Phil Powers (left) and the author simul-seconding Kahl Wall's crux pitch. Photo by John Harlin III
Steep rock in the Canadian Rockies
Yamnuska's 1,000-foot white limestone fin looks like it could have been plucked from the eastern Alps and plunked down in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Just a few minutes’ drive from Canmore, the hub of Rockies climbing, Yam is Dolomitic in its easy accessibility, steepness, style of climbing (face and jagged cracks, with plenty of souvenir holds littering the ledges), and blend of fixed and place-your-own protection. Climbers have been exploring this storied cliff for 60 years, and among the 115 or so routes, Kahl Wall is a favorite for its variety, relatively clean rock, and good pro.
Kahl Wall is often said to be the first modern Yamnuska climb, because it stepped out of the obvious corner and chimney systems to forge up blank-looking faces. Don Vockeroth had the vision: He attempted the line many times before completing it in 1971 with Tim Auger, using only four bolts and a mix of aid and free climbing. Vockeroth named the route for his friend Heinz Kahl, an Austrian who helped pioneer some of Yam’s classic early climbs before dying young of leukemia. The name is an apt pun: Kahl means “blank” or “bare” in German, and the route’s signature leads require blank-looking face climbing on small limestone holds. Ten years after the first ascent, the powerful team of Barry Blanchard and Kevin Doyle climbed the route all free at 5.10-.
Over the years, Kahl Wall has sprouted new bolts, and the crux fifth and sixth leads feel almost like sport pitches. But modern climbers still carry a full rack, including a four-inch piece, for the nine-pitch route’s blocky corners. The route finding can be tricky, and the upper half holds all the hard climbing—maybe you’ll be racing an incoming storm as you bridge up the exposed final corner. You may only be in the foothills, but the Rockies rarely let you off easy.
Kahl Wal rises near the center of the main wall. Photo by Chuck Szmurlo
Season: This south-facing cliff is in good condition from spring through fall; the descent can be icy in spring.
Approach and Descent: From Calgary, exit the Trans-Canada Highway at the Seebe/Exshaw junction, and follow the 1X highway for 4 km, crossing the Bow River, to reach a T-junction. Turn right (east) on the 1A for about 2 km, and go left on a gravel road to the parking area. (From Canmore, just follow 1A.) A very steep trail gains the cliff in about one hour. Kahl Wall begins just right of where the trail meets the wall. From the top, head down the east ridge along third-class slabs, turn the corner, and follow the foot of the cliff back to the base of Kahl Wall.
Variation: Up the ante considerably by starting with Bringers of the Dawn: Three pitches of 5.10 and 5.11 bypass Kahl Wall’s wandering, ledgy beginning.
Rack: Standard nuts and cams, plus a 4-inch cam. Double ropes are helpful.
Guidebook:Yamnuska Rock (2006), by Andy Genereux (rmbooks.com)
Shop: Vertical Addiction in Canmore (403- 609-8226)