After a wild weekend in Calgary with girlfriends I needed some reprieve, or at very minimum an activity that didn’t revolve around tequila. The Rocky Mountains called and I was anxious to get in some outdoor multi-pitch climbing during the exquisite Canadian weather window between late Spring and early Fall.
First, a disclaimer. My experience rock climbing is limited to the indoor climbing gym at two capacities: top-roping (having a partner belay you via a rope attached to the top of the route) and bouldering (climbing short routes without gear beyond shoes). I’ve putzed around bouldering some outdoor areas, but am still very green at most climbing capacities. However, as with many aspects of my adventuring, what I lack in experience I make up for in enthusiasm, curiosity, and a sprinkle of ignorance.
Multi-pitch climbing is the ascent of climbing routes with one or more stops at a belay station. These stops are necessary because the rope is too short to climb the route in one pitch, the lead climber needs a rest or wants to switch, or the leader has run out of protective gear.
There are two types of lead climbing: traditional aka trad (when protection such as cams and stoppers are temporarily placed onto a route as the climbers ascend), and sport (when permanent anchors are fixed to the rocks).
I hired a guide to accompany me bright and early on Monday morning for my first sport-route multi-pitch climb. Phil chose Aftonroe, a picturesque route above the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park.
As with many of my adventures, I feel like a BadAssAmazonianQueen until it’s time to suit up and tackle whatever my ‘at home drinking tea adventure planning’ self has lined up. I’m noticing at times there is misalignment between my various selves — something to work on.
Anyhow, with some modest trepidation I began hiking up the approach trail to the buttress which was steep with a quick 200m gain. As we got to the final push requiring a helmet because of a dangerous scramble, I realized that in my nervous gearing-up I left it in the car. Well, BALLS.
Can of bear spray in hand and a mouth full of profanities, I raced back down to the car to retrieve my helmet. Forty minutes later I was back at the final push and totally gassed. Any more activity was out of the question!
Up up and away
After a breather, some water and words of encouragement from Phil, we arrived at the foot of the climb and I begrudgingly geared up.
Aftonroe’s pitches are graded 5.7 on the YDS scale. In regular human words, that means it’s a relatively straightforward climb. However in Verity experience it means very difficult!
The biggest challenge for climbers transitioning from indoors to outdoors is that routes aren’t marked. It’s a choose your own adventure type of activity that is tough for a Type A, hyper-organized kind of people. At rock gyms there are clear routes that take you to the top, whereas outdoors it’s just you and a great big wall!
I looked up at a dangling rope and heard Phil yell “ready!” My hands got clammy and all of a sudden I felt so small.
Good lord, I muttered to myself. Should probably work through my motivations for doing this stuff with my therapist one of these days.
And up I went.
Ledge with a view
Unlike ice climbing (which I still haven’t psychologically recovered from), it turns out that sport climbing holds moments of awe and relaxation. At the top of each pitch I’d take a rest and admire the incredible views of the Bow River wetlands and surrounding Rocky Mountain peaks. Not bad for a Monday.
Aside from forgetting gear and beginner nerves, dipping my feet into outdoor climbing was a fantastic experience that I’d highly recommend everyone tries at least once. There’s something deeply intoxicating about using your hands and feet to literally scale a mountain.
After a successful day on Aftonroe (thanks Phil!) I’ve decided that I’m ready to go steady. The next step in becoming a more competent climber is to learn the ropes — literally!
Climbing is a sport that requires a lot of technical know-how. I’m afraid that my friendship bracelet skills circa 1993 aren’t transferable, so I’m off to learn how to tie more knots and stuff so I can do my own climb leading one day!
BRB just doing stuff for a bit k?