Private Guiding - Mountaineering/Alpine

Welcome to our mountaineering/alpine climbing private guiding page where we have compiled a bunch of great mountaineering and alpine climbs for you to look at and consider on your next privately guided trip with us. Please note that the climbs we have highlighted below are not an exclusive list but rather a sample of climbs that we guide. Take your time & explore the climbs highlighted below or click here to scroll down and read up on some related topics (ie. grading, our climbing season, etc). If anything interests you or you have questions, please feel free to reach out. Our contact info is available at the bottom of this page.

Some Things to Know

Below are some great topics to read that will hopefully help you familiarize yourself with our region and answer some questions you may have. If you have any remaining questions, please feel free to reach out using our contact info available at the bottom of this page.

What is mountaineering and how does it differ from alpine climbing?

Mountaineering is a style of climbing over mountainous terrain that includes snow or ice (typically glacial or neve ice), where minimal technical climbing maneuvers are required. One can still expect lots of challenges in mountaineering but once your hands are routinely needed above your head to climbs up with then the term alpine climbing may better be suited to describe things. In general, alpine climbing is a broad term used for a more technical style of climbing at higher alpine elevations (above treeline), and does not need to include snow or ice to still be called alpine climbing. Hopefully this makes sense. If not, don’t be too concerned because the use of these terms may differ slightly between climbers of different regions or generations.

Grading:

This topic can sure be confusing and sometimes tricky for new climbers to the region. A word of wisdom- take all grades with a grain of salt (or cautiously) because they are someone else’s interpretation of the climb. On this website you’ll see the use of the Yosemite Decimal system, Waterfall Ice (WI) grades, International French Adjective System (IFAS), and the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES). Below is a brief explanation of those systems.

Yosemite Decimal System

This is a fairly simple system that is used primarily in Canada and the US. The Yosemite Decimal System (or YDS) contains three parts: grade, class, and protection. We’ll talk about grade and class below.

YDS Grade- The YDS grade system involves an optional Roman numeral grade that indicates the length and seriousness of the route. The grades are:

Grade I: One to two hours of climbing.

Grade II: Less than half a day.

Grade III: Half a day climb.

Grade IV: Full day climb.

Grade V: A climb lasting 2-3 days.

Grade VI: A climb lasting 4-6 days.

Grade VII: A climb lasting a week or longer.

 

YDS Class- In YDS there are 6 classes that describe terrain from walking to climbing with a rope. Please note the descriptions below.

Class 1: Refers to walking terrain with a low chance of injury, hiking boots are a good idea.

Class 2: Refers to more involved hiking or simple scrambling terrain with the possibility of occasional use of the hands. Respectively low risk or potential danger is encountered if a slip was to occur. 

Class 3: Refers to scrambling terrain with increased exposure. Handholds are necessary. When on one of our guided trips, a rope is frequently used to protect our guests with a technique called, short roping because falls could be fatal.

Class 4: Refers to simple climbing with exposure where the use of handholds are frequently used but not continuously relied on. Again, a rope will be used when in a guided setting because this is serious terrain with serious consequences. 

Class 5: This is where the rope comes out and is used to climb technical rock pitches by free climbing with the use of one’s hands and feet, rock protection, anchors, & more. The guide and guest do not move at the same time but rather climb one at a time while the other belays. The guide leads the rope up, sets an anchor, communicates to the guest that they are on belay so, the guest can follow in a top-rope fashion. Free climbing techniques are employed to work our way up the cliff, with rock protection used to mitigate the risk of falling and direct the rope. 

The 5th class system starts at 5.0 and works its way up to the current hardest grade of 5.15d, with 5.16a looming to be next. There are some things to note here. The system used to be a capped at 5.9 because it was thought that that was the hardest people could climb. Obviously, climber abilities and technology improved and the difficulty gap within the broad spectrum of 5.9 climbs was too noticeable. Around the early 1960’s harder 5.10 climbs started to become accepted, which lead to the removal of the 5.9 cap and the introduction of the new grade of 5.10. Starting at 5.10, (-) and (+) signs were used to differentiate between easier and harder climbs but around 1975 the lettered sub-categories (a, b, c, & d) were used, with ’a’ being the easiest sub-category and ‘d’ being the hardest. Due to this transition period, modern climbers may note discrepancies between ‘old school’ climbs and modern climbs, especially if the old school climb is a 5.9. For example, an it is not uncommon for an old school 5.9 to feel more like a modern 5.10a or harder. 

Of course, there are many more nuances and techniques used to scale a rock cliff but our hope is that this give you a good general idea of 5th class terrain and how it falls into YDS. Climbing grade conversion charts can easily be found online to convert your international climbing system to YDS. 

Class 6: Aid climbing where the terrain is too technical for free climbing and the climber must resort to pulling on gear to aid their way through.

Waterfall Ice (WI) Grades

This grading system attempts to describe the ice climbing portion of the respective climb.

  • WI1– Benign ice that no one gets excited about or dares to claim FAs of.
  • WI2– This is the intro ice grade that may include short steps up to 80 degrees.
  • WI3– Mostly sustained ice pitches up to 80 degrees. May have short, steep sections that are slightly beyond 80 degrees.
  • WI4– Long sustained pitches of ice that are just less than vertical or short pitches of vertical ice. Generally, the ice quality is good.
  • WI5– You are now entering the hard ice climbing realm. Expect full pitches of vertical, or just off vertical, climbing (88-90 degrees). Minimal resting spots available and short, challenging sections of poor ice.
  • WI6– Full rope lengths of challenging ice that is vertical with possible sections of short overhanging ice (i.e. overhanging bulges). Expect to be very physically & mentally challenged. Poor ice quality should be expected. WI6 is the hardest most people will climb but there are still other harder grades (WI7, WI8?) for the elite and ‘gnarliest’ ice climbers.
International French Adjective System (IFAS)

This system evaluates the overall difficulty of a route, taking into consideration the length, difficulty, exposure and commitment-level of the route (i.e., how hard it may be to retreat). The overall grade combines altitude; length and difficulty of approach and descent; number of difficult pitches and how sustained they are; exposure; and quality of rock, snow and ice.

F: facile (easy). Straightforward, possibly a glacial approach, snow and ice will often be at an easy angle.

PD: peu difficile (slightly difficult). Routes may be longer at altitude, with snow and ice slopes up to 45 degrees. Glaciers are more complex, scrambling is harder, climbing may require some belaying, descent may involve rappelling. More objective hazards.

AD: assez difficile (fairly difficult). Fairly hard, snow and ice at an angle of 45–65 degrees, rock climbing up to UIAA grade III, but not sustained, belayed climbing in addition to a large amount of exposed but easier terrain. Significant objective hazard.

D: difficile (difficult). Hard, more serious with rock climbing at IV and V, snow and ice slopes at 50–70 degrees. Routes may be long and sustained or harder but shorter. Serious objective hazards.

TD: très difficile (very difficult). Very hard, routes at this grade are serious undertakings with high level of objective danger. Sustained snow and ice at an angle of 65–80 degrees, rock climbing at grade V and VI with possible aid, very long sections of hard climbing.

ED1/2/3/4: extrêmement difficile (extremely difficult). Extremely hard, exceptional objective danger, vertical ice slopes and rock climbing up to VI to VIII, with possible aid pitches.

Often a (+) or a (−) is placed after the grade to indicate if a particular climb is at the lower or upper end of that grade (e.g., a climb slightly harder than “PD+” might be “AD−”).

Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES)

This system was developed by Parks Canada to help backcountry users assess the severity of the avalanche terrain they are travelling in. The avalanche exposure for many of our objectives will vary drastically from heightened avalanche hazard to no avalanche hazard. Guest may be asked to carry avalanche equipment in certain terrain if the conditions warrant it and will be given an introduction into how the equipment works.  We share the ATES rating on this website for certain climbs or mountains but for a more thorough explanation of the system it is better to visit Parks Canada or Avalanche Canada.  Below is a brief explanation of the ATES ratings.

ATES 1: involves exposure to low angle or primarily forested terrain. Some forest openings may involve the runout zones of infrequent avalanche paths. Many options are available to reduce or eliminate exposure to avalanche danger. No glacier travel is required.

ATES 2: involves exposure to well defined avalanche paths, starting zones, or terrain traps. In challenging terrain, options exist to reduce or eliminate exposure with careful route-finding. Any required glacier travel is straightforward but crevasse hazards may exist.

ATES 3: involves exposure to multiple overlapping avalanche paths, large expanses of steep, open terrain, multiple avalanche starting zones, and terrain traps below. Minimal options exist to reduce exposure. Complicated glacier travel through extensive crevasse bands or icefalls may be required.

Our Canadian Rockies Mountaineering Season

This is a bit of a unique topic to precisely define because certain routes are better in the spring or early summer with some cold temp and more snow, while other routes are better in the fall with colder weather and minimal snow. All this being said the bulk our summer season is from June to September with May and October being reasonable objectives for certain routes

Weather

First off, our Rockies weather can be quite variable and heavily influenced by the surrounding mountains. It is not uncommon to experience a taste of the 4-seasons in one day, especially if your climbs takes us to higher elevations. That being said, we do have seasonal averages and rainy days as seen below:

Clothing

What you wear and bring can drastically change the enjoyment of your climbs as fickle mountain weather can change fast, especially in the alpine. Dress for the weather and activity but also consider the fact that it could rain or snow, winds could pick up, temps could drop, and electrical or snow storms roll in. Bringing the right amount of clothing but not too much is the art of dressing for the mountain weather and being prepared. The lists below are shown to give you an example of the potential items needed but is not the specific list for your specific objective. We’ll communicate your specific objective’s checklist with you. 

Technical clothing that is climber or hiker specific is best due to the materials stretchy, ergonomic, and quick drying characteristics. Clothing made of cotton is not recommended.

  • Sunhat, insulated hat (ie. beanie)
  • Long-sleeve &/or short-sleeve shirt that will help protect you from the sun
  • Lightweight breathable windbreaker jacket
  • Soft-shell sweater or lightweight insulating jacket
  • Insulating vest
  • Waterproof outer shells (jacket & pants)
  • Hiking or climbing pants that are stretchy and quick drying 
  • Long underwear for colder below freezing temps
  • Thin leather dexterous gloves for rocky terrain or rappelling
  • Thicker insulating gloves for colder temps (recommended waterproof)
  • Gaitors depending on conditions
  • Approach footwear
Climbing Equipment

The equipment being used needs to be modern and in good shape. Guests are welcome to use their own gear or request to use our gear. Rental fees may apply.

  • Helmet
  • Rock climbing or mountaineering harness
  • Tubular belay device (ie. Black Diamond- ATC Guide)
  • 2-4 locking carabiners
  • 2 non-locking carabiners
  • 120cm sewn sling & anchor/prusik cord
  • Nut tool for trad climbs
  • Rock climbing shoes, mountaineering boots, or equivalent
  • Climbing backpack (roughly 30-65L depending on objective) 
  • Ice axe, ice screw, & crampons for snow and ice objectives
  • Avalanche gear (shovel, transceiver, probe)
Personal Items

Your personal items are a mix of essential and non-essential things.

  • Sunglasses & a small amount of personal sunscreen
  • Headlamp
  • Lunch, snacks, water (roughly 1-2L)
  • Collapsible hiking pole(s)
  • Camera 
  • Toilet paper & lighter in a Ziploc (small personal amount)
Guide Gear

Some of the group gear that we supply.

  • Ropes, rock and ice protection
  • First aid kit, communication device(s), tarp
  • Repair kit, knife, bear spray
  • Navigation tools
  • Waiver, permits
Overnight Items

Various items for either backcountry hut or remote camps/bivies.

  • Sleeping bag/pad, pillow equivalent, 
  • Extra clothes, hut booties, spare batteries
  • Ear plugs, tooth brush/paste
  • Bivy bag, tent, bug spray
  • Water purification device
  • Stove/fuel, pots/dishes/utensils, group food
Driving

Most climbs that we frequent are within a 1hr. drive from Canmore, while some may be further away. Guests can expect to have the guide car pool with them or have a guide transportation charge added to their invoice. Most climbs only require street cars to access the trailhead but some areas like the Bugaboos, or the Ghost Wilderness Area will require higher clearance vehicles with 4-wheel drive, which we can provide if needed.

Commitment Level

 Regular business work days are 8hrs. Our regular guiding work day with our guests ranges between 6-9hrs, plus pre and post work. Longer days because of larger routes, travel, pre-positions, or trips that require extensive preparation may come with addition costs.

Climbing Hazards

Alpine and mountaineering comes with the full gamut of mountain related hazards that are inherently risky and sometimes random or unpredictable. Some of the typical hazards related to mountaineering and alpine climbing are: rock & ice fall, serac & cornice fall, crevasse falls, falls from heights, uneven & loose terrain, avalanches, weather, environmental, wildlife, access & egress, human error, and many more. We take all these hazards very seriously and do our best to keep the team’s risk within respectively acceptable levels, while ensuring that all our guests are aware of the hazards and understand the risk involved. We like to keep an open communication platform and welcome guest dialogue related to risk and other concerns. A legal liability waiver document is required to be signed prior to any trip that outlines the above in more detail, as well as, additional legal information. Click here to read a copy of our waiver

Cost

Costs are based on many variables like: how many people are booking, how many guides are needed, what’s the transportation situation, how committing is the objective, how hard is the route, will accommodation be required, will rental gear be needed, etc. Mountaineering and alpine climbing costs are based on a 8-10hr. guiding work day and start at $750/day + the cost for additional persons/expenses/surcharges/and tax (5% GST). Please contact us if you’d like to get a quote and plan a trip.

If you have any question please to not hesitate to Contact UsPrior to booking, please review our Booking InfoAll guests must read, understand, & sign our ACMG Waiver. We will provide a copy for you to sign before each trip or course