The Frank Slide AL­BERTA’S TOP


Gripped - - FEATURE - Photos by Tim Ban­field

OVER 100 YEARS AGO, the north face of Tur­tle Moun­tain slid to the val­ley f loor. The boul­ders that were left be­hind from the rock slide have be­come one of the go-to places for boul­der­ers in Al­berta and B.C.

On April 29, 1903, thou­sands of lime­stone boul­ders, over 90 mil­lion tons, smashed through the town of Frank in less than two min­utes. The slide de­bris is 150 me­tres deep and one-kilo­me­tre wide. It oblit­er­ated the eastern edge of the min­ing town, the coal mine and the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way line. It was Canada’s dead­li­est rock slide, as over 70 peo­ple were, and still are, buried be­neath it. Be­fore Tur­tle Moun­tain slid, it was called, “the moun­tain that moves,” by lo­cal First Na­tions. Some say it was the wet win­ter and a cold snap that caused the moun­tain to fall apart, oth­ers say it was the min­ing. A cen­tury later and the area is a pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion where over 100,000 peo­ple visit an­nu­ally, there is an online seis­mic mon­i­tor­ing web­site and an in­ter­pre­tive cen­tre. It has also be­come a pro­vin­cial his­toric site of Al­berta.

Ge­o­log­i­cally, the boul­ders at Frank Slide are young and there­fore mostly clean of lichen, moss or other veg­e­ta­tion. The boul­ders are very crimpy and tex­tured with only a few ero­sion fea­tures, such as run­nels and waves, which are com­mon on lime­stone boul­ders. Upon ar­riv­ing at Frank Slide, you might think the land­ings are treach­er­ous, but most are rea­son­able. Pads and spot­ters are still manda­tory.

Climbers have been vis­it­ing the Frank Slide for decades and dur­ing the 1990s, a num­ber of dif­fi­cult prob­lems were es­tab­lished. The lead­ing climbers of the day trav­el­ling from Leth­bridge, Alta., Cal­gary and as far away as Ed­mon­ton in­cluded Erik Evan­son, Lev Pin­ter, Chris Humphries,

Justin La­celle, Josh Comhau, Reg Brown and many more. Most of the routes they es­tab­lished were around the Old Frank Road Boul­ders, which are past the slide and down a road that was built in 1906. A few dozen boul­ders re­vealed over 100 routes up to V9, with most prob­lems com­ing in at V2 to V4. The Al­ba­tross Boul­der, which ap­pears in a 1911 photo in the pro­vin­cial ar­chives of Al­berta, was one of the most pop­u­lar boul­ders in the late 1990s. The hard­est route on it was Road Run­ner Ex­ca­va­tion V8 and two of the best prob­lems in the area are Nintendo 69 V6 and Days of Phoenix V5.

Over the last decade, up to 750 prob­lems have been de­vel­oped and, for the most part, doc­u­mented. The task of keep­ing track of what’s been climbed and what hasn’t is not an easy one. Ev­ery month, climbers find and climb new routes on boul­ders tucked away deep in the slide. Some of the lead­ing pro­tag­o­nists since 2010, in­clude Trevor Hoover, Josh Bylsma, Kyle Marco, Evan Erick­son and Mark Derk­sen. Mak­ing weekly trips, they’ve un­cov­ered some of the area’s best routes. “That crew has put up lit­er­ally hun­dreds of prob­lems each,” said Bylsma.

Hoover moved to Leth­bridge in 2012, af­ter liv­ing in the Peace Coun­try in north­ern Al­berta. He spent his time in the Peace Coun­try es­tab­lish­ing boul­der­ing prob­lems at Bear Moun­tain and Bab­cock and sport routes at Hasler and Com­mo­tion Creek, and pro­duced the area’s f irst guide­books. “When we ar­rived at the Frank boul­ders, I went for a short walk and found what looked like a more-or­less vir­gin boul­der in a nice (for Frank) set­ting,” said Hoover af­ter his f irst visit.

“Only a bit of a brush­ing (which was a nice change from Squamish) and I was ready to start work­ing my new pro­ject. All in all, a great lit­tle area, and a nice

ex­plo­ration.” re­ward for a few min­utes of

“Only a bit of a brush­ing (which was a nice change from Squamish) and I was ready to start work­ing my new pro­ject. All in all, a great lit­tle area, and a nice re­ward for a few min­utes of ex­plo­ration.”

The Frank Slide boul­ders are spread out over a big area and try­ing to f ind your way around can be con­fus­ing. “There are no trails, there is lit­tle or no chalk to mark the pop­u­lar prob­lems, and from a dis­tance, the boul­ders look iden­ti­cal,” said Hoover. “Yet, the climb­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Slide are grow­ing as new prob­lems are found and cleaned. With­out a gen­eral guide, un­for­tu­nately, f ind­ing these new prob­lems is a chal­lenge; even find­ing the cor­rect sec­tor of the Slide can be diff icult.” That’s why Hoover put in the hours to cre­ate an over­view guide, which gives some struc­ture to the area. He used the some­what ob­vi­ous nat­u­ral bound­aries, ridges and val­leys, to de­lin­eate the dif­fer­ent climb­ing zones.

While there have been hun­dreds of routes sent over the past year, and the list of high­lights from 2014 is long, here are a hand­ful that are now among the hard­est at Frank Slide. Mor­gan Dun­net is an ex­tremely strong climber from Fernie, B.C., who put up one of Frank’s hard­est prob­lems, Cog­ni­tive Dis­so­nance V10, and has re­peated a num­ber of other hard routes. “The route starts matched on big left-fac­ing un­der­cut slop­ers,” said Dun­net. “A cou­ple of burly moves on de­cent, but awk­wardly po­si­tioned, edges lead to a dy­namic crux and a harder-than-it-looks topout.” Red Deer-based climber, Bylsma, sent March of Time V9, which has a sit­start in a pit, and a good right hand on an ob­vi­ous in­cut sidepull in the over­hang. Then Bylsma had to throw to the slop­ing lip and con­tinue right­wards along the lip. He f in­ished up the right side of an arête. “It’s pow­er­ful and re­quires lots of body-ten­sion,” said Bylsma. Terry Pa­holek wasn’t to be out­done and made the f irst as­cent of Shel­ley Was a Doc­tor First V10, which is one of Al­berta’s hard­est prob­lems. Dun­net also sent Split Left V9, which is one of the most tech­ni­cally de­mand­ing and pow­er­ful prob­lems at the slide. Kyle Marco climbed what might be “the best V7” in the Rock­ies, The Com­mu­nist V7.

The weather through­out the win­ter al­lowed Hoover and the oth­ers to make trips on most week­ends. By the end of spring 2015, the num­ber of hard prob­lems more than dou­bled from the year be­fore and there are many hard projects left, in­clud­ing the im­pos­si­ble look­ing Sunny Cor­ner Pro­ject.

“The sea­son is start­ing to heat up here on the east slope of the Rock­ies,” said Hoover. “The days are get­ting longer and warmer, and we are well into the beau­ti­ful climb­ing weather of early sum­mer, which is one of my favourite sea­sons at Frank Slide, and this year has been no ex­cep­tion. I’ve been able to get out to the Slide nearly ev­ery week­end and while I haven’t climbed any­thing par­tic­u­larly hard, the sea­son is shap­ing up nicely.”

By July, 2015, Bylsma and Hoover had es­tab­lished dozens of new routes. One of Hoover’s is on the Heal­ing Boul­der and is a V4 called The Sick­en­ing. “It starts with both hands on good edges just over the lip of the cave,” said Hoover. “You reach up to the long thin rail, move sharply left along the rail, work­ing to keep your feet from touch­ing the rocks at the base. Reach up to a long edge, work up onto the slab and then climb up and right again to­wards the arête. Then climb that for a few moves and roll up onto the slab of that face to another arête and slab.” It’s the tallest line on the Heal­ing Boul­der at nearly 10 me­tres.

The Heal­ing Boul­der is in the south­east cor­ner of Frank Slide. It’s easily ac­cessed by a good trail and is one of the largest boul­ders south of the high­way. Some of the best prob­lems on it are Sage V5, Heal­ing Arete V4 and the bal­ancy Flake Route V0. Not far away is the Re­lent­less Boul­der, where the pop­u­lar Re­lent­less V6 and the f un Re­doncu­lous V5 can be found. One of the best routes near the Heal­ing Boul­der is on the Fox­hole Boul­der and is called Dave’s Arete V2.

In June, Bylsma climbed The King in the North V8, and af­ter the send said, “There is a good chance I will never make a first as­cent that is more full-pack­age than The King in the North. The es­thetic high­ball fol­lows a straight line up a unique face with in­ter­est­ing fea­tures. It has per­fectly placed, sculpted holds that al­low the moves to f low and are tech­ni­cally and phys­i­cally sus­tained, and very en­gag­ing.” Only a few days be­fore send­ing The King in the North, Bylsma sent De­liv­er­ance V8. They are only two of the dozens of new prob­lems Bylsma and Hoover have es­tab­lished this year.

For two decades, the Frank Slide has proved it­self as Al­berta’s go-to boul­der­ing area. With a group of keen climbers mak­ing weekly vis­its, a guide­book in the works and hun­dreds of un­climbed prob­lems, the Frank Slide will con­tinue to be one of Canada’s most pop­u­lar boul­der­ing des­ti­na­tions.–

“There is a good chance I will never make a first as­cent that is more full­pack­age than The King in the North. The es­thetic high­ball fol­lows a straight line up a unique face with

fea­tures.” in­ter­est­ing

Josh Bylsma fin­ish­ing the tall slab on Ma­niac Magee V1/2

Top: Kyle Marco com­mit­ting to the top half of Past Time V1 Right: Josh Bylsma and Ian Holmes car­ry­ing the usual kit for a day of boul­der­ing in Frank

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