New Rockies Routes – Sulphur Mtn Skyline Crag, Mt Ishbel Slabs, Ishbel West Ridge


In between unfortunate injuries ( a poor run; none for seven years and now three in twelve months…nothing lasting though) I’ve been fortunate to have some great partners this summer, both for enjoying superb days on some of the rock classics of the Rockies and bugaboos, and also for a handful of new routes, from one pitch trad meanderings to aesthetic alpine ridges.  Here are the new routes, with the exception of one two-pitch on buffalo crag (horrible unprotected crux, not worthwhile), and also one in an area I’m just beginning to develop (I need someone with a drill… contact me if you’d be in…I will buy the bolts!).

Sulphur Crag

Take Banff gondola, $40, or $20 locals with proof, or take hiking trail to summit of sulphur (1 hr to 1 hr 45m). then walk south along the ridge (very nice walk), passing over the first small rocky hump (good, long sport route potential on friction slabs west side) to the first real peak. drop down scree on west side an duck under west face: immediately you will see these 3 routes and possibly potential for more; (either slightly scrappy, or attractive and stiff but very run-out, possibly with loose flakes). all routes gear, 40-60m, scramble off possible.

Double fracture/Son of 3 roofs (haven’t agreed on a meaning for the name yet …double fracture refers both to the lione taken and the state of my jaw at the time- still healing) P1 is recommended.

IMG_5835IMG_5840Adam Greenburg on  P2 (easy)STR IMG_5855adam on Adam’s

 IMG_5857STR / DFIMG_5860IMG_5862

The Percussionist 10a R runs up the centre of the slabs in the very centre of the photo. Breaks left at the very top of the slab to gear belay at 60m and scramble off. Certainly some nice moves in places, but somewhat contrived as a trad route, and as the name indicates needs some serious flake cleaning up high (don’t take the tempting looking “C “ crack!

“Adam’s” 5.8 takes the same initial line as T.P , between the trees in the picture, then at the height of top of the right tree, goes left to follow the corner, before breaking through to the STP/DF belay ledge & scramble off.

Mt Ishbel

Ishbel Slabs – Survivor

There have been a few attempts over the years, but this route ‘Survivor’, (5.10-,R, 310m/7p)  on 25 or 26 July 14, with Liam Savage, is the first route to be established on the prominent West Slabs of Mt Ishbel.  The general lack of serious interest is surprising given the number of aesthetic corners available, many on slab of good rock quality, and all very obvious from the Trans canada highway.  The motivation to climb this face came from a a trip to snowboard the couloir in the centre of the face, from where the rock quality of the slab was obvious. Unfortunately it is generally let down the the rock of the walls of each corner(the only gear protectable lines on the slab), which seems almost universally poor.

Difficulty of the line is debateable, as we are not so used to climbing with the weight of double rack, pitons and hammer. We’d say it feels similar to some old Rockies ‘5.9’s we’ve climbed, and also to some other more modern routes up to 10c.  So, the cruxes on p6 and 7 may be 10b, but realistically may be less… 10- seems a good summary. Excuses.



We left only one (bent) pin, just near the P3 belay. Bad, and worthless for belay as no other gear around. While beginning to try arrange a belay here my foot slipped or foothold blew, resulting in a fall, a cut hand and a few stitches that night in canmore.IMG_6197Survivor-1

I drew and scanned a topo, but although I can email it I cannot attach here. If wanted I could email it (see ‘contact’ page in blog header), but I would say that if anyone is interested in climbing a route called ‘Survivor’, they bolt belays in more sheltered positions, or at least extend themselves out quite some meters on the rope from each belay in the corner, and belay hanging out on an angle on the slab, or where possible up on/around the corner.

IMG_6158IMG_6159LS. P2IMG_6164

above: p6

P7IMG_6166IMG_6167IMG_6176a happy survivor.  The climbing is good, being truly great on pitch 6…face climbing…and 7, crack and corner; however the cleaning of copius crack vegetation in areas, and in the two spots where we had to break over wall to right into another corner(P5 and 6) generated very generous quantities of plummeting rocks, no matter how much care was taken, making for a sometimes harrowing ascent.  Bolted belays out on the slab in some places would be nice, somewhat less in the line of fire.

IMG_6192  Liam downclimbing towards inkpots. Same ridge Greg and I ascended to access West ridge.



Note. At a later date, for west ridge access Greg and I ascended on the ridge the entire way from the knoll below treeline (refer to map, eg gemtrek “Banff and Mt Assinaboine” map, including the notch. descent from the lower (camera ) side of the ridge was fine, and we rejoined the traced descent trail for the little section uphill of there to gain the ridge. Either way works but ridge probably more straightforward.


Mt Ishbel West Ridge 06/09/1

(Grand traverse Mt Ishbel)



West Ridge Mt Ishbel 5.8, III+

Accessed via left hand (North) skyline ridge of Ishbel Slabs from Ink Pots, Johnston Canyon.  Quite a few km of alpine ridge travel when accessed this way, and descended as we did down Ishbels’ only known route, the South Ridge (one of the longer ridge ascents in the Banff area on its own, more or less an exposed scramble) to Hillsdale Meadows. A long, grand day, albeit with some type two fun in places amongst the pinnacles of the West Ridge. It’s loose and often runout.  Greg finished one pitch totally protectionless. A mix of short and a few very long pitchs, simul-climbing, and soloing.  Short-roping technique would also be effective in places. Often for a ridge like this, full of jagged ups and downs I like a shorter rope, but a 60m, was probably essential for rapping the first gendarme (exceptional free-hanging 25+m rap… I wouldn’t want to try it with a 50, although you might just get away with it). If I went back I’d take a 70m, so the first rap could be done in one, not two (with a 60m it is possible to do one, and then a short downclimb, but we opted for a second rap. Furthermore, for the long pitchs, an extra 10m would have been nice.  Whether 60 or 70m, expect to wear mountaineers coils through many of the small gendarmes.We walked on frozen/snowy scree under the second (smaller) gendarme on the North Side(the only time boots would have been nicer than approach shoes &rock shoes, our combo), then climbed the top of the longest ‘up’ section on the skyline for a full pitch, before continuing essentially on or within 5m of the skyline the whole way. The grade could possibly be lowered a grade or even two with some different variations, such as taking the longest “up” (after 1st 2 large gendarmes) as far climbers left as logical, then up the rib climbers left of that as you approach the ridgetop.

To descend the East Ridge (downclimb and 3 raps) to jog out ranger creek may be faster, but probably lower value, than  to descend the south ridge..although the valley does look beautiful and is rarely visited.

The only real rock and pro of the entire climb?

One of my dream ski lines (not in this condition!)  that I can share with everyone, and probably not expect anyone else to poach it.  It’s been on the cards for a while … who’s in?IMG_6687IMG_6688IMG_6692
Mts Rundle and Louis make an appearance.



The south ridge stretchs to home… the full traverse of Ishbel beckoned, and we accepted.  4hours summit to Parkway.IMG_6698

Greg Cole. Stoked on life as always.


The view of the West Ridge (left skyline) that daily inspired me driving to and from work every day, in full view of the Trans Canada Highway.

Thanks Greg.


About ruari

a lover of the beauty of the mountains, coast and other wild open spaces. An adventurer and high-level snowboard freerider / snowboard mountaineer
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