I’ve just lead my first 5.10a! For those less familiar with rock climbing grades, that’s a level of difficulty that takes some real effort to reach. One guide describes it like this…
5.0-5.7: Easy for experienced climbers, where most novices begin.
5.8-5.9: Where most weekend climbers become comfortable.
5.10: A dedicated weekend climber might attain this level.
5.11 & up: The realm of true experts; demands much training and natural ability
Three years ago I sprained my ankle quite badly in a climbing fall. The ironic part is that my climbing partner and I were practising falling intentionally as an exercise in getting over the natural fear that we all feel when there’s nothing but rock and air below us. There was more slack in the rope than we’d realized and I fell further than expected. My ankle twisted as I bounced off the cliff right before the rope caught me. So much for an exercise in getting over the fear of falling!
Even though I went back to climbing again not too long after the injury, it’s taken me a long time to make a lot of progress in terms of skill. This summer and, in particular, the last few weeks something seems to have changed. We’re having some beautiful autumn weather with crisp mornings and sunny afternoons. I’ve been climbing at a new crag that I just love. It’s protected from the wind and the leaves are all changing colour to a vibrant yellow. Maybe it’s my love of autumn or perhaps it’s just that I’ve climbed a fair bit this season, but I found myself trying harder routes and doing well on them.
After a wonderfully relaxing time paddling Alberta’s only canoe circuit in Lakeland Provincial Park, Sil and I decided to head to Jasper’s Maligne Lake for yet more canoeing. The two couldn’t be more different! Maligne Lake is a striking turquoise colour and it’s surrounded by spectacular snowy mountains. You paddle beneath lush avalanche slopes (where you might spot a bear if you’re lucky!) and relax around campfires as you watch the sunset illuminate glaciers high above.
Glaciologists estimate that the Canadian Rockies will have no glaciers remaining by 2050. That’s shocking for a landscape that was carved out by massive iceflows and is one of the world’s premier places to enjoy and explore alpine terrain. It also means big changes for the millions of people living downstream of the rivers fed by these glaciers. It’s hard to imagine how these cities will function and survive with only seasonal water flow.
That’s a bit of a round-about way to introduce an article about a course on alpine climbing, hosted by the guiding company Yamnuska, that I took part in during the latter half of August. Alpine Climbing is all about accessing these kinds of wild landscapes in as safe a way as possible. It’s a combination of mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing, and efficient movement over rugged terrain. My motivation for signing up with Yam for this course was to experience this alpine world for myself and to gain the skills to become a more autonomous climber.
A year and a half ago I met travel writer Leigh McAdam at the rustic Shadow Lake Lodge near Banff. It was a cold and snowy February evening and we’d each chosen the lodge for a relaxing cross-country ski get-away. Leigh and I got to talking and it turned out we’d done a lot of the same adventures. It was great sharing stories of places we’d both been and I was excited about the book she was working on. Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures has now been released and it’s a treasure trove of fun ways to enjoy nature in Canada. One such trip that she’s recently featured on her blog is Alberta’s only canoe circuit. Last week Sil, Jim, Susan, and I made the drive up to Lakeland Provincial Park to paddle the 38-km route and we couldn’t have been happier with Leigh’s recommendation.
We picked up a canoe from Jamie at Lakeland Expeditions. Jamie was very helpful, meeting us in Lac La Biche the evening before we planned to start paddling with a canoe and all the gear. We spent the night car-camping at Touchwood Lake. It looks like the kind of campground that can get pretty busy at the height of summer but it was peaceful and offered great views on a late-August weekday.
There’s a little-known oasis of rock and forest only a short drive from the buzzing metropolis of Calgary. The name gives a hint as to its mysterious allure. This is The Ghost.
I’ve travelled to many places and experienced many landscapes but perhaps my favourite is the front-ranges of the Canadian Rockies. Gun-metal grey cliffs rise above green valley floors, piercing the sky with their unforgiving jagged towers. This is an abrupt landscape. In other places the flat grasslands of the prairie slowly give way to rolling foothills. Those foothills gradually become bigger and steeper, eventually revealing rocks and cliffs. Before you know it, you’re in the mountains. Here in the Ghost it’s different. Imagine peacefully strolling along a calm, flat field of verdant green when suddenly you run up against a massive vertical cliff. Continue reading “Climbing in the Ghost”→