The building of a rock route - I

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

Most climbers do not put too much thought into the routes that they climb. Most don't even give a second thought to the actual crag that they are climbing at. The history of sport climbing is pretty short here in the Bow Valley. It wasn't till 1984 that Grotto Canyon felt the first taste of steel in the form of a Hilti Drill bit. It was also the first manufactured holds in the form of a finger pocket or two. (For a detailed and complete history of climbing in the Bow Valley visit Geoff Powter's page on the area.)

Aven- Pitch 2 "Ridge of Death"

The route created a real stir at the time. The Calgary Mountain Club came down from their lofty corporate towers and condemned the creation of routes in this manner. So out came the grease gun to make the pocket useless. Then out came the blow torch to get rid of the grease. The route was the 5.13, which was way ahead of its time if you just considered the grade.

Around 1990 Mark Whallen a long term guide in the area (Also the first guiding gig was through Mark. 1987 at the cadet camp in Banff. A life-changing event for me.) Mark went to town by creating sport routes. Especially multi-pitch routes. His first projects on the East End of Rundle (EEOR) set the tone for what was coming in the future. True Grit and Raptor became an instant classic but there were many sceptics out there. His later work on Guides Rock ( Mt Cory "Sea of Dreams" 510b) inside the National Park opened the gate and let out the flood waters.

It was just a trickle at the time. Water has a way of opening things up and eventually, the dam burst. Now bolting is commonplace. Bolting is understandable considering a Bosh hammer drill costs about $600 new and half that if you're looking for a used one. A fully tricked out trad rack will run you at least $1500 CND (or more).

Twenty-five years ago I think everybody expected that they would have to learn to trad climb. If you didn't, there would not be a great deal of climbing open to you. Before that, there would have been none. Sport climbing existed in the sense of pitons left behind.

A route requires an artist to create it. In the climbing community, this is usually (but not always) a senior member of the climbing community. By senior I mean someone who has been participating in the sport for some time. Several years at least.

Aven top of pitch 2 Minihappi 5.6 Cascade Falls

Out of every 3 or 4 thousand climbers, one has the drive to do more than climb routes they want to go next level and create routes. I suspect their motivation is varied and ever-changing. Whatever it is that drives these individuals their first step, once the decision has been made to create a route, is to find the line. ( Their actual first step is to make sure they can place bolts safely and install correctly. Let's not forget the judgment of rock quality. who hasn't seen a block on the ground with a bolt hanger attached to it.)

It is perhaps best to start on one pitch routes. Long routes of several pitches are much more complicated to rig, and the hazards are exponential.

The next post we are going to talk about the first step of creating a climbing route.

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