Early Season Canadian Rockies Route Explosion by Swiss Team

Posted on: November 14, 2007

As reported in the recent November 7, 2007 NewsWire, the Canadian Rockies have undergone extensive early-season development, including Polarity (V WI5+, 800m), the thin, white, right-facing, vertical ice flow shown here. The route saw its first and second ascents over one week in mid-October. [Photo] Courtesty of Ueli Steck

The Canandian Rockies comprise an area of land comparable to a medium-sized European nation. Its vast amount of climbing coupled with an abundance of local hardmen make new routing almost constant. Many Canadian Rockies routes blur the definition of alpine and waterfall ice climbing; the most extreme create new definitions of what is possible.

In October the Swiss team of Ueli Steck and Simon Anthamatten traveled to these Rockies and tested their limits on a whirlwind of new routes and difficult repeats. Here, Steck shares with Alpinist the stories of their short, but adventure-packed, trip.


Steck and Anthamatten left Switzerland on October 15 with the intention of focusing their energies on big alpine routes in the Canadian Rockies, many of which had yet to see a second ascent. Steck relayed that their goals were flexible, except one: "not sitting around!" Four days later they were napping on Will Gadd's couch.

"Don't worry, it's not that bad. Today I am happy to sit. We are back from a really good climb!"

On October 14, Cory Richards, Dana Ruddy and Ian Welsted established a wild, serac-threatened line, Polarity (V WI5+, 800m) on the north face of Snow Dome, around the corner from the famed Slipstream (VI WI4+, 925m). The highly dangerous overhanging seracs at the top Richards compared to the Rackliff-Twight testpiece, The Reality Bath (VII WI6+ X, 600m), an unrepeated climb "so dangerous as to be of little value except to those suicidally inclined," said Albi Sole, Canadian Rockies guidebook author.

Five days later Steck and Anthamatten attempted the climb after "[The Canadian team] shared some pictures about the route and about the last pitch," Steck said. "Simon and I were straight away fascinated. I have never climbed such a long ice route. Yesterday we left the car at 6:30 a.m. We didn't bring any bivy gear; we decided to be fast or not to finish the route. But not finishing the route was definitely not an option!"

Anthamatten in the midst of the team's repeat of Polarity (V WI5+, 800m) on the north face of Snow Dome, around the corner from the famed Slipstream (VI WI4+, 925m). The line was established five days earlier by Cory Richards, Dana Ruddy and Ian Welsted. [Photo] Courtesty of Ueli Steck

The Swiss team blasted the route in day, adding a hazardous 50-meter pitch to the top but leaving the summit still untouched, also finding conditions too dangerous to continue: a nasty overhanging cornice preventing them from climbing the last 10 meters.

Ueli Steck pulling through the overhanging seracs on the last 50 meters of Polarity (VI WI5+, 800m). Steck and Anthamatten added this last pitch to the route two weeks after Richards, Ruddy and Welsted made the first ascent of the lower section. The north face of Snow Dome has yet to see a complete ascent to the top. A nasty cornice prevented Steck and Anthamatten from summiting. [Photo] Simon Anthamatten

The next day the pair made a repeat of the classic Riptide (VI WI6/7, 225m) on Mt. Patterson. "The weather is still Canadian, snow and wind... But anyway we were still motivated and we went to Riptide. A good, hard ice climb. The climb is just like the description written in the guidebook: 'The route is more psychologically than technically difficult. Long sections of snow covered, hollow and thin ice is normal.'" They also experienced heavy spindrift.

Steck seconding a pitch on the team's new route, Rocketbaby (VI M8+ WI5+ X). Steck recommends that, in addition to the ten to twelve short ice screws, you bring a strong head. [Photo] Courtesty of Ueli Steck

"Tomorrow we will go back; we have seen today a great mixed line to the right of Rocketman (M7+ WI5+, 350m)," Steck said. "We'll go have a look [to see] if we can open a new, nice mixed route."

Rocketbaby (VI M8+ WI5+ X), on Mt. Patterson. [Photo] Courtesty of Ueli Steck

The two began climbing their proposed new line on October 21, climbing only three pitches in eleven hours. "So we have done all the work, and the next time we have to free climb the whole route."

Deciding that their repeat of Polarity was not "alpine" enough, the Swiss duo traveled to Howse Peak (3295m), the highest peak in the Waputik range, to attempt a new line. The peak features some of the most difficult routes in the area, including M16 (VI WI7+ A2, 1000m, Backes-Blanchard-House, 1999), which was the first ascent of the east face, and Howse of Cards (VI M7- WI6 X, 1065m, Gadd-Mahoney-Semple, 2002), featured in Alpinist 3.

After being shut down that Friday by bad weather and serious avalanches, the pair returned the next day "to the project at Mt. Paterson. This time it was time to free climb the new route we opened last week.

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