Hoka Hey without the deranged bird

I tried to climb Hoka Hey a couple of years ago and it went just about as badly as a day can go without anyone being injured or killed.

It's not a bad route, we just had a day where the universe was against us. First, we were stalked by a murderously horny grouse that decided that its single goal in life was to horribly maim us. We tried to leave the area but it just hounded us. It was a running battle between three adults and a forest chicken that probably weighed no more than five pounds and yet absolutely inexplicably shrugged off our uh, 'increasingly assertive' attempts to suggest it leave us alone. We finally managed to dissuade it without injuring it, but it was an eye opening reminder that bears aren't the only animals whose territory you need to be aware of.

We escaped the murder bird and got to the bottom of the climb. As we were gearing up we witnessed huge rockfall come crashing down the corner system that comprises the bottom half of the route (obvious lesson of the day, this is not a route to do early in the season). If we'd been on route it absolutely would have been fatal. Somehow, that demonic forest chicken saved our lives by delaying us for an hour.

So that's how the first attempt went. Attempt #2 was pretty much guaranteed to go better.

Hoka Hey is a beautiful climb on Mt. Cory that actually crosses the iconic crack that splits the face. The route is mixed and has bolted stations so we brought a light rack of cams to augment the fixed pro, . 9 pitches and graded 5.8+, you might figure it would be a super mellow day out but I sure wouldn't want to be a 5.8 leader on that route. It's sustained for the grade and the moves are non-obvious in places. A bit of a burly day compared to other multipitch routes at the grade in the area, but it's tons of fun. Check the full pitch by pitch description on TABVAR.

Hoka Hey Approach

Christine and I drove out from Calgary early Saturday morning and drove out to the Muleshoe Parking lot about 5-6km up the road from the Bow Valley Parkway turnoff west of Banff. Since my first attempt, a few friends of mine had climbed the route and the reports were all the same. Super fun, super sustained, seriously hard for the grade. I mean, people who I know happily climb mixed 10s on a regular basis were coming back commenting it wasn't a gimme.

From the parking lot we picked up the faint trail that heads over to the road from the outhouse. On the far side of the road we could see the trail resume and we followed it towards a beautiful stand of Aspens. At that point it becomes very much a climber's trail, more or less straight up hill. Grinding up it I gained newfound sympathy for the people who continuously tell me that my uptracks are too steep when skinning. 

Hoka hey trail

Eventually the trail crossed a washed out drainage. If you are trying this route, STOP and take a look around and remember this spot. When you descend you'll come down this drainage and you need to pick the trail back up at the right spot - so mark it in your head.

Final approach to Cory with the iconic crack splitting the face

After continuing up the trail and swimming through some deadfall while wishing we'd brought a saw with us, we eventually reached the base of the face. We followed the trail down and to the right, farther than seemed right until we found a really large bay with an obviously scramble-friendly line heading up. From there it was a quick but surprisingly tricky scramble up to the base of the climb which could be identified by the large corner overhead and the single belay bolt at the bottom of the route.

The bottom of the route can be identified by the dead tree and the belay bolt just behind Chrisitne

Climbing Hoka Hey

Christine and I wanted to keep a decent pace going so we elected to solo the first 5.6 pitch. I'm not a big fan of soloing, but looking up at it, it seemed rather like a high consequence scramble so we put on our harnesses and shoes figuring we could bust out the rope if either of us got uncomfortable and started up. Even with my crippling fear of heights it was fine following the blocky, ledgy terrain.

Christine climbing up the last few moves of the first pitch

At the base of the seccond pitch, also 5.6, it looked like the route might venture into more committing terrain, so we roped up. I led up to the second belay stance and Christine decided that while I hauled the rope up, she'd quickly solo up the pitch.

Christine cruised up the second pitch while I hauled up the ropes and faffed

Facing the third pitch it was definitely time for us to rope up and Christine took over on the sharp end. Now, it's important to remember that while I'm a terrible climber, Christine onsite's 11s so this was trivial terrain for her. That said, half way up the corner system she commented that it would have been a whole lot more fun without a pack on as she was getting hung up in places. If you're heading up this route, it's probably worth considering only carrying one pack for the party so the leader doesn't get hung up in the corner. Not crucial, just something to consider.

The corner system that comprises the third and fourth pitches is what I've heard most people talk about as being tough on this route, but other than the two moves that start the fourth pitch (which are really thin for the grade), the whole thing felt stiff but not crazy. To quote Mark Klassen's description:

Some climbers will feel this pitch deserves the 5.9 grade but if you are familiar with limestone stemming corners it is 5.8, albeit every single move is that hard.
— Mark Klassen

But here's the thing. On most routes at this grade, pitches are a few moves at the grade interspersed in easier terrain. The third and fourth pitches are 50-55m each of every single move being at the grade and that makes it feel pretty darn stiff.

After the corner system, you we got back out into more mellow climbing with pitch 5 and 6 going at 5.6. The route description tells you to cross Cory's Crack at the top of Pitch 5, but having found an anchor just before the traverse, we held up there and made the traverse the first few moves of the 6th pitch.

Christine traversed across Cory Crack and then continued up the slab of pitch 6

The final three pitches were back to the sort of climbing that had us rather questioning the grade. Pitch 7 starts with a comically thin move past a bolt which is called 5.8 and felt at least a grade harder to my terrible self. We got excited for Pitch 8's crack system until we discovered it wasn't the beautiful jams we were hoping for but instead some awkward 'whatever works' climbing and then Pitch 7 which we'd hoped was a gimme at 5.7 was exciting enough that Christine turned around at one point to call down to me "5.7? Really? Fuck..."

Here's the thing about Hoka Hey. It's a super fun route with interesting climbing that goes way beyond the typical ledgey limestone slab you find at this grade in the Bow Valley. The route has a ton of variety from cracks, to stemming corners, to thin slab and it just so happens to be so hilariously sustained that unless you find it easy, you're probably going to shit your pants.

Hoka Hey Descent

Okay, the descent is the shitty part and the entire reason I recorded GPS tracks when we were out there. Here's my track, it isn't THE track, it's just A track. This worked for us, I'm sure there's more efficient ways but if you follow our track it will at least start you in the right direction.

Basically, as soon as you top out, you want to gain a few meters to flat-ish ground and then start heading climbers left. The goal is the descend down into the obvious drainage below.

If you're just starting to climb 5.8, Hoka Hey might be more epic than I would personally want. That said, if you if you're comfortable climbing a couple of grades harder, then it's a great route and way more interesting than the grade suggests. It has great position, incredible views and the climbing is super fun. It's so varied and interesting that it's definitely a route I could see going back to do over and over again. Heck, I'd do it again next weekend.

Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.