The Frank Slide ALBERTA’S TOP
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
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