"A word on the spot is worth a cartload of recollections"
James Maggs, Southwold diarist 1797-1890

Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Professor Falls

The plan for today was to try this 280m WI4, named after someone who took a fall on the first ascent. The climb is popular so we decided to steal a march on any others by waking up at 0430 and walking to the waterfall in the dark. During the 2-hour walk-in the day dawned clear and crisp. The trail followed the Bow River, above which lay a water-mist which turned to hoar crystals on the riverside bushes. Quite magical.

We arrived at the base of the climb to find a pair of climbers gearing up, an American and a Canadian. I had a chat with the Canadian who was very friendly (I haven't yet met any Canadians who aren't!) He said he'd climbed the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on each of the seven continents).

The climb was excellent.

On the walk back to the car we were given a lift by a young woman on the back of her pick-up. She stopped without us putting out our thumbs!

Grotto Canyon

Both yesterday and today have been beautiful, sunny, crisp and clear.

Yesterday Nick eventually roused himself out of bed (I don't want to give the wrong impression, normally he's as keen as I am when there's climbing to be had) and we set off to find Grotto Canyon. Take two!

Here's Nick sitting on the "crampon seat" of the car with the Beymag plant behind.

This time we had no problems finding it at all. The canyon's walls have pictures marked on them by Canadian Indians, who considered the canyon a sacred place, but we didn't spot any.

I led a WI3, before Nick led the first WI4 of the holiday - "Hers". Here he is, having led the right hand side, top-roping the left.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Time to wake Nick up!

Sorry to come across like Jeremy Clarkson

but our hire car has dominated our trip to such an extent, so far, that I have to say something about it.

The first thing that struck us about our Nissan Versa was its chronically underpowered engine. It's also automatic, so pressing the accelerator down causes the engine to drop gear with a high-pitched whining sound, but without adding any appreciable forward momentum at all.

Instead of working to design a reasonably-powered engine, Nissan clearly spent all their time coming up with features that are presumably aimed at improving passenger's safety and security, but instead are just very irritating. As we discovered to our cost yesterday, the car automatically locks the doors even when the key is in the lock and the engine is running. This resulted in us being locked out of the car in temperatures below -15°C, and having to pay $100 Canadian Dollars to a locksmith to jimmy the lock.

(It's worth mentioning at this point that the locksmith unlocked the car within 20 seconds using a bent coat hanger. What does that say for the car's security?)

So, the doors lock automatically and only unlock when the engine is switched off and the key removed from the ignition. This means that the passenger can't open his door to get out of the car unless the driver first removes the key. What on earth is the point of that? Did the designers think there is a real danger of passengers opening the door while the car is moving and flinging themselves under the wheels of passing traffic?

Another deeply annoying feature of the car is that it emits loud beeps, all the time, to tell the driver that they are "doing something wrong". The sound of the beeps varies with each "infringement". Between us we've actually spent quite a bit of time trying to work out what we've done wrong from the different beeps. But I'm sure by the end of the holiday, like Pavlov's dogs, the car will have us fully trained.
Rant over!

(Actually, one of the beeps is quite useful, as it goes off when Nick is trying to move off with the handbrake on. It hasn't stopped him trying yet, but I'm holding out hope that it may do before the end of the holiday.)

Canadian Snow Machine #460

Mishaps and incompetence

The plan for today was to go to Grotto Canyon, not far west of Canmore, and do a WI3 and a couple of shorter 4s. We wanted to stay fairly close to Canmore and avoid doing anything too ambitious in view of the snow and the low temperatures. Good thinking so far. So how did it all go so badly wrong..?

First of all we couldn't find the roadside parking lot as described in the guide. So we turned in to a road leading to a Beymag industrial plant. We stopped the car on the approach to the plant, and a snowplough driver who'd been clearing the access to the plant stopped his work to advise us to park up a side road. He then cleared the access to the road for us:

His parting words were to "keep warm, if not you know where we are!'

So, cheered yet again by Canadian friendliness, we set off up what we thought was the trail to Grotto Canyon. Everything was Narnia-like, pine trees heavily laden with snow between the rock walls of the canyon. Complete silence apart from our breathing and the squeaking of our boots in the dry snow.

We were surprised to find a steep 6m ice step barring our way - not like described in the guide - but Nick soloed it and we carried on up the canyon. And on. And on. Three hours later, we accepted we were in the wrong place and turned back.

Finally, back at the car, we set off up a small road past the plant towards where we now believed Grotto Canyon lay. We soon got stuck in the snow, and after getting out to consider how best to free the car, we found we were locked out! The key was in the ignition and the engine was running, but the doors were locked!

To cut a long story short, we walked to the plant, where again we were met with Canadian friendliness in the form of the office secretary who gave us a telephone number for a Canmore locksmith. 15 minutes later, he arrived and jimmied the lock...then helped us push the car out of the snow.

After that we decided to head back home, tails firmly between our legs.

On the way back I lost control of the car on the compacted snow, skidding across the road three times from side to side before slipping off the side of the road. After gathering ourselves, we pushed the car back onto the road with the help of the same locksmith (who'd been following behind us in his truck - how embarrassing), and drove home. VERY slowly.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

That wasn't the turn off to Banff, was it?

Woken by the alarm at 6am to find it was -11°C and snowing. We drove north on the Trans-Canadian Highway for an hour or so, unsure where we were going, missing the Banff turn off, until we reached Lake Louise. By then it was snowing heavily, so over a coffee we gave up the idea of climbing today altogether. The drive back was pretty wild with visibility dropping to about 30m - or to 3m after being overtaken by one of the massive Canadian Juggernauts.

The snow should tail off tomorrow but it's forecast to be colder at about -15°C. Temperatures should then rise again and we should see sun by the weekend.

Today we're going to explore Canmore properly. We also need to identify climbs at our grade in the different areas so that we have options whatever happens with the weather.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Cascade Mountain

Here's the view from our window, of the Rundles on the West side of the valley.

Woke up at 5 having dreamed of working with Boris Johnson. Quite disturbing!
My subconscious must be clearing out the cobwebs from work and London life. A couple of cups of Five Boy's Sencha tea helped clear the fog.

At 7 we set off for the day's destination: Cascade Waterfall, which lies on an avalanche-prone mountain at the head of the valley from Canmore before it turns West to Banff. We turned off the the Trans-Canadian Highway following signs to Minniewanka Lake (honest). Cascade was unmissable from the road: a 300m waterfall "considered by some to be the best Grade III ice climb anywhere" according to the Joe Josephson guide. Our reason for choosing it was to get more mileage in on reasonably easy ice, and to try to get a bit slicker and quicker on a longer multipitch. The first 200m was easy and so we didn't rope up until we reached a steeper section. I led that, nervous at first but soon relaxing and climbing more fluidly than yesterday. The ice had looked a bit flakey from the sun over the last few days, but proved sound. After two more good pitches we began the abseil off, only to find the rope get stuck when we tried to pull through. Nick averted the need for an epic solo back up to retrieve it by attaching the rope end to himself and running down the coomb to yank it out of the jam:

Nick looking pleased with himself not long afterwards:

Nick's peeling veg for a beef stew, so I need to go help.
Top day.

UPDATE: Forgot to post the other action photo of Nick taken while he was trying to unjam the rope:

Sunday, 22 February 2009

First day

After breakfast at Beamer's Coffee House at 06:15 (coffee: not bad; egg & bacon bagel: fine; muffin: sheer greed) we drove 5 minutes out of Canmore to an area called the Junkyard, described in the guide as good for a bit of practice climbing. Did 5 pitches of WI3s and a WI4 to reacquaint ourselves with the ice.

I felt rusty to start with, nervous and slow, perhaps not that surprisingly as I've not been on ice for 2 years. I kicked too hard and over-gripped the axes, wasting far too much energy. But after a couple of climbs I began to remember what it was all about and relaxed a bit. Nick looked relaxed from the start, damn the man!

Tried to switch my camera on but it was dead! Either it took a shock in transit or the cold has affected it. I'm trying to get it working, it'll be a b*gger if not.

Now to write a shopping list for a trip to Safeway.

UPDATE: the camera's working now. Phew. Here's a couple of photos Nick took, including one of me looking VERY tense.

Drying out the gear

Somewhere over Greenland

Saturday, 21 February 2009

A bit better than Stansted

and Ryan Air. The taxi ride here was a bit fraught though. Emergency
waterworks: how ironic, if we'd missed the flight?
Typing this on the bus from the terminal to the plane, feeling better
after a wagamama.

Places in Canmore

Thanks to Will Gadd's Canmore Guide and Googlemap, we're sorted for places to eat drink and be merry for the next couple of weeks.

Temperatures in Canmore

*** Anorak post alert ***

Ultra-sensitive to the forecast after a trip to Norway 2 years ago when the ice was in full melt, I've been obsessively checking the temperatures in Canmore over the last month...

At the moment things look pretty good, after a warmer spell of daytime temps ranging from +2 degrees to +5, nights at -4 to -9. On Tuesday and Wednesday daytime temperatures look to drop to -4 then -8, nighttime -13 then -18.

Looks like we'll need our duvet jackets on the belays!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Cycle Denmark

By way of contrast with the last post, here's a different approach to travelling. Grit your teeth and ignore the cheesy bloke at the start, it gets much better.

Thanks to Sonnie Trotter

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Ugh. An hour and no movement

Stuck on the A12. Must be a bad accident.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Monday, 2 February 2009

Garufa - "Argentinian Grill"

"Grill" gives completely the wrong impression. It is a Grill of course, but this place does for beef what a top Ocakbasi restaurant does for lamb. In retrospect we should have gone for red wine instead of beer - though the Argentinian beer was fine. The wine list looks good. 

The surprise was the Argentinian black pudding. Soft and subtly spiced, completely delicious.

If you don't believe me, trust Time Out which gives it six stars

Biggest London snowfall in 18 years

I'm listening to a load of grumps on the radio, moaning about how shocking it is that the transport system can't cope. "New York never has this problem!" said one, but this was my favourite: "Think of all those Polish people laughing at us!" 

Take a chill pill and look around you. It's a winter wonderland out there.

And is this the best snowman, EVER?

More photos here

OH yes!

I'm feeling as gleeful as I did as a ten year old, when
the 1972 miner's strike led to power blackouts and total disruption to
all routine.

Today in London all bus services are down, tubes and trains are hit,
and I don't have to go to work. Joy!