Sunday Morning I was awake at 5am. I don't like 5am. It's sort of offensively early - the kind of thing I'll do for a ski objective but otherwise normally avoid.
The reason for the painfully early morning is that I had plans with Katherine and Sheena that I already knew weren't going to work. The plan was to climb The Finger on Napsihu Ridge - Katherine's current nemesis route. It's twelve pitches of moderate climbing with a two hour approach so to give ourselves ample day light the plan was to start early. The problem though, was that the forecast went to shit and Sheena was out of cell reception so we had to meet up with her on the edge of Kananaskis anyway.
Sure enough, we met up and immediately decided that we were all in agreement that none of us felt like trying a long committing objective on a day when there was a high chance of lightning in the area, so we headed to the Rocky Mountain Bagel Company to load up on coffee and come up with a Plan B.
We spent a few minutes coming up with ideas of possible objectives, then checking the closest weather model and rejecting it as being unrealistic. But then a thought occurred. The upshot to being up so early though is that we had enough time to do basically anything. So why not try something huge?
Heart Line is a brand new monster line on Heart Mountain. 1.1km long (yep, we're measuring a climbing route in kilometers), 17 pitches of climbing plus four scrambling sections and graded at 5.9 A1. The aid portion is just a bolt ladder, so we didn't need any other gear, so 60m rope (or two) and a rack of 12 draws was all of the gear we needed.
A quick check of the forecast indicated that while there was likely going to be some rain in the afternoon, the forecast wasn't predicting any lightning. We could work with a forecast like that.
We drove back towards Calgary and dumped the car at the standard Heart Creek climbing area and then hiked up the creek. The key to finding the bottom of the route is to count the bridges - at the fifth bridge up the creek, instead of crossing, you keep on the left side of the creek. Just hike about 100m farther up and you'll reach a low angle slab left of a small drainage with a bolt a short ways up. Time to put your big kid pants on and get climbing.
We wanted to move quickly since it's a crazy long route, so we stuck Katherine on lead with Sheena and I splitting clean up duty.
The first six pitches are low fifth and easy enough that we managed to knock them down pretty quickly. Like, six pitches in two hours.
At that point we had a quick discussion - the route description on TABVAR describes a possible retreat at this point by rapping down the Heart Slabs, but we were making good time and the weather was holding out thus far so we elected to continue but gave ourselves a turn-around time in case we slowed down. We wanted to be at the top of the 10th pitch by 4pm and based on our current pace, we'd have to slow down pretty catastrophically to miss that cut-off.
Above the sixth pitch, there's a 400m scramble section that I was vaguely worried about getting lost on, but it was quite well flagged through the trees. Once we reach the alpine meadow, the flagging sort of disappeared, but we just stayed on top of the ridge and found the base of the next pitch.
After the big long scramble, we got back into pretty mellow terrain - five pitches ranging from 5.2 to 5.7 and all of them pretty comfortable. The first 5.2 pitch was really just bumping over a small pinnacle which forms the last obstacle before we gained the prow of rock that would take us to the top.
Once we'd completed those five pitches (7 to 11 if you're keeping score at home) we had another scramble to contend with. This one is listed as class 3 in the route description and it involved traversing a narrow ridge of choss rock which is quite exposed feeling. At this point we started discussing further bail options as we were aware of the potential for incoming weather and there were two fourth class scrambles left - and if they were any worse than the 3rd class one, we didn't want to deal with them if they were wet.
We decided we'd climb pitches 12 and 13 and then reconsider before we committed to the first of the fourth class bits.
Pitch 12 is pretty mellow but took us to a bit of a sketchy anchor by Bow Valley standards. There's one new bolt, and old one that was spinning happily and a third one a ways away. Katherine, not really liking the old stuff (or more likely realizing the hissy fit I'd throw when I got there) tied all three together.
Pitch 13 is probably the crux pitch in my book. It starts with a quite thin move off of the anchor and then continues steeply the rest of the way to the anchor. That first thin move was probably the toughest for me, but Katherine thought it was a piece of cake and that the hardest bit was higher up - so probably I missed some key foot hold she found. It's quality climbing and Katherine seemed to really enjoy it.
When we got to the first fourth class scramble we were pleasantly surprised. It's really just a move or two followed by a walk. If someone's uncomfortable, you can easily belay them to flat ground and then follow up on a hip belay if needed. We decided we'd continue up and re-evaluate the weather again at the next fourth class pitch since we were confident we could down climb the first one even if it was wet.
Pitch 14 is the aid pitch and in retrospect, a little reading would have gone a long way. Katherine found some comments online after the fact that warned that the pitch is seriously tricky if you're less than 5'9. Katherine led it (along with everything else) and it was absolutely hilarious watching her try to dyno to clip each subsequent bolt. Eventually she resorted to unfurling an alpine draw and using it as an aid ladder. If you're short, do that. Sadly I didn't get any photos because I was on belay duty that pitch and pulling out the camera seemed like a dick-belayer move.
On 15, we had the second 5.9 pitch and I found it quite a bit easier than the first. You start up a shallow corner before transitioning to the left face which is the crux move. The crux move is well bolted, which is nice because it's a bit of an airy feeling move.
At the top of pitch 15, we had the last of the scramble side-shows which is claimed to be a 90m class four. Once again it's really just a few steep moves followed by a walk. We were getting pretty bagged at this point so Katherine belayed Sheena and I up the steep bit and then I hip belayed her up to us once I found a good seat.
At this point, we'd been on the rock for a little over seven hours and were definitely starting to feel it. Lots of buddy checks, lots of redundancy, playing everything by the book and super safe. We didn't want to make a critical, fatigue induced error at this point.
The final two pitches are a 20m 5.5 that just bumps up a couple of ledges and then a straight forward 5.7.
At the top of the final pitch we just had one final short walk up to the Heart Mountain hiking trail. We stopped for a selfie, got our feet out of our climbing shoes and into our way more comfortable approach shoes and beat it back down the trail.
17 pitches of climbing. 1.1km long. Those are incredible numbers. But then Heart Line is an incredible route and I can't thank Chas Young and everyone who helped enough for putting it up. This is my favourite kind of route - long, moderate fifth class, alpine style, and reasonably bolted. I don't know if it'll become the next Achilles Spire as the rock isn't great in a few places, but this is a genuine and legitimate adventure less than an hour from Calgary and with a super quick (half hour-ish) approach. Incredible.
My only real heads up is the bolting. The location of the bolts feels quite good, but the route makes use of a mix of bolts. If you don't like homemade bolts, this route isn't for you at the moment. There's a lot of homemade aluminum hangers and some 1/4" bolts. The clearance on the holes in the aluminum hangers is also a little tight. We were climbing on draws made from Black Diamond Hoodwires and the biners would bind whenever being placed or removed. Not enough to be the end of the world, but not ideal I don't think.
Like I said, I can't thank everyone involved in putting this beast up enough, having put up zero routes in my life, I'm really just a parasite on the community and it's the incredible work route setters that lets me go play.
That said, we're lucky to have an incredible community out here so if you decide to tackle the route, maybe pitch TABVAR a few bucks to contribute to updated hardware.
Climbing with Katherine and Sheena is always a guaranteed good day out and this was no exception. We did get lightly rained on at one point, but it's dried quickly. Katherine was an absolute machine leading all 17 pitches and Sheena dealt with way more than her fair share of rope faff so that I could play with my camera. Thanks guys - you rock.
Damn that's a long route...
Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.