I got awesome news at work... I had to be in Edmonton right after the May long weekend for a conference. I booked my flight out for Sunday afternoon, which left Monday free for some climbing with my good buddy AJ, who now lives in Edmonton. We researched climbs online in the Jasper area and found a few areas with route descriptions, but no guidebook (it's out of print). AJ found this beta on SummitPost, so that's what we used.
AJ picked me up at the airport Sunday night. We picked up a six pack and headed straight for Jasper. The drive was a real treat for me... It was SO good to spend time with AJ again (I really miss him since he moved), and it was fun being on a drive with someone else instead of my usual solo road trips. It's a good thing AJ was driving, because I saw a sign for the "Scenic Route to Alaska"... I'm not sure I would have been able to resist taking that exit.
We got out to the Pocahontas Campground around 11:30pm, and quickly set up camp in the rain (I've been rained on while camping a lot this year). We killed the six pack and shared a few more laughs while enjoying to fresh Rocky Mountain air.
Monday morning we got up and headed into Jasper for a quick breakfast before trying to find the Rock Gardens. Finding the parking lot was easy. We broke out the makeshift guidebook and started hiking in. About 20 minutes in we realized that we had missed a turn on the trail. While we should have been at the crag already, we were instead following the winding river. So we turned around and started the approach for a second time. This time we found the crag without any problems.
We scoped out the climbs and chose to start on Green Piton. I noticed that I didn't have my helmet with me, but after hiking for roughly an hour when we expected 20 minutes I figured I could climb without it. AJ starting flaking the rope and I put my harness on and started organizing my draws... only to realize that my climbing shoes were with my helmet. In the car. So we packed our gear up, hiked back to the car, grabbed my helmet and shoes, and did the approach for a third time. Finally, it was really time to climb.
We spent the next little while trying to follow the topo and figure out the line for Puff Puff - a classic route at the Rock Gardens. We figured it out, but the start of the route involved an unprotected overhang (probably 12 feet to the first bolt). It looked juggy and doable, but we weren't fully comfortable with it, so we decided to get on Broken Bolt instead.
Broken Bolt was a super fun lead for me. The climb wasn't too hard for me, but it had a couple of really interesting spots with some funky moves. It doesn't start on the ground either - it starts on a belay ledge that's maybe 18 inches wide. AJ wasn't sure if he was going to finish the climb, so I cleaned it as he lowered me. He hadn't climbed in a while and was lacking confidence. I had no doubt he'd finish it. He did.
I was pretty impressed with the Rock Gardens. It's a nice little crag with a few moderate routes, and a bunch of crazy hard stuff (that we didn't climb). It's a pleasant hike to get in, but still really accessible. I was a bit surprised that we were the only ones there. There were other people doing the Maligne Lake hike, but they were nowhere near the crag. We got a few interesting looks as we were leaving with our gear.
After climbing we headed back into Jasper to hit the candy shop and get some ice cream. Now THAT is a climbing tradition I could get used to! All food tastes better after climbing, so it should be no surprise that that holds true for ice cream as well. AJ picked up about $20 worth of candy too (which was all gone by the time he dropped me off at my hotel Monday night).
It was just one day of climbing, but I'm very grateful to have been reunited and have had that time to climb with AJ.
I'm planning on writing up some detailed directions to the Jasper Rock Gardens (complete with instructional pictures), but for now, here's a link: