Canada 4: Shooting Gallery

Colin, Steven and Steve Swenson approach Shooting Gallery, the far right gully
Colin, Steven and Steve Swenson approach Shooting Gallery, the far right gully

Shooting Gallery

by Colin Simon

March 24 - April 7


In an effort to spare driving time, the group moved to a hostel off the Icefields Parkway for three nights. We would save three or even four hours of driving each day by staying closer to the Columbia Icefield – nearby are Mount Andromeda, Athabasca, the Weeping Wall area, and The Silver Lining.

Buster, Marianne and Steve were to try Asteroid Alley as Steven, Swenson and I planned to climb Shooting Gallery. A glacier bus was driving up the approach road, and the driver let us hop on, sparing us a mile of walking up an asphalt road. We crossed the crevassed section of the glacier and arrived at the base of our routes to find we had been scooped by another team! Buster, Marianne and Steve ate a bullet and left to go climb Skyladder, kindly allowing Steven, Swenson and I to try one of the routes without a team on it.


An enormous snowcone sits beneath both gullies – it took us half an hour to break trail up it, leading to a ledge where we could belay. Swenson led a quick pitch to the crux, a short, steep band of rock filled with rotten ice. Steven quickly led it, yelling “watch me!” but looking solid despite his not-so-solid protection. I led the next pitch through a wide gully of rock and snow. Swenson informed me that the belay was sub-optimal, and that a factor-two fall was not an option. 

I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to tap pitons into poor chunks of rock – I eventually got one to stick, but it was questionable. Next I dug through sugary, faceted snow, stuck my head in a hole and found a small cam placement. I proceeded up the easy but horribly loose pitch, and I lost focus and my mind wandered to more terrible thoughts…

I am standing at the base of “Mixed Master” with my friend Kurt. Eighty feet above us, Jessica removes one of three pieces of a rappel anchor. Halfway down the rappel, the anchor blows, and Kurt and I watch in horror as her body spins and bounces off the wall, and smashes into the ground before sliding down the snow slope like a corpse. I dive onto her rope, still connected to her by her belay device, arresting her slide. Kurt sprints to her and cradles her head. She is conscious, but talks about how bad her neck hurts. Three hours and a helicopter ride later, she is in a hospital, only needing three stitches for a crampon laceration on her leg.

Would my protection rip out too?

I am in an ocean of choss, covered by patches of unconsolidated snow and scraps of ice. The pitch could be rated M3 X. Technically quite moderate, but a catastrophic place to make mistakes. I eventually find a small nut in questionable rock and a piton in a shallow but solid crack. With a quarter of the rope left, I cannot see any places to build an anchor near me. I traverse right, and back left before getting to an old anchor; I put it back together, Steven and Swenson follow the pitch and we decide to leave a couple of our own nuts before rappelling to the ground.

To be continued...