Banff

From an email to John Hawkins :

I found out Siobhan Coughlan was living in Banff, Alberta and couldn't pass up the chance, so last weekend I got a cheap flight, let's see... Banff, where do I begin. Flew out last Thursday night, Siobhan, her boyfriend Rich(ard) (from Liverpool) and her sister Helen met me there. Siobhan gave me her car and after dropping her to work in the gift shop on Friday I drove 45 minutes to Lake Louise, Canada's biggest ski resort. It was great to be back in Canada, 4.5 years since I was in Montreal,jesus. Beautiful powder, near whiteout conditions. The next day was as good, went to Sunshine one of the local resorts on the staff bus with Helen who works on the Gondola. My left toe bindings blew out in the afternoon and failed to survive 2 fixes by the repair shop, got new ones when I got back yesterday. One of the lifts in Sunshine goes into B.C. for a few minutes.

Ok, to Sunday, Siobhan and I drove to Johnson Canyon for my first taste of ice-climbing. I believe it is different from alpine ice, the grades go from 1 up. Beautiful slog in, crowded, about 20 climbers at the small falls, which also offered several pinnacles. Siobhan led 2 grade 3's and then I put a top rope on a 4, formed from the locals stringing and old climbing rope from a tree above, very strenuous, vertical for all 35m and wet stuff.

The ice grades go to 7+, "Sea of vapours" in Banff in supposedly the only 7+ in the world and had it's second ascent while I was up, hadn't been formed since it was first climbed in Feb 93 it seems. Unbelievable looking thing, looks like there is no ice on it, seemingly 4 "quarters" thick.

That night Siobhan, Rich and myself set off for the Weeping Wall, even I a complete novice at heard of this famous place before. You take the icefields parkway north towards Jasper, this road is often closed for avalanche bombing. Driving conditions were desperate, bombarded by snow like being in the enterprise cockpit. We joined the icefields at Lake Louise, 5cm of snow on the road, all tracks leading South, shit. We decided that it was best to hang in the hostel as if we got stuck up there I would miss my flight. Paid for the hostel, emptied the car to dry the gear and I discovered I had left Rich's plastics (I used them that day) in Siobhans's gaff, dipshit of the year, more stupidly I had even rented a pair for myself in Banff and left behind Rich's! 10pm, I started to drive back to Banff, tunnel vison going into the gaff, get the boots and get the fuck out, back at the door, what were they beside the boots, fuck, Siobhan left her plastics as well.

Road back was a nightmare, one of the insane truck drivers passed me on the inside at speed, was there 2 lanes, I couldn't tell. Only 8k to Lake Lousie, car went into a slide, only going 50kmh, couldn't pull it, into the snow bank. Out with the ice tools, dig motherfucker dig. A lad stopped, push you bastard, no go. Got all the plastics and tools and the lad brought me to the hostel. Down to the pub to break the news.

2 other Boulder climbers in the hostel room also, hard 5/6 lads. We had to wait 2 hours for the CAA man to arrive, the car was pulled out easily, no damage and we were on our way. Weeping Wall was out so we headed into B.C., past Field, towards Golden, past the beer gullies (ice-climbs called pillsner-carlsberg pinnacle, guinness gully, etc), 200m from our climb, smokie appears flashing in the mirror. 102kph in a 80kph zone, $100, plus $50 as Rich didn't have his license with him. Bollocks. Climb was in shit so we drove a little more to Ladykiller, a 3 star 3. Bitch of a slog up to it. Drenching stuff, like climbing in a icy shower, left side of waterfall no longer frozen, every swing of the tool gives you a lapfull of ice. I have shit gear and am getting soaked, the lads gortex stuff doesn't fair much better. Rich solos both pitches, no screws would hold, insane. Top of first pitch they tell me my forehead is all bloody, must have happened when the tool came out by surprise and clobbered me!

Second pitch is a dripping coming apart mess. Tool placements often pulling straight through. Both my axes go and I am falling, 15, 20ft. "Get back on the ice!", "Fuck, she doesn't have me on belay", Flailing like a mad bastard. At the top I find out that Siobhan didn't have tension in the belay and was pulled out over the edge, nearly spiking her finger with her crampon and thinking the rope did her ribs when it caught her and pulled her against the rock. I also acknowledge that Rich, is indeed insane. Abbing off, at the bottom the rope doesn't pull through and Rich has to reclimb the first pitch. So wet now. On the walk out the gully turns to rock and mud, we take of our crampons and Rich goes sprawling face first getting a bloody nose! That thankfully was the end of the epic.

I slept in Calgary airport that night as the lads were off to Vancouver early. Not good coming into work yesterday, work was the last thing in the mind. Totally brill ant place, great place to hang for a while. The ice climbing season seems to be nearing its demise, some great rock to be done though. I will be back.

Cian Duggan (former UCD) is working for the ski patrol on one of the local hills up there, don't know how he pulled it off, considering he hadn't skiied before.

Tomorrow night we head off to Telluride for paddy's weekend, staying with an Irish lad up there, 6 hours drive. 2 days skiing hopefully and if the weather's good we will get on the Ophir wall, a very impressive looking crag. Fine tuning the gear for leaving for Zion in Utah 2 weeks from tonight and the first big wall, can't wait.

Back