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Squirreling Away First Ascents on the Storm Creek Headwall

Posted on: December 16, 2015


"The first pitch was the raison d'etre for the route: an incredible telephone pole of ice stuck to a vertical limestone shield," Raphael Slawinski wrote on email, describing Rectal Squirrels, an unreported, three-pitch WI5+/6 established in March 2008 by Raphael Slawinski, Pierre Darbellay and Eamonn Walsh in 2008. [Photo] Tim Banfield

Canadian alpinists Jon Walsh and Michelle Kadatz, both from Calgary, Alberta, recently visited the Storm Creek Headwall. The pair found excellent climbing conditions on the mixed and ice testpiece routes that ascend the streaked limestone face, and discovered some intriguing new climbs and unearthed an unreported three-pitch gem.

The Storm Creek Headwall, located on the British Columbia side of Banff National Park, is one valley to the east of the better-known Stanley Headwall. It sees fewer visitors than the Stanley Headwall, but not for its lack of hard routes. Walsh calls Storm Creek Headwall a "world class zone," with endless potential for multi-pitch routes and a moderate approach (2-3 hours on skis), depending on snow conditions.

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Walsh has actively climbed in the Storm Creek area since 2004, claiming several hard mixed routes, including Kahveology (WI5 M8, 160m, Simms-Walsh) and Check Your Head (WI5+ M6+R, 180m, Kruk-Lavigne-Walsh)

Jon Walsh reattempts the first pitch after falling when the ice column he was ascending collapsed. The mixed terrain he climbed next to the column went at M6. [Photo] Tim Banfield

In early December, Walsh and Kadatz made the second ascent of Walsh and Marc-Andre Leclerc's route The Plum (WI6 M7, 120m), which was established in November 2014. Walsh encountered "hero ice" conditions on the route, much better than the "slender flow of ice that drips down the nose of a steep buttress [with] funky mushrooms, daggers and pillars" that he found the previous season. Walsh called Leclerc's first-pitch ascent of The Plum, "the best first lead in the Rockies I've ever witnessed."

[Read about their climb in the NewsWire called "Picking the Plum Line on the Storm Creek Headwall," from November 12, 2014, here—ed.]

Walsh and Kadatz also tried a thin ice smear that led to a tenuously attached column. The thin start looked unclimbable, but two bolts in the limestone cliff near the ground indicated it had seen an earlier attempt. Knowing nothing more, Walsh started up the line.

The column cracked and sheared off the face when Walsh was two feet from the first bolt. A 2-inch cam and small nut held his fall—the first of two falls that Walsh took that day. The two climbers didn't know at the time that they were climbing Rectal Squirrels, an unreported, three-pitch WI5+/6 established in March 2008 by Raphael Slawinski, Pierre Darbellay and Eamonn Walsh. The main feature of the first pitch, which Slawinski described to Alpinist as an "incredible telephone pole of ice stuck to a vertical limestone shield" had fallen during Walsh's attempt, but Walsh and Kadatz climbed a mixed variation (M6) and finished the route in 4 pitches.

When the climbers reached cell phone service, Walsh texted Slawinski and asked about the route. Slawinski recalled "it protected with some cams in intermittent cracks and a couple of bolts we placed to keep it sane."

Walsh dry tooling high on the first pitch. [Photo] Tim Banfield

Accompanying Walsh and Kadatz on Rectal Squirrels was Calgary-based photographer Tim Banfield, who captured Walsh's lead and two falls on the challenging route, including the collapse of the first pitch.

"The second pitch was longer and easier [shown here]," Slawinski recalls. "I remember dry, brittle ice. We never wrote the route up," Slawinski said about the first ascent of the route. "I'm not sure why, it certainly wasn't to be secretive...perhaps we figured there was no point as it was unlikely to ever form again." [Photos] Tim Banfield

[Kadatz recently returned from an expedition to Baffin Island. Read the Web Feature "Smith and Kadatz: Free Climbing on Baffin Island," from August 20, 2015, here—Ed.]

Sources: Raphael Slawinski, Jon Walsh, alpinist.com, publications.americanalpineclub.org

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