Mamas Climbing Weekend in Banff

We have been back from our family journey to Europe for three and a half months. From being confined in tight spaces as a family 24/7 to being back at work and straight into our real life routine, I was craving a little break from the everyday and some time for myself. More than anything, I was craving time in the mountains.

My loyal climbing partner, Shenoa, and I started plotting our mountain adventure weekend, settled on dates and set our sights on a multi-pitch extravaganza in Banff National Park to tick off some of the recommendations from this article in Gripped.

Our neck of the woods boasts some fabulous rock climbing but unfortunately no moderate multi-pitch sport routes. Long climbs also require a bigger time commitment than cragging and therefore, you tend to never know when you are going to come home, which isn’t ideal for mother for whom being home on time to cook a healthy dinner is a top priority.

This is my bad; unlike my dear husband who has no problem blocking out every other aspect of his life (such as his daughter and myself) when he climbs, I feel like I am failing at mother duties if I am away for more than a half-day. However, I don’t seem to feel that way when I am away with work for multiple days. Women psyche…still trying to figure it out myself!

Perhaps it’s a form of mother FOMO?! How on Earth are they going to survive dinnertime without me? They sure will be dying from a frozen pizza overdose and a TV comatose if I am not around?!

Anyhow, I knew that removing myself from the family for an entire 2 days and 2 nights was probably the best way to really focus on my own goals: climbing two classic moderate Rocky Mountains itineraries, getting half-way through my Jan Redford book “The End of the Rope”, sleeping nine uninterrupted hours twice, engaging in meaningful conversation with my friend over wine and chocolate and somehow avoiding to spend significant financial resources in one of Canada’s most pricey resort town.

Yes, we were really going to dirt-bag it! Well, sort of.

We left town on a Thursday after work in my friends shiny F-150 pick up truck loaded with a luxurious Bronco pop-up camper at the back that contains a plush queen-size bed, a cozy duvet and a 3-way fridge stocked with dry cider, four different types of cheese, artisan sourdough bread, fresh garden produce and a healthy dose of dark chocolate…and red wine. Real fancy dirtbags we are!

Our fancy dirtbag set up…

We arrived at the Lake Louise overflow parking lot quite late where we would spend the night, avoiding paying campsite fees. A sleepless night later (awoken every ten minutes by semi trucks rolling on the busy nearby TransCanada highway) we popped the camper down and agreed on the plan to head to the Tunnel Mountain campground to snatch one of the last first come first served campsites. Heck, I had already screwed one of my night’s sleep, I sure didn’t want to risk screwing the next one and even worse, our climbing goals because of sleep deprivation.

While we were driving to Banff, we got the news from our hubbies that Kimberley was under evacuation alert because of the nearby wildfires. Darn! That almost put a damper on our adventure as the guilt started settling in my stomach: my husband would need to pack our essentials on his own and still get my daughter to her swim lesson on time. How could I be such a selfish mother, prioritizing rock climbing over my family in danger of evacuation?! Fortunately, we were on a rock climbing trip and not a shopping spree, which likely would have made our respective husbands request that we come home NOW! Somehow they seem to like the idea that we are as committed to climbing as they are…

After some reassurance that the families were fine and would reunite with us half-way should things get out of control, we decided to stick to our plan.

After a hearty breakfast at our quiet campsite, we strapped our backpacks on and set out on foot for Banff’s scenic Hoodoo trail toward Tunnel Mountain and our objective for the day: Le Soulier (5.7, 4 pitches). This route was first established a long time ago but the spaced-out rusty pitons have been replaced by shiny bolts in recent years. The route originally owes to a single climbing boot nailed with a piton but has since been replaced   by a pair of high heel pumps. A funny nudge to our female climbing party of which neither of us ever wear heels.

Yes, there is a lovely view from where we stand. The Banff Spring hotel in a total haze.

A little over an hour after leaving the campsite, we found the start of the route and got all set up for our climb. While the first pitch had some loose rock and was more of a succession of ledges, the remaining 3 pitches were surprisingly solid and fairly well protected. The climbing was straightforward, easy and enjoyable and gave us the opportunity to rehearse our system of swinging leads efficiently and building bombproof belay stations. Unfortunately, due to the raging wildfires in BC, we didn’t get the picturesque views of the Bow River and Banff Springs hotel below nor the majestic Rundle Mountain across from us. We topped out a couple hours later and had a nice “summit” picnic before the ten-minute back down via a nice trail.

Shenoa leading the pitch with le Soulier
Halfway through our climb, the smoke cleared out a bit and allowed us a glimpse at Rundle mountain

Adventuring with other women is really something I appreciate, especially since becoming a mom. Like Jan Redford in her personal tale about mountains, marriage and motherhood, my will and courage levels seem much higher when I don’t have a male partner to rely on. In the presence of males, often stronger climbers, skiers or adventurer (even if I am more experienced than them), I tend to second-guess myself more.

I also find women tend to be more attentive to each other and therefore we are more likely to pause more often and check in. We also eat and hydrate better, hence I usually feel less tired after a day out with my girls. I also pay more attention when selecting the objectives and ensure I am going to maximize my enjoyment as opposed to just blindly going for it.

With the 12 km walk both ways from the campsite, that day felt like a well-rounded mountain adventure and the perfect warm-up for our goal the following day: Plutonian Shores (5.9, 7 pitches).

plutonian shores guidebook

Giving up $27 on a campsite ended up being a great decision of ours and after a gourmet camp dinner and finally a great nights’ sleep, we woke up refreshed and ready for our day.

Gourmet camp dinner climbers style

We drove to the Cave and Basin area and followed a good but steep trail toward the north face of Sulphur mountain and our  chosen route. Thanks to a very detailed topo, we had no problem finding the route which appeared to have four climbing parties already on.

We left them plenty of time before we started climbing and apart from a small rock or two falling in our direction, having other climbers above our head wasn’t too much of an issue. The smoke was worse than the day before but the temperature  cooler, which we didn’t mind at all.

Shenoa leading pitch 1 of Plutonian Shores
At the start of the climb with 200 vertical metres left to go

We linked the fun and long pitches (up to 55m!) one after the other, swinging leads, cheering each other and enjoying ourselves very much. We were quite pleased with our idea to only take a small pack for the two of us. We also ate and drank prior to getting on the wall. The limestone was quite solid with plenty of positive holds and the challenge was well within our skills and climbing level. We even caught up to the male party ahead of us and had to pause to give them some space and avoid being crammed up at the anchor with them.

img_0358
Shenoa confidently leading one of the pitches
smoky view at belay station
The smoke and wind brought some serious ambiance to the climb

The walk-off was steep and loose but short and well marked with cairns. With a large smile on our faces, we walked back to the truck, chatting and joking, feeling so happy and proud of our accomplishments.

By dinner time, we drove into Banff and sat at a small table in a busy vegetarian restaurant for our post-climbing reward. We had after all been such dirtbags that we thought we deserved a yummy over-priced meal and drinks to round up our fantastic girls weekend.

While the routes we climbed that weekend weren’t the hardest nor the longest nor the most prestigious I have done in my fifteen years of climbing, I have seldom felt as stoked on the drive home. Not a single time when I was moving upward on the rock did I think about dinner time at home nor felt the tinge of guilt from being away from my family.

I felt alive, I felt relaxed, I felt empowered and more importantly I felt myself.

 

P.S.: Many thanks to my rock warrior friend Shenoa for making this trip extra special and for being such a great climbing partner. xox

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