeping Wall. With a very short approach - 10 minutes from the car - and 7 steep pitches, it's one of the best climbs along the Icefields Parkway.
The alarm is largely ignored when it rings at 5:00AM. The night was cold and the warmth of the double-thick comforter is hard to give up. The lure of climbing finally wins around 5:40AM. We get up, crank the generator and the coffee maker, and try to warm up the bus a bit. Quick pre-climb breakfast and we're out to the wall, only 4km from where we parked the bus. Another car is already there, but the climbers are still getting ready. We're wearing our boots and harnesses already, so we just get out of the car and go. Such is the rule of the game. We're at the base of the ice in a whopping 10 minutes! Shortest approach ever in the Canadian Rockies! We could get used to this...
We're really just planning on climbing "Central Pillar" on the Lower Weeping Wall. The combination of a 4 pitch WI5+ with the 3-to-4-pitch WI6 above seems a bit much. Now that we're here though, I rack a couple of extra screws just in case we cannot resist the pull of the amazingly steep upper wall.
The other climbers are now here too. It turns out they are going for "Snivelling Gully", a popular WI3 groove on the left edge of the Lower Wall, so we won't be in each other's way at all. We start the climb at 7:45AM. The first, short (35m) pitch goes up a WI3 apron to a screw belay on the first ledge. Quick and easy.
From there, a deceptively long (45m or so) pitch heads up steeper WI4 ice to a belay spot just below the major rock break, and at the base of the steep Central Pillar. Screws and a single bolt there.
The third pitch is a long WI5+ pitch up the pillar and leads to another sloping ledge below the last step. The ice is pretty worked, leading to interesting, technical climbing.
The last step goes at WI5 and ends up at a good tree belay at the top of the Lower Wall.
A steady stream of climbers has arrived at the base since we started climbing. By the time we reached the third pitch, four parties are starting at the base and more are waiting for their turn. And this is a Wednesday! Cannot even imagine what kind of a zoo this must be on weekends! There is nothing to physically separate the various lines on the wall, so ice falling from above is a major concern if you don't get there early enough.
With all this pushing from below, we made good time on the Lower Weeping Wall. It's only 11AM. This leaves a good 7 hours of daylight to go. It is a 200 meter snow slog to the base of the Upper Wall. And we're feeling good, so what the hell, we might as well go take a closer look at the Upper Wall and maybe give it a shot if we like what we see. A half hour later, we're looking straight up at the amazing Upper Weeping Wall. It looks steep and wet in many places, but it looks like there may be a reasonably dry line near the left edge (which, we learn later, is called "Teardrop"). Might as well try the first pitch and take it from there.
A quick lunch, some water, and we start climbing again at noon. The first pitch looks friendly. Not particularly steep (I'd say WI4+), and, if the rope is long enough to make it there, it might deposit us at the left edge of a large sloping ledge where there appears to be a protected belay cave. The rope doesn't quite make it though, so we end up simul-climbing about 20 meters to the cave. The bottom and top of this pitch is on low angle ice, so no big deal. We indeed find a nice protected cave with a good screw belay.
Above this is the business: dead vertical, and what looks like tricky, highly chandeliered and partially wet ice. I feel really good and confident today, so let's try going higher. The pitch turns out quite hard, with difficult and questionable protection for a good third of it, but the climbing is technical and quite enjoyable. Makes me overcome the scary middle third, where protection is more than dubious. I'm about to run out of rope again when I reach another good belay on screws and a lonely bolt, again at the left edge of the flow.
Above us now are 20 meters of lower angle (WI4) ice leading to a wild looking, dripping mushroom. We remember scoping more steep ice above but cannot see it from here anymore. Shouldn't be more that one pitch to the top. We're too close now to give up! Besides, if things look too crazy above, we can always rap back down from the mushroom. It's easy terrain to that point. Off we go. The mushroom and the ice immediately above it are even wetter than they looked from the bottom. Free showers! Fortunately, a short full-on slush traverse to the right leads to a vertical pillar of dry ice and another steep step above. Up I go, finding strenuous climbing on delicate, hollow and somewhat brittle ice. Above the pillar, one last "sting-in-the-tail" step leads to the top of the upper wall. There is an inviting looking small tree a few meters above the edge, but I'm out of rope and end up belaying on screws. One and a half screw, that is. With the tricky ice below, I ended up doubling a couple of placements and have completely run out of gear. I am left with one 17cm screw, plus a stubby. Better make them good. I back this up with both tools and equalize it all with the cordelette. Looks bomber after all. It is 3:30PM when Lucie reaches the belay. We made it!
From here, it's a few steps to the tree, then four long raps straight down and back to the snow at the base of the Upper Weeping Wall. We then walk back down the snow and across to the north end of the Lower Wall to rap "Snivelling Gully". Three straightforward raps plus a bit of downclimbing at the bottom and we're back at our packs, with daylight to spare! And now the best part: it's only 5 minutes from here to the car!
Complete Weeping Wall, AB
|Driving along the Icefields Parkway.|
|The Upper and Lower Weeping Walls as seen from the road climbing up toward Sunwapta Pass...|
|...and from much closer.|
|The Weeping Wall from the road (our route in red).|
|Eric leading the first easy pitch (WI3)...|
|...and reaching the belay.|
|Eric starting up the steeper second pitch (WI4).|
|Ready to place his first screw.|
|Higher on the second pitch of Central Pillar.|
|Eric starting the steep and technical third pitch (WI5+).|
|...and negotiating the steep section.|
|Nearing the top of the pillar.|
|Starting the short but steep 4th pitch (WI5).|
|The Upper Weeping Wall seen from the huge snow ledge above the Lower Wall...|
|...and from much closer (route in red).|
|Taking a break at the base.|
|The amazing Upper Weeping Wall.|
|Eric on low-angle ice at the base of the first pitch.|
|Starting the real business (WI4+).|
|Eric placing his first screw.|
|Higher up on the first pitch.|
|Eric starting the demanding second pitch (WI6).|
|On the second pitch, just above his first screw.|
|Eric going up the last pitch, easy at first but steep above the mushroom (WI5).|
|Hiking back down snow slopes to the ledge separating the Upper from the Lower Wall.|
|Back at the bus parked at the "Big Bend".|