Canada 3: Nemesis meets Elvis

Colin leading a pitch on Slawinski-Takeda route.
Colin leading a pitch on Slawinski-Takeda route.

Canadian Rockies

March 24 - April 7

by Colin Simon


The Alpine Mentors crew showed up in Canmore, Alberta for two solid weeks of raging up ice and alpine routes in the Canadian Rockies.

Steve Swenson, Scott Backes, Rob Owens, and Raphael Slawinski all showed up to climb with the team. In addition we had a tour of the Banff Moutain Rescue Center from Steve Holeczi. The Semple family graciously provided us with an awesome place to stay in Canmore.

You may notice we have an awful lot of climbers named “Steve.” If you want your child to be an alpinist, they will be statistically stronger if you name them “Steve.” (Stevette? Stevina? Stevelle?)


Scott Backes showing how it's done.
Scott Backes showing how it's done.

Routes we climbed:


  • The Sorcerer
  • Red Man Falls, White Man Falls
  • Nemesis
  • The French Reality
  • Coire-Dubh
  • Slawinski-Takeda Route
  • West Chimney of Mount Athabasca
  • Skyladder
  • Practice Gully
  • Shooting Gallery
  • The Silver Lining
  • Asteroid Alley
  • Coire-Dubh
  • Doors of Perception
  • Halfner Creek





Our first Canadian Traffic Jam!
Our first Canadian Traffic Jam!

On our third morning in Canada, two teams go to the Stanley Headwall. Steven goes to the Coire-Dubh just outside Canmore with Rob Owens, Buster and Steve go to French Reality, and Marianne and Steve Swenson and I go to Nemesis. I use skins for the first time. After zigzagging up to the base past some avalanche debris, Swenson leads to a huge ledge belay on bolts. Marianne leads the next pitch through the steepest part of the route and ends up making a hanging belay. Swenson follows the path Marianne led while I go a little to the left. I find shallow ice, surrounded by chandeliered daggers. In my panic I swing into the shallow ice and slam my new ice tool into rock for the first time. I get a grip and traverse back right and meet the two at the belay. Swenson leads a short pitch to a small ledge, and I start leading the final pitch. 

Marianne leading the crux on the Nemesis. Photo by Steve Swenson.
Marianne leading the crux on the Nemesis. Photo by Steve Swenson.

Marianne’s pitch was substantially more chandeliered, with daggers everywhere, but I feel intimidated by the big piece of Canadian ice. I overgrip my tools and start to get pumped. My mind quickly becomes cluttered with memories:


I posthole a few feet away from the ice route “R&D” in Kananaskis Country in order to stay warm as Kirill leads and Dave belays. I hear a scream, and turn around to see Kirill’s 40-foot fall arrested by an ice screw, slowed by the shattering of his ankle. Dave and I drag him back to the car while he helps by crawling. Two days later Kirill flies back to Boston to get surgery for his ankle.

I start moving again, hesitantly, with much Elvis legging and get to the easier ice at the top. A traverse left brings me to a large ice ledge, which I find out is a water dam when I punch through and a pool of water begins seeping out. I manage to belay Marianne and Swenson up. We rappel to the ground, and start skiing downhill – it’s really hard in mountain boots! I fall over repeatedly, and Marianne does a few times, giggling the whole way back to the car.

To be continued...