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Outdoor Climbing - Wasootch Slabs

I’ve only recently begun climbing but have quickly grown fond of the activity. It began with learning to top rope easy routes in the climbing gym (top rope is a style in climbing in which the climber is securely attached to a rope which then passes up, and through an anchor system at the top of the climb and down to a belayer at the foot of the climb)

Eventually I was able to progress onto more challenging gym routes and have since learned how to lead climb (lead climbing is a climbing technique used to ascend a route. This technique involves a lead climber attaching themselves to a length of dynamic climbing rope and ascending a route while periodically clipping into protection attached to the face of the route)

The ante is increased with lead climbing; falls are more substantial because the climber can fall twice the length of the rope between themselves and their last piece of protection.

While climbing up colourful graded routes in the gym is a lot of fun and has been essential to my learning, I’m eager and curious to experience real rock in my hands. Fortunately, my partner is also keen on climbing and seeking outdoor rock.

The climbing slabs of Wasootch Ridge in Kananaskis appear to be a great place to begin outdoor climbing with a variety of sport and trad climbing routes. We keep our eyes on the weather and plan to head out the first Saturday of January.

Saturday morning arrives and the weather looks great, even better in Kananaskis than in Calgary! We typically head out on our adventures at the crack of dawn, but decide to take our time and reach the crag by noon in hopes of the sun shining brightly upon us. We have coffee and pack up for the day, lots of warm layers, our harnesses, climbing shoes, climbing gear and of course, a trusty rope.

We spend the short drive to Kananaskis cracking jokes, laughing and taking in the beautiful views of the snow capped mountains. We arrive at the Wasootch parking lot where there was a half dozen other cars parked in the lot. There are two guys approaching the parking lot as we are unloading our gear from the vehicle. They see we have climbing gear with us and ask if we are intending to climb the wall. We tell them we’re just here checking things out and are unsure of what we’re after. They are evidently preparing to leave so we ask them if they had done any climbing. “It’s way too cold out here, the ledges are covered in snow and our hands are freezing to the rock” they reply.

Al and I look at one another and exchange a smile, we know we’re heading up the valley to give it a go.

We make our way to the A slab (the wall nearest the left of the parking lot) and lay down our gear; we begin investigating the wall and can see only a few footprints in the snow beneath; must be the prints of the guys we saw in the parking lot. It’s a little chilly but the sun is beginning to shine inward to the valley and making its appearance on the limestone wall.

We locate 4 hangers bolted into the rock and decide this will be our first route. Al will lead the route; this is known as a sport climb. A bolted rock route, where a series of safety bolts are drilled into the rock every few meters. As you climb up, you use a quickdraw to attach the rope to each bolt, clipping the top carabiner into the bolt, and the rope through the lower carabiner. This is what will catch you in the event of a fall.

Al changes into his climbing shoes and I crack some hand warmers and place them inside of mitts that we will clip to our harnesses for a quick heat blast as we ascend the wall. He ties the 60 meter rope into his harness and I place him on belay, “climbing” he says, to which I reply “climb on!”

He reaches the first anchor bolted into the rock, he carefully positions himself and reaches to his harness for a quickdraw. He attaches the quickdraw to the anchor and clips himself into the bottom carabiner; he continues climbing to the next hanger. I’m on the ground eagerly watching his progression up the wall as I give and take slack from the rope. Once he approaches the top he will proceed to set up a top rope belay station, feeding the rope through two fixed rings bolted into the rock. He has sent the route and we are now set up for top rope climbing; I remove all of the slack and begin to lower him down. It’s my turn to climb and I’m stoked!

I tie into the rope and stick my ice cold hands into the chalk bag fixed to the rear of my harness. It’s a nice change to not have profusely sweating palms, something I frequently experience indoors; thank you cold winter air! I begin climbing, the rock is cold but it’s rejuvenating in a way, a nice change from the plastic holds in the gym. A couple moves in and my thoughts audibly escape “wow, this is deceiving, it looked a lot easier from the ground!”, Alistair laughs.

I slowly become comfortable with the limestone rock at my fingertips and use my feet to smear up the wall. (Smearing is the act of pressing the soles of your climbing shoes directly into the rock and using friction to gain vertical ground.) I progress up the slab and make my way towards a dihedral (an inside corner of a rock) which seems to offer ample hand and foot holds. I ask for a take, Al pulls the slack out of the rope so I can warm up my hands and get a good look at the approaching rock. I take a quick moment to look back and am mesmerized by the incredible views of Skogan peak behind me, this is surreal. I continue climbing, carefully checking for loose rock and using my breath to blow snow away from the small ledges. I feel my heart calmly beating as the tip of my nose gently touches the wall; I see my next move, but am hesitant with fear, left hand up to an undercling, right hand over to a crimp. “Man up” I tell myself and reach for the first move with my left hand, trusting my placement. I remind myself that fear and excitement are the same feeling, one that I’m in control of.

I make it to the top of the climb and feel immediate satisfaction, I’m in awe that I’ve completed something I’ve been thinking about endlessly. I let out a big “yahoo!” and can’t stop smiling. Al lowers me to the ground and we are both thrilled. “I’m naming this one, man up”, I say.

We spend the rest of the afternoon climbing, laughing and as per our usual adventures, planning a coffee pit stop on the way home.

The first of many, until next time, Wasootch.