Here's the route description and notes, thanks for the kind words in the comments, working this route all fall with Cory was a great time!
Yamabushi, Mt. Yamnuksa, 300M, 5.13a
Start right of “Balrog, follow the line up through the big roofs.
In about 1999 Raphael Slawinski and I started work on a new line on the last major buttress of Yamnuska without a route on it. The reason there weren’t any routes on this area of the wall is obvious: the rock is really steep, generally overhanging, with a maze of large roofs to negotiate. It’s also relatively crack-free, meaning a climb would require extensive bolting. Our progress was slow for the first five years; the climbing/cleaning on lead was hard and took a lot of time—about two days for each pitch. The process of hanging off hooks or lousy gear to drill was also mentally taxing, so we would generally get about a half pitch done every year. The route is also much harder than any other multi-pitch route I’ve done--we only felt fit enough to try it each Fall, then it would snow, oh well, next year, repeat for years.
We did eventually give in to the “dark side” and try to rap-bolt the route to speed our progress up, but were foiled by the very steep rock after only about 60M—it was too difficult to find the climbing line on rap, and we were hanging too far out from the wall anyhow. Plus, although there has been rap-bolting on Yam, it just didn’t feel right. But in 2006 I had an exceptionally good rock-climbing summer (meaning the paragliding sucked so I climbed a lot more), and felt fit enough to give the climb a serious effort, plus I had an under-employed partner, Cory Richards. Raphael was game but unfortunately employed and not feeling rock-fit after a trip to Pakistan. Alpinism is really bad for rock climbing fitness.
It took 11 more trips up on the wall, but in the end we finished off what I consider the best rock route I’ve ever done in the Canadian Rockies. We put a lot of work into cleaning loose rock and equipping the route—I wanted to build something that other people would want to climb, rather than just get the route done as fast as possible. While there are some excellent routes on Yam with good rock, there are also many routes that emphasize difficult run-out climbing on loose rock. I wanted to create something physical and enjoyable that would attract climbers to the great climbing the cliff offers.
The climbing is sustained (five of the eight pitches are 5.12 or harder, and even the 5.11 pitches are involved), and the sometimes friable rock adds to the excitement. Eight pitches at the sport crag is no big deal, eight hard pitches on Yam took a lot more out of me, there’s something about Yamineering that adds extra value. Each pitch also has a lot of climbing on it, usually two or three good cruxes to play with. It took two attempts before climbing the route free from bottom to top in a day, even knowing the route as well as I did. We likely could have done it sooner had we accepted a multi-day free ascent as is common, but there’s just something about climbing from the bottom to the top in a day. Some gear is helpful for reducing the runouts, but not absolutely necessary. It seemed sort of silly to make people bring a rack for a half-dozen possible gear placements in over 300M of climbing. I hope it becomes popular, it’s a very fine long day of climbing in a spectacular environment. All belays are bolted and at “hands free” stances.
P1: 5.10, 60M Climb the shield right of Balrog, easy scrambling across the ledge (skip the anchor, that’s for rapping), up and left to a semi-hanging stance just right of the Balrog crack. Long slings reduce rope drag.
P2, 5.13a (?), 25M. Right up the shallow dihedral to the big roofs, get motivated and climb ‘em! (note that two ropes are required to rap from the top of this pitch, a single 70M rope will be hanging in space). Prussics can be handy for the second if he or she falls off into space and is left dangling there, but a tight rope will keep things in check.
P3, 11d, 50M. Up and generally left on perfect grey rock for about 20M, then back right a bit and up to “lunch ledge,” the only ledge on the climb. A bit run reaching the ledge but not so hard, a cam might be nice. This pitch always seems hard. There are extendo slings on the anchor to keep the rope knot from catching on rap.
P4, 12b, 35M Fun climbing on excellent rock to a semi-hanging stance under a roof. This is the last stance where rapping is straight-forward. With a single 70M rope the ends will just reach Lunch Ledge, fun rappel.
P5, 12b (could be harder?), 30M. Three different fun cruxes. This pitch was very scary to clean on lead, some of the bolts may seem a bit close, but they were used to avoid dying while sending down huge blocks on lead. Excellent rock, and good luck on the last move to the anchor…
P6, 12b/c, 30M. Strenuous and gymnastic climbing up overhanging dihedrals to a baffling crux move before the belay. Down-clipping would be required to rap from here, even with two 70M ropes the ends hang too far out from the wall to reach back in. Down-clipping works OK.
P7, 12b/c (?), 35M. Just when you thought it was over…Very technical with small holds, devious. This pitch is harder than 5.11 but I’m not sure what it really is, I look forward to hearing someone else’s opinion…
P8, 11c, 50M. Surprisingly hard, the first seven pitches take a toll. There is a two-bolt belay at the top of the steep rock, definitely stop here and bring the second up rather than topping out immediately, the last few meters of walking up to the top offer some of the finest rubble found on Yam. There is a bolt just below the top under a cairn to safeguard the last bit.
A note on the grades: I’ve spent so much time working on this route I have no idea if the above grading is accurate or not, everything started to feel sort of the same by the time I managed to link it all together. The Big Ass Roof (pitch 2) recently lost a pebble stuck in a small slot, which may make it a bit easier.
1999: Will Gadd and Raphael Slawinski bolt the first pitch and start work on the second and third pitches.
2000-05: Gadd and Slawinski work for four more days from the ground-up, and experiment with rap-bolting, which is not very successful due to the angle of the wall. Gadd also works on the route with Kevin Wilson for a cold day.
2006, September-October: Gadd and Richards spend 11 days cleaning and bolting. Kevin Dyck also puts a day in, as does Sarah Hueniken. Gadd finally does a complete no falls bottom-to-top ascent on October 12, leading every pitch with Josh Briggs jumaring.
“Yama” is Japanese for Mountain, “Bushi” for monk. The Yamabushi in Japan are warrior/monks who train with extreme asceticism; they run a marathon a day for 60 days straight, eating only small amounts of rice. Plus the name has “Yam” at the start, which is what locals call the cliff. Yam has a long and proud climbing history for Canadian climbers, it’s the crucible in which many Canadian climbers were forged over the last 50+ years.