Sport Climbing History in the Bow Valley
This is information based off Galloway’s new Bow Valley guidebook - this BOLD writing is JD LeBlanc’s historical perspective on the Bow Valley – take it for what you want, but I have tried to add in as much as I can remember – I may miss some things – but as I was a part of the scene from the mid 1980’s, I have a good historical perspective, but may well be out, or off, on some things. I would like to give Galloway big props for getting this completed and into retailers – a big job – this is really a comprehensive source for the Bow Valley sport climbing areas. I have added in a bit more in the history of the area – it’s a blog, so don’t expect post doctoral work. The Black is the Derek Galloway text.
The Bow Valley and the Canadian Rockies has a rich climbing history that officially started over 125 years ago. The Canadian Pacific Railway brought over the first mountain guides from Switzerland to safely guide the adventure hungry tourists that the newly completed railway brought.
Dave Morgan was one of the pioneers of sport climbing in the valley, he pushed his limits and those of everyone else, so much that he blew his elbows out – a super amazingly skilled climber, that if still able to climb would have hit the 5.13 level easily. Dave also lent LeBlanc a battery powered drill for a lot of the 1992 development at Bataan, as the Buszowski/LeBlanc drill had battery issues. This battery issue led to the first usage of the battery series of 12volt motorcycle batteries, where we were able to get 80+ holes per charge. (Our drill became famous in the hands of Barry Blanchard for his local area movie set work – we even got money out of it. This TE10A finally hit its end in the winter of 2004 bolting in the Haffner Hoar Cave, another Buszowski/LeBlanc route effort, where we added 4 more lines to the original two). The sport grows, and grows: 1986-1990
The momentum that was created in 1985 continued through into 1986/1987. Both development and difficulty remained firmly rooted within the narrow canyon walls of Grotto Canyon. Much of the low hanging fruit had been grabbed in the previous year, but there were still routes to be had. Sean Dougerty nabbed the highly fingery Importance of Being Ernest 5.12a, along with the steep Mr. Olympia 5.11d. Bruce Howatt managed to jump the standard ahead a few notches to 5.12d with his desperate testpiece; Tropicana 5.12d with the help of a couple chipped edges.
A new addition to Hemingway wall was Success Pool 5.12a; this was bolted by the trio of Haberl, Parboossingh and Milton. FA’d by Jason Holt, as a jab at the duo of that trio, Simon aside. Jason Holt was really the “man” of this generation; he had done ascents of the Smith Rock Test Pieces, Rude Boys, 5.13c, 3rd North American to repeat it - Oxygen and pretty much every route up to the 5.13c grade back in the late 1980’s. Holt was a force, in more ways than one, and the inspiration to Marc Dube’s “Jason Lives” 5.13a, back of the lake. Holt had a tendency to poke other climbers in a “not so nice way”.
One good true story is a conversation between him and Sean Dougherty on the “Success Pool” bolt which is clippable on the route Walk on the Wild Side 5.11c, Sean was really upset that you could do the crux without placing gear, Holt replied that is there a better style then, than bolts or gear – Sean replied that “yes, no bolts or no gear is a much better style”. Holt then asked if the best style is sent, then is that the way the route should always be sent in. Sean said absolutely! Holt then replied “I just soloed it today, and then down-climbed the 5.8 chimney! Sean said “bullshit” but I had witnessed it, and anyone who knew Holt, knows he would never lie, not matter what, it’s just not in his nature. Let’s all be happy that there are bolts still in it, even though the solo style was better, but I am pretty sure it would only have an ascent or two – but it is too bad that the retro bolting is totally off the original line.
Back then we had the illegal “Mine” routes, of which Howatt and Steiner had put in some great effort – Buckshot 5.12+, and the El Norte 5.13+. They have since been off limits and are no doubt now in some building somewhere in Canada, as the actual walls have been blown up and crushed.
A small pre-curser of what was to happen across the river on the near blank Water Wall. While the walls laying along the creek were being picked over by the others Joe Buszowski, Marc Dube, and Jim Sanford (Sandford was really a keen driving force, learning under the master, Buszowski, he would become one of the few 5.14 Canadian climbers, and the single driving force behind the top end Squamish sport climbs, like Bravado, Pulse and many more) found an entirely new wall lurking up the east fork of the falls; The Alley. Several worthy additions such as Barchetta 5.11c, Submission 5.11d, and Grace Under Pressure 5.11d made all the cleaning worth it. In the mid 1990’s Daren Tremaine added a few great classics to this wall. However the Milton route “Big Breasted Girls Go to the Beach and Take Their Tops Off” 5.11b surely ranks as the best name ever and one intended to add as many letters to the Jones/Martin guidebook.
Let’s not forget that this area had the illustrious Will Gadd, maybe the most competitive climber most will meet. Will grew up in Jasper, AB, moved to Boulder, CO for school and climbing. Will would redpoint Crimes of Passion while doing 3 pull-ups off the huge incut top rail – only to add it to 8 or 10, maybe more, as LeBlanc and Guyn would add in one more each time until Will got fed up, added a couple more, then that was that.
In the following couple of years John Martin took his newly acquired drill and set to work developing Cougar Creek; a brand new area. By the time the 1990’s rolled around he had turned it into a full-blown area with over 80 routes. It even started to compete with Grotto Canyon in terms of popularity. Grotto held its ground on the technical difficulty front though with the additions of Joe Buszowski’s Mr. No 5.12b, Joe Buszowski and JD LeBlanc’s Cracked Rhythm 5.12c, Simon Parboosingh’s Tintin and Snowey get Psyched 5.12d, and Marc Dube’s Crimes of Passion 5.13a. Shep’s Diner 5.13a was redpointed in 91 by Scott Milton, however, back in 1989, Jason Holt and JD LeBlanc were able to lap it to the final jug – without clipping the anchor. Reason: Shep Steiner had put so much into it and so much more in the Bow Valley (without Buszowski, Steiner, Dube and the previous factions of Pochay, Zacharias and Howatt, the Valley may not be what it is today!) that neither wanted to take away the effort by Steiner, who was ridiculously close a lot. The route name came about via Shep’s house, as he hosted us a lot for dinner, housing and sauna. This was also the years that the Water Wall’s harder routes were manufactured on its blank looking right end with the help of a gas powered generator rented from town. Much drama ensued. The generator went missing, which led some to think it had been stolen in retaliation for its use. In the end it turned out that a flood had buried it completely. Making for an interesting story when it had to be returned! It should be noted, before you curse and think poorly of those involved, that at this time across North America route builders were just getting used to the idea and possibilities that the hammer drilled provided them, and there was much experimenting with it to build holds and entire routes before it was realized that this wasn’t such a desirable path to take. Just look to the Kacodaemon boulder in Squamish and the harder routes at Smith Rock as a couple of examples. As time passed, tensions eased, and things were put into perspective these routes actually gained a fair bit of popularity and traffic that remains to this day.
Carrot Creek’s route count continued to grow at a steady pace, with Keith Pike’s Sword in the Stone 5.12c and Simon Parboossingh and Joe Buszowski’s The Lizard 5.12b being two of the finest, Buszowski and Steiner had also added a route that dissected the Wizard ending up and right, “The Gizzard” 5.12c, then Buszowski added his “Cup-O-Joe” 5.13a. All the most desirable lines at Barrier had been bolted and development started to slow considerably, although Keith Haberl still managed to find a gem when he climbed the desperately technical Regatta de Blank 5.12b. Grassi Lakes also got a few routes at this time, but the rock quality was considered pretty poor even by Rockies standard and the area was soon left abandoned in search for easier areas to clean and bolt.
: 1991- 1995
The first half of the 90’s saw the Bow Valley break through the 5.12d ceiling and rocket into the elusive realm of 5.13. While there are many that contributed to this breakthrough in standards and would help to push it forward over the coming decade one climber stood above the rest; Todd Guyn. Not everyone in the route building community was concerned with difficulty though, and the trio of John Martin, Jon Jones, and Andy Genereux continued to open new routes, walls, and areas at an incredible pace.
Right out of the gate Todd Guyn and LeBlanc tweaked out a few of the projects on the Water Wall, and as usual, Guyn FA’d with LeBlanc straggling behind.
Todd was also one of the premiere climbers in North America, where by the mid 1990’s he had close to 100 5.13 ascents, noted by Tom Herbert out of California, who was keeping track of his own ascents and knew of Guyn, as Todd was one of the top crusher’s of the era.
These routes started to put the Bow Valley and Grotto Canyon on the map with a string of hard sends when he finished off the work of others and redpointed Cause and Affect 5.13a, Burn Hollywood Burn 5.13b, and The Resurrection 5.13c. Also redpointed was Shep’s Diner 5.13a by a young climber by the name of Scott Milton. A name that would later become synonymous with high end difficulty in the Bow Valley during the second half of the 1990’s. All of these routes were on the Water Wall and where the products of the “generator” incident that had occurred in the previous years. Simon Parboossingh proved that there was such thing as a natural 5.13 though when he climbed Metabollica 5.13a. While the hard-men concentrated their efforts on the Water Wall Andy Genereux grabbed two classics with Tour de Force 5.12a and Tour de Pump 5.11b further up stream while Jon Jones added the forgotten gem, Sidewinder 5.11b at the Paintings Wall. Up at the Alley Dave Thomson added the tough Snakes and Ladders 5.12a.
Carrot Creek continued to see a flurry of development with another 70 routes being added to the count. Among the best where Jon Jones’s No More Mr. Nice Guy 5.12a, Andy Genereux’s The Warlock 5.12a, Sun City 5.11d, and Todd Guyn’s test-piece, American Standard 5.13b. With the big jump made in difficulty during the first half of the 90’s the steep and previously thought un-climbable cave got another look, and Shep Steiner, JD LeBlanc and Joe Buszowski established a slew of test pieces, with Elmer Fudd 512d, Carnivore 5.13a (Shep Steiner), Doppio 5.13b (built by Joe B), and Mouthful of Freddie 5.13c (Built by Shep Steiner) and the classic Black Coffee 5.12d – LeBlanc/Tremaine.
Cougar Canyon also continued to see more growth with more than 50 new routes going up with John Martin responsible for most of the routes as usual. (maybe better worded – LeBlanc, Buszowski and Steiner built and worked on the Carrot Patch routes with a few FA’s, but as usual of those days, Guyn swooped in and FA’d Mouthful of Freddie, a Steiner bolted and tweaked route – same as the “Carnivore” Not to be overlooked was the Parboossingh “Last Boy Scout” 5.13-, bolted and close by Simon, but he was killed on a guides course via an avalanche. Milton FA’d that one. Steiner’s classic Oedipus Complex 5.12c and LeBlanc’s Liar 5.13b are two excellent additions to a good crag.
Along with the tried and true getting more routes the Bow Valley saw three new areas emerge; Raven Crag, Bataan, and the game changer, Acephale. Peter Arbic discovered the small but steep Raven Crag perched above the town of Banff and put in the first pitches of The Masque 5.11d, and Telltale Heart 5.11d, PA added in a bunch of great routes here up to the mid 5.13 range – PA would also add in some of the best routes at Skaha, he’s an interesting man with a good passion and energy, plus he liked to bolt and climb – Skaha would not be the same without his efforts, and neither would the Bow Valley. Both of which he would latter add extensions to, creating two classics weighing in at 5.12d and 5.13a.Milton and LeBlanc managed to send all the lines in the crag - except the project to the right - as it happened, we were led to believe they had been sent - this caused a little rift between PA and the duo ... all good after a few beers ...
JD LeBlanc led the charge at Bataan, with Nirvana 5.13a, and (1992) Jacob’s Ladder (1993) 5.13a, Bolting of Vishnu, and the FA of the Jagger bolted excellent 24 Frames per Second/the Book of the Dead, 5.13a, However, Haberl and Jagger climbed and pushed themselves alongside Ryan Johnstone ... but soon discovered that even though the stone was amazing the hike was not, and securing a partner was next to impossible. Bataan, first route was the Haberl - Truckasaurus, 5.12a, on top of Nirvana – yes problematic, but darn good. Keith and LeBlanc hiked up ropes and lots of bolt to the crag – his efforts allowed the crag to be what it is today – we had some funny times, but mostly it was labour intensive and tough.
JD LeBlanc then turned his attention to the newly discovered “cliff of the future”, Acephale, and went to work alongside Richard Jagger, in 1992 the duo built the left end of the lower wall. (Todd Guyn and his Austrian friend Helmut Neswabda came in to the “project” later on, 1994 (May have been 1993, but pretty sure it was the year after the 1993 monsoon season with Steiner and LeBlanc and lot’s of coffee) and helped create some excellent routes). Illy Down was the first route on the lower wall left side, at 5.12a, now 5.12c, as it’s a V7 boulder start! Jagger added in “Girl Drink Drunk” 5.12a, The Irradicator 5.12a. Tremaine created Nickel Bag 5.11a. However, the lower wall warm-up Neoconstructionist 5.11c was put up by Tim Pochay, and maybe the hardest trickiest warm up around. The lower wall yielded maybe the best route in the valley, LeBlanc’s Deal With It 5.12c, the great stone route of Naissance de la Femme 5.13b, Guyn’s Nemo 5.13a , and Wet Lust 5.13d, Neswabda’s The Dark Half 5.13a, and Last Dance.
The Upper wall then hosted the infamous Steiner route “Le Stade du Miroir” 5.12b (1993), The Hood 5.13b, Sweet Thing 5.13c (Built by Steiner), The Hype 5.13c, the classic Altius 5.12c, and the uber gigga classic Tremaine/Johnstone Jingus 5.12c/d, and Tremaine’s stellar Swelltone Theatre 5.12d. Levente Pinter at 16 years old, bolted, and created Army Ants 5.13c, he would become one of the strongest and ever respected climbers in North America.
In the upper end of the difficulty range things continued to progress but there was a changing of the guards. Todd Guyn started to lose steam with his long stream of sends, while Scott Milton (Scott was the first Canadian to climb 5.14, which he did in Southern France in 1993 – Mass Critique, followed by the infamous To Bolt or Not 5.14a and many more. Sandford established the first 5.14 in Canada and added a few more in his home area. LeBlanc sent a few in the states. Todd Guyn however, continued to send almost every route up to 5.13d in Western North America and send them very quickly – if you ask me, Guyn was the finest climber of my generation – he could onsight 5.13 and send multiples in a day, his style was to not work the route much, send quick and move on – others were the opposite – work a lot, send less … Plus pretty much any where he went projector’s would cringe, as they heard of his crushing – tape or not, it he could send it, it went down. In that era, he could do such, leave and most would never know – today we have 8a.nu and the world knows!) was coming into his prime and would take Todd’s place at the top, far above the rest of the pack for the foreseeable future. His crown jewel was Acephale’s Existence Mundane 5.14b. A route that was originally bolted and prepared in 1994 by Richard Conover – pretty visionary really – glue can be knocked off with seven edges made of glue before it was still considered too hard and abandoned. Scott loved a natural line though and decided to show the climbing community just what was possible with what Mother Nature had provided. He removed all but one of the edges not sure if there was anything below that last glue edge and redpointed what would become the Bow Valley’s hardest route for some time to come. The last glue edge was later removed by visiting climber, Sonnie Trotter. This didn’t change the grade however, because of a micro edge hidden below. There’s no doubt though that had Scott gambled and removed the last edge (had there been nothing below, the route would have been un-climbable) he would have redpointed the route just the same. This was the Bow Valley’s first 5.14, but not its last.
The new millennium saw more steady growth, both in the overall base of routes as well as in the upper range of difficulty. A few younger climbers started to emerge as the new driving force in difficulty, while a few new route builders joined the ranks and started establishing the crags for the future.
Tremaine had quietly established the Bayon at Heart Creek, home to a dozen routes, 5.12 to 5.13+. His route Salty is considered to be one of the best 5.13’s in the valley. LeBlanc then set himself on another new line – Old Timer 5.13+, FA’d by Milton, followed by LeBlanc – now considered a standard for its grade.
Acephale had a new wall – the Junction – lower wall meets upper wall – thanks to Todd Guyn, who created the classic Hickory Dickory Dock 5.12c – 35m of great climbing – followed by his Bucking Horse 5.12b another 35m rig – then the addition of 3 more routes, Dale Robotham’s Lose Yourself 5.12b 30m, LeBlanc’s Go Ask Alice 5.12d and the 2010 addition of the Duck-Bill 5.12c/d both 35m. This adds a rope-stretcher wall with a great alpine feel.
More and more people started making the trek up to Bataan and its growth continued to explode. The father and son duo of Ian and Chris Perry joined Jon Jones and Roger Chayer and set to work on developing the fledgling area. By 2005 they had added countless new routes and walls with many classics among them. Among the best where The Kinematic Wave 5.11d, Crank Call 5.11d, Goldfinger 5.11c, Significant Digits 5.11b, Welcome to the Fabulous Sky Lounge 5.12b, and Eyes Wide Shut 5.12a. Other notable ascents were Ross Suchy’s send of an old LeBlanc bolted and often tried route back in the early 90’s, but left it, as he could not – at that time – solve the crux issue. But shortly after the Suchy send, it got a second … Vishnu 5.13c, and Scott Milton’s redpoint of Roger Chayer’s brilliant Freedom in Chains 5.13c.
Up at Acephale Scott Milton turned his attention to all the abandoned projects that littered the Upper Wall and when he was done just about every bolted line was transformed into a new route. Among them were Port Hole to Hell 5.13d, Whale Back 5.13d, Fully Jingus 5.13d, Endless Summer 5.13d, and Leviathan 5.14a.
The Bow Valley came about from pure freedom and passion – little rules, no climbers. Today we have many rules and lots of climbers, for those of us in the “older” category it’s odd, but it’s also great. Without the new generation we would not have brand new areas, like the “Echo Grotto”. Suchy, Meiss, Tos, Perry grew as climbers from what was established, then went and created more, in all levels too! Without the prod of a guy like Galloway, who sent every hard route in the Valley, added many more, heaps of energy, all with his own grading style. Really most of us think it’s his way of “speaking from the soapbox” some of us rant from it, rave from it, pontificated from it, DG grades from it. However, whether it’s 13a or b, it’s still hard. The Bow Valley hosts some amazing sport climbing, and a lot more rock to create new vision upon – you just need to be prepared to hike!
The Bow Valley would not be what it is today without the pioneering vision of Joe Buszowski – sure there were other hard climbers – Zacharias, Howatt, Korman.
Joe created and sent most of the classics at Lake Louise on gear, most are bolted today, and he did the second ascent of the Terminator, the FA of Mixed Master and later in 2004 created most of the hard mixed routes climbers get on these days – the Thriller cave area, Haffner creek and cave. However, what Joe did was not just see new areas or routes; he saw in younger climbers a certain thing that he helped shape. Jim Sanford became one of the finest climbers in Canada – he may well have done it on his own, but Joe helped show him what was possible. Todd Guyn and LeBlanc came out of the Joe B mentorship program and it shaped our future. Todd went on to become the most prolific 5.13 climber of our era – he could send multiple 13’s in a day, he shredded up the famed Blasphemy wall in the VRG, back in the mid-90’s – alongside his hundreds of other 5.13’s. LeBlanc climbed a few hard routes, and was one of the founders of Bataan and Acephale – however this could not have happened without Shep Steiner – his passion and skill built many of the Acephale classics and his education created the name of the crag. Richard Jagger was instrumental in the building of Bataan and Acephale – he took over from Keith Haberl who unfortunately was often injured and just could not continue to sport climb. Some of the old crew was still cranking Dornian and Rennie – Rennie became a key to the whole thing as well – he was the silent funder of bolting gear. We weren’t working, or at least had no real money, so Bill funded us with bolts, brushes, hammers … this really enabled us to create what we wanted to build. Rennie still climbs 5.12, pretty well for a working old man. David is the force behind the sport climbing federation in Canada, he sits on the UIAA IFSC board and still climbs 5.12 and he’s older than Rennie …
Acephale has a few issues of dates - but I can guarantee that the first bolts were in the Hood and Hype, 1992, as I was with my wife on one of our first "dates". No other bolts were at this crag until later on in May and June 1992 with the Lower Wall routes of Jagger, Tremaine and LeBlanc. This crag had been spotted, walked to by numerous climbers, but no effort - same went for Bataan. FYI no trail really existed to Bataan nor Acephale - these were laid out and hammered down by the builders.
In closing, the new guidebook is a great data source, solid pictures, well laid out - to most they likely will not care at all. This book should help those coming into the areas for their first time. Would I buy it - I did - purely because it's Derek's effort and he's a solid climber and builder - so you need to support it.
To those who read this and think - bitter old prick - you are wrong - I have been a part of the scene since it started and provided a lot of the routes today's climbers build themselves on. I still climb and add new routes, was one of the few climbers to climb 5.14 back in the early/mid 1990's and tried to push the sport here, to help build routes and climbers. I wish Steiner would be able to have kept climbing, same for Buszowski, but life moves on and so does the scene - let's just not forget the past - and hopefully more climbers will be keen on sending and building more areas – the Echo crew is on fire – maybe we could prod a few to get into the Middle Grotto, along the “Playground” dry tool crag trail and resurrect the old cave “Caveman of the Apocalypse” …