Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Professor Falls WI4 2015

Sat January 24th 2015

Synopsis: 5 out of 5 stars, it's a classic for a reason. Thankfully it's a bit of a hike in or it would be completely overrun. Fortunately, it was wet enough to heal well for all but the top pitch.

7:30 am on Saturday morning saw Trevor, Nik and I hanging out at Beamers in Canmore eating breakfast and figuring out what to climb. Our original plan was to give Guiness Gully a whirl but some recent snow upped the avy hazard for that area higher than what we were comfortable with. We settled in on a recon of Professor Falls given we all wanted to climb it and none of us had previously given it a go.

We parked by the Banff Springs Hotel at the end of the road and left the car at 8:20 am on foot. Funny enough, we just commented at our surprise on being the first in the parking lot and a truck came in with bikes. The lack of snow as of late made the approach flat and slick enough that the mountain bike assisted crew decided to do something else.

The approach was pretty obvious, veer right twice while following the boot prints, and we arrived at the base of the first pitch at a pretty relaxed time of 9:40. From the approach we could see the first three pitches and we thought we would give them a try and see how the day progressed. There was one party of two ahead of us and the second was just climbing out of sight as we arrived, so far so good!

I was doing the leading of the first three pitches and really enjoyed the first pitch. It started off pretty steep and got significantly wetter to the right. It was great to be able to wander and find the edge of the plastic ice without getting too wet. One swing sticks were the norm. 

A second step made for a bit of a break and, as advertised, there was a bolted station climbers left. Nik and Trevor seemed to run up it and left me a little breathless keeping up with the ropes.

The second pitch was a little steeper, but in the same vein as the first. I noticed that my feet weren't feeling as secure as I was used to. As I was belaying the rest of the team up I checked out my crampons and realized that I was climbing in my glacier crampons. Not really a big deal, but I got to get more sleep!

The third pitch was about as far as we originally thought we would make it, however we were making good time. The party of two ahead of us had disappeared and the party of three behind was moving about the same speed so all was well. I found the third pitch a good challenge as it was more sustained than the first two. Having said that I had a bit of a moment 2/3 of the way up when I clipped an ice screw into the rope between my figure eight and the keeper knot. In the end it was a great opportunity to practise clipping a draw into the end of a tool to protect myself while fixing the mess. Good thing there weren't many spectators!

The third pitch tops out with rap rings directly in front and once Nik and Trevor joined me we wandered higher to see what was next as none of us really read the route description any further. Two pitches of easier (WI3+) were next and given that Nik hadn't lead ice in 4 years he was keen to give it a go.

The fourth pitch was still pretty wet on the right, which resulted in some interesting ice formations. Fortunately, it was much drier on the left and Nik made quick work of the lead. I lent him my leashless tools for the lead and used Nik's older tools, added to bashing my knuckles a few times the fussing to remove screws reminded me how good leashless climbing is!

Nik carried on for the fifth pitch, which was much drier but about the same grade. The day was wearing on and we could see the next pitch. Not realizing it was the top pitch we agreed to make it our last pitch of the day.

After a short hike, we came to the sixth pitch. At this point the crowds congregated as a fast team of two passed and then rapped along with the lead pair while I was leading. Not a lot of drama as I just placed a screw and waited it out. 

Of course about then, the party of three caught up which made for a bit of a bottleneck - nothing like a party at the base of the crux!

It was only when I asked one of the climbers (the one that forgot his harness and was climbing with a field built webbing harness!) that I found out this was the top pitch. Nice to know we were going to finish it! The first half of the pitch isn't that steep with very interesting features on the right.

I climbed the top of the pitch on the far left. Very steep and balancy however with great feet and hooks. A bit of an adrenaline pump but great fun, I followed rope marks to a cave on the right with a chain anchor. 3 pm saw us all on top, 5 hours for 6 pitches with 3 climbers not fast, but not bad for a team out for a recon.

Fortunately, the team behind us was great in letting us rappel through and we were down in under two hours. All of the rap stations were easy to find with the exception of the 3rd which I was on the climbers right at roughly the 55 meter mark along the wall.

We moved pretty quickly as our goal was to get back to the base before dark. In the end we were down at 4:45 pm and made it all the way to the cars (barely) without headlamps.

The hike out was quick, and a bit slick, however the highlight was walking towards the Banff Springs Hotel as the sun went down. It looked a bit like gotham city! In the end it was a 10 hour day car to car at a pretty relaxed pace.

A great day in the mountains, with great people. It was great to finally get up the classic, it's been on my list for awhile!