Four classic long routes in Canada and Europe
Editor's note: Long-time ACC Ambassador Nancy Hansen writes here about some choice long rock routes that she's been on this summer with her partner Ralf Dujmovits.
Nancy's a pretty good climber, gets after the alpine, rock, ice and sport games equally well and genuinely finds it hard to stop boosting the ACC in her slide shows and lectures, her magazine articles and when she accepts awards.
Nancy sends the ACC stories and photos of her awesome adventures, partly because that's what we ask our Ambassadors to do, and partly because she secretly likes to show off to the staff in the ACC office, where she used to work. Nancy is the editor of the ACC NewsNet from wherever she's camped this week. Enjoy some long rock with Nancy and Ralf.
Four classic long routes
- Life on Earth, Mt. Habrich, Coast Mountains, B.C.*
- Beckey-Chouinard, South Howser Tower, Bugaboos, B.C.
- Gagelfänger, Angel Horns, Bern Alps, Switzerland
- Cassin Route, Piz Badile, Bregaglia Range, Switzerland
My partner, Ralf Dujmovits, and I had the pleasure of climbing four fantastic, long, rock routes in B.C. and Switzerland this summer. *Well, mathematically speaking, the first one wasn't actually very long, but it felt really long!
Ralf, from Germany, arrived in Canada after making an attempt on Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen. After having been to almost 8,600-metres, he was well acclimatized for visiting Squamish. The problem after high altitude mountaineering expeditions is that although you can breathe really well, your arms are skinny and your feet are no longer accustomed to spending long hours in tiny rock shoes. It was time to change that.
Life on Earth - Mt. Habrich, Squamish
I heard of Life on Earth on Mt. Habrich many years ago, but at the time the access was difficult. The new gondola between Shannon Falls and Squamish has made access simple. Pay your money, take the scenic gondola a long ways up hill (bypassing coastal jungle and cliffs), then walk two hours. Easy! As I mentioned, Life on Earth isn't actually a very long route, but there is a LOT of climbing packed into the five pitches! Mountain Project says, "This (5.10c) route is very clean with well featured rock, and has great exposure and amazing views along its entire length. The route... mainly consists of lower angle face climbing on small holds. Cruxes are often protected by bolts, and though there are some run outs, in general the route is very well protected."
Note to self: when you read the words, “low angle granite face climbing,” think, “steep slab”. And when you read, “cruxes are OFTEN protected,” bring Pampers.
Still, the climbing was very enjoyable and the views were indeed fantastic. At the top, we celebrated still having all our skin and sanity. We limped back to the gondola, where we were treated to a cold beer and free live music. On Friday evenings in summer, the Sea to Sky Gondola hosts free open-air concerts – a trip up is recommended, whether you are climbing, hiking, or just sight-seeing.
Beckey-Chouinard, South Howser Tower, Bugaboos, B.C.
Back in Canmore, I handed Ralf the Bugaboos guidebook. “Here – pick a route,” I said. He said, “That one,” pointing at the front cover of the guidebook (the Beckey-Chouinard on South Howser Tower). “That’s a big route,” said I. “That’s okay,” said he. “It’s a REALLY big route,” I stressed. “Doesn’t matter,” he replied. “But you don’t like crack climbing!” I reminded him. His reply: “For this route, I will like crack climbing”.
And off we went. As we hiked to the mountain, Ralf told me how he had heard about, and seen pictures of, the Bugaboos when he was a young(er) climber. A UIAGM mountain guide, Ralf has climbed and guided on every continent. The Bugaboos had always been on his list of mountain ranges to visit, and I was excited to show him this world-famous treasure that is in my backyard.
After simul-climbing the first three pitches of "warm-up" cracks, Ralf asked, “Is it all like this? ALL crack climbing?” “Yup,” I replied. “Only 15, much harder pitches more – let’s go!”
We made our way up the route, alone except when a solo climber floated past us. Ralf was completely blown away at the quality of the granite, and how little fixed gear there was. I think we only saw two or three bolts/pitons on the entire 800 metre-high wall. And after the endless sustained crack-climbing pitches, each 50-70 metres long, I do believe that Ralf really did start to enjoy the pain of crack climbing!
After enjoying the views from the summit, we marvelled over the perfect rappel set-up down the northeast ridge. We are so lucky to have climbers in our community who are willing to give their time, money, and energy to make climbing days safer and more enjoyable for the rest of us. Thanks Marc Piché and Friends of Bugaboo Park!
The trudge back to our tent at Applebee campground was… a trudge. We arrived late, exhausted, hungry, and thirsty, but also happy and satisfied.
Gagelfänger, Angel Horns, Bern Alps, Switzerland
Not to insult my beloved Canadian Rockies, where I spent over 20 years sneaking past loose blocks and yelling, “Rock!!!” a lot, but the limestone in the European Alps is, well, better! It is truly wondrous for me to climb on granite-like, clean, solid, limestone that is a single piece of rock – I almost miss the constant excitement of wondering if my handhold will break off. Almost.
In early August, Ralf and I climbed the Gagelfänger Route (5.10c) on the Klein Simmelistock Angel Horn in the Bern Alps of Switzerland. This 13-pitch limestone sport climb made for a very fun and casual day out, with great views all around. Recommended!
Cassin Route, Piz Badile, Bregaglia Range, Switzerland
“What is a nice, long, adventure rock route that you have NOT climbed in the Alps?” I asked Ralf. He had to think for quite a while. The Cassin Route on Piz Badile on the Swiss/Italian border is considered one of the six great north faces of the European Alps, and Ralf had not yet done it. On paper, it bore many similarities to the Beckey-Chouinard; about the same climbing grade (5.10), about the same alpine grade (TD/TD+), same length (800m), granite, classic, spectacular.
After parking, we read the large signs (in several languages) that warned hikers and climbers about the soon-to-take place massive rockfall from the neighbouring peak, Piz Cengalo. Ominously, we passed by relatively fresh boulders in the creek bed, more than two kilometres from the mountain.
In general, when climbing or skiing in Europe, Ralf and I have managed to avoid crowds. Even though there are exponentially more climbers and skiers, they tend to spread out because there are also way more access points to the mountains. Every once in a while, though, we are caught up in a crowd because we are on or near an ultra-classic route on a blue-sky day. This was one of those days.
There were 45 climbers in the hut, and we counted another 30 heading up to a bivi near the base of the mountain. Luckily for us, 80% of them were heading for the “Nordkante”, or the North Ridge of Piz Badile. I understand why – the ridge has “CLIMB ME” written all over it! I think it must be very similar to the classic NW Ridge on Mt. Sir Donald in Glacier National Park.
Ralf and I were joined by Salomé von Rotz, a very nice and fit young Swiss woman working at the Sasc Furä Hut. She is the daughter of a mountain guide colleague of Ralf, and she managed to get a couple of days off. The three of us shared the Cassin Route with eight or ten other parties. Everyone was moving along, but of course the pace was slower than if there were only one or two parties in total. When we kept getting held up by two, less experienced, young men in front of us, Ralf encouraged me to pass them. “But I’m Canadian,” I protested. “We don’t do that. I don’t know how!” Avoiding eye contact, I did pass them, and then I just kept climbing, forcing Ralf and Salomé to simul-climb behind me for four pitches. I didn’t want to see the young lads again in case they yelled at me.
All morning, large herds of boulders had been falling off Piz Cengalo every 10-20 minutes. I’ve seen ice seracs behave this way – little blocks of ice fall with increasing frequency until a massive piece rips away from the mountain. I was certain that we would see geology in action that day.
After my guilt-riddled pass of the young men, we ran into the next group. Ralf took over the lead on our ropes, and immediately Piz Cengalo relieved herself of hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of rock. I managed to catch the action on video – watch it below. Even though it was a massive rockfall, we knew it wasn’t the big event the Swiss authorities were warning about. 48 hours later, we were so sorry to hear that the really big rockfall took place. It killed eight hikers, deleted the trailhead parking lot (with dozens of cars), and destroyed parts of villages downstream. Everyone was taken by surprise at the scale of the event.
Back to the climb. After repeatedly catching up to the next party, Ralf handed me the lead ropes and said, “I think you should get more practice passing”. I peered ahead at the deep V-shaped squeeze chimney the woman ahead was grovelling (and filling) up, and announced that it didn't look like it would be very easy to pass on this pitch. Ralf seemed disappointed by my lack of enthusiasm about practicing a new skill.
Overall, the climbing was fun and well protected on solid, featured granite. Although it shared similarities on paper with the Beckey-Chouinard, it was a significantly easier day, with shorter cruxes and less sustained overall difficulties.
Eventually, we merged with the crowds on the North Ridge for the last few rope lengths to the summit. The scene was a bit chaotic, with some people still climbing, some rappelling down the north ridge, some gunning for one of the few spaces in the summit bivi hut, and some making what seemed like their first-ever rappels down the south face. I continued to learn passing skills, watching Ralf eschew the normal rap anchor and instead tying the ropes to a random cross that was bolted to the rock half way down the south face. The adventures are of a different kind, some days!
As summer comes to an end, it is fun to look over photos and remember adventures of the past few months. If you had some of your own, the ACC is always looking for good blog posts and Gazette articles! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.