Salt Spring Island
SHOULDER SEASON DRY-TOOLING
The shoulder season is when it is too cold to rock climb and to warm to ice climb. The chalk has been put away and the ice screws won’t see ice for another few weeks. If a month for shoulder season had to be named, it would be October. The leaves are gone; frost ices over the streets and the mountaintops are dusted with snow. There are two options, one is to climb indoors, the obvious choice, and the other is to pack the bag with ice tools and crampons and go dry-tooling.
If you have never been dry-tooling there are a few things you should know. The first is you are going sport climbing, br ing the quick draws and leave the rest at home. Dry-tool routes are bolted, often with fixed draws. The second is there is no ice to swing or kick into; the name of the game is hooking. Pick-torques, stein-pulls, tool-jams and other trickery is allowed. Finding the way up a limestone dry-tool route is like piecing a puzzle together. As the routes are climbed the
Pick-torques, stein-pulls, tool-jams and other trickery is allowed. Finding the way up a limestone dry-tool route is like piecing a puzzle together.
soft-stone is chipped away, leaving small holes that offer positive pick purchase. Finding the path can be a pumpy endeavour, the rock is often steep and the climbs have big reaches.
Dry-tooling crags are a newish creation. The steel-picks of an ice tool scar the rock by scratching and chipping it. Well-travelled routes resemble peg-boards; it is not the most rock-friendly of sports. That is why the worst, rottenest and broken rock is used, the crags no sport climber would want to touch. In the case of the Playground, a small wall, riddled with rat feces, smelling of rodent pee, composed of atrocious rock was used. The effort to turn a heap of rubble on Grotto Mountain into Canmore’s shoulder-season crag was by no means an easy task. Mountain Guides Eric Dumerac and Patrick Delaney spent countless hours shaping the routes, cutting trails, cleaning broken stone and placing safe bolts. “What got me inspired were the routes at Grotto and Haffner Creek. They are mainly dry-tooling,
“Because of its proximity to Canmore and lack of ice, the Playground is a choice venue for practicing and teaching mixed climbing. In the fall and on rainy days throughout the year, one can expect to run into local guides with clients. The Playground is also a great place to get strong in the pre-season for waterfall ice climbing.”
plus we needed something to do in October,” said Dumerac. Some of Canada’s best mixed climbers have trained there, including Will Gadd, Raphael Slawinski, Gord McArthur, Sarah Hueniken, John Freeman and dozens of others. Last season more routes were added, the trail was beefed up, the belay stances were gardened and draws fixed on the hard routes. When all other climbing is shut down by weather there will always be people hooking their way up the Playground.
It’s less than a 10- minute dr ive from Canmore and about a 45- minute hike to the cave. The approach is never steep. Warm up on the Mountaineers Route and Rat’s Nest Route which are both M5, then try Baptism and Prowler, both M6, before aiming for the collection of M7’s and M8’s. U Crazy is a near vertical and technical M7 up a solid face, Mutt is a classic M7 with a mandatory steinpull after a big reach, and Jeff, M8, starts with a big few moves off the deck into an array of awkward reaches. One of the best dry-tooling routes in the Rockies is Single Malt, M9. It gains an esthetic crack after a steep boulderystart. The crack is followed using pick-torques and boot-jams to a bulge. Find the key holes up right and then a few big reaches on a balancey wall to finish up and left. Everyone who climbs it is convinced of its three-star rating. By now the early season pump has taken over, looking up at the steepest line is daunting. Swiss Cheese, M11, goes through the steepest cave at the wall. Start on a jagged arête and transfer into the roof, finding the large pockets.The holds are big but the moves are bigger, so it is a core-stretching endurothon. Figure four’s, figure nine’s, use any trick you can think of to gain the lip. Turning the lip is the crux, smearing a knee tends to work, another couple of metres to the anchor and the arms can rest. There is a fire-pit and climbers often leave ropes in a bucket at the base of the crag for the autumn months to lighten the pack.
“Because of its proximity to Canmore and lack of ice, the Playground is a choice venue for practicing and teaching mixed climbing. In the fall and on rainy days throughout the year, one can expect to run into local guides with clients. The Playground is also a great place to get strong in the pre-season for waterfall ice climbing.” Brent Peters, acmg Guide, Yamnuska Mountain Adventures
Dry-tooling pre-ice season is a good way to build endurance for the winter season. Holding onto a tool is different than cr imping rock. The same muscles are being used; the same body positions are repeated, creating a burn like no other. Transferr ing the skills to mixed crags or climbs where ice for ms is easy. For waterfall-ice-climbers, dry-tooling is a great training-tool for those steeper ice routes, confidence on the tools equates to confidence on the ice.
The stench of rotten rat latr ines and lack of sun does not turn people away, it adds to the exper ience. Do not bite the rope before clipping the quickdraw, as it might be dirty. It is quiet and remote with a backdrop of lodgepole pines and tower ing rock-walls. Other crags are being developed in the same drainage, which will mean more places to climb during shoulder-season.
How to Get There
It’s on Grotto Mountain, take the 1A until just past the entrance to the quarry, the next parking is just off the road on the left hand side; it’s the rat’s nest cave parking. Follow obvious trail up and 100 m before power lines see flagged trail branch, follow this to the crag about 50 min. The trail trends up and onto the bench system, where you will walk an old road for part of the trail.–
Above: John Freeman on Swiss Cheese M9+, Playground