50 Years at Guides Rock, Alta.
Impeccable Rockies Multi-pitch Limestone is Perfect for Spring
Guides Rock is one of Banff National Park’s most historic multi-pitch crags and is only about a 10-minute drive from downtown Banff. The approach is steep with a number of calf-burning switchbacks, but only lasts about 20 minutes before you arrive at the base. The limestone is stipply with some natural cracks, but more deep water-runnels that provide fun pinching and foot jams. Most of the climbs are bolted, but some old and bold traditional lines exist. It’s south facing, so it’s always in the sun and can get breezy in the summer, but it’s a perfect place to climb in early spring.
Guides Rock is a Verdon-like steep ridge above the Bow River on Mount Cory. It was once only used by locals for guide and rescue training back in the 1950s and ’60s, but once technical rock climbing began,
the potential for high-quality climbs was discovered. The first route up was by Brian Greenwood and Tim Auger in the mid1970s up an obvious feature they called Three Rooves. It was climbed once with a few points of aid before going free at 5.10b, now 5.10c due to polished rock. The steep crack climb avoided the more challenging finish up the striking headwall.
In 1978, Mike Sawyer saw a line through the headwall that would eventually redefine bold local climbing. He called his new route Paper Chase 5.11 and it was a totally new style of rock climbing in the Rockies.
It ventured onto a blank looking wall and had varied cruxes on the outstanding final pitch that surfs up waves of stone. Sawyer climbed it with Carl Austrom and their first ascent caused a stir locally and even out in Squamish. The next route through the headwall was in 1980 and was called Rain Check 5.10b. From the second roof on Three Rooves, Chris Dale and Dave Morgan climbed the direct headwall on small holds. They climbed it in a rain storm and ran the cruxes out over 20 feet.
The next route was Take It For Granite 5.9 up the lower angel rib east of the main face by Bob Sawyer and Dan Guthrie. It was 30 years later that the now-famous Aftonroe 5.7 was bolted up an 11-pitch line. My Wish Has Been Granite 5.10 was added to Sawyer and Guthrie’s line a few years later. Then in 1984, Sean Dougherty and Mike Glatiotis established Direct Start to Paper Chase, 5.10c. Then Mark Dube and Guthrie added The Hook 5.10a as a new finish to Rain Check. Joe Buzowski, who helped develop Back of the Lake, got in on the action and climbed Close to the Edge 5.10c with Pat Paul.
Dougherty and Brian Baxter then climbed Street Life 5.11a after a close call on the wall due to too much Mexican food before the climb. Then Dougherty and Jim Sevigny climbed the sustained new Solid Air right of Street Life at 5.11b/c. Buzowski sought out a wild new route with Hugs Not Drugs, which he worked on and drilled holes for bolts that Josh Korman later led and free climbed, a bold undertaking. Buzowski, Peter Arbic and Guthrie traversed the upper headwall, though details are vague they called the route Adventures in Flesh Land, all on gear in the upper 5.11 range.
While some hard pitches were added over the next decade, development slowed
until the bolting of Sea of Dreams 5.10d up a stunning arete and through the upper headwall by Mark Whalen. The route was controversial at first, but Whalen was used to the attention after bolting the 600-metre Sisyphus Summits 5.10d and the six-pitch True Grit 5.10c near Canmore. Over the past 20 years, a number of new routes have been added, including Cure for Aid 5.11c up a stunning arete, Turf Wars 5.10c and the 2018 route called The Wanderer 5.9.
For 50 years, climbers have been heading to Guide’s Rock for windy adventures on steep classics. There is still room for modern
routes, like the new The Wanderer, and the old classics will always be favourites for locals and visitors. If you’re passing through Banff this year, especially in spring, be sure to stop at Guides Rock to see what all the fuss is about.
How to Get There
Take the exit for Johnston Canyon off the Trans-Canada and drive for just shy of three kilometres to a pull-out on the left. From there, you can look up and see Guide’s Rock. Cross the road to the dirt trail that diagonals up the road cut. Follow this to the rock.—Gripped
Top: Mark Howell on Cheese Grater 5.8
Left: Nico Magnan and Will Meinen on Sea of Dreams 5.10d
Above: Small pack rat on Sea of Dreams
Right: Meinen on the upper wall of Sea of Dreams
Bottom: Magnan on Sea of Dreams 5.10d
Below: Mark Howell heading down Aftonroe on Guides Rock in Banff National Park
Left: David Smart and Esther de Bruijn on Aftonroe