Rocket Man: M7+, WI5+, 350m.


Location: Mount Patterson, Banff National Park, Alberta

First Ascent: Dave Thomson, Kefira Allen, Eric Dumerac, Raphael Slawinski - March/April 1999.

Description: A spectacular route in a high-energy environment, Rocket Man is comprised of an unlikely looking series of drips and daggers hanging down the steep cliffs on the north side of the amphitheatre that is usually visited by climbers wanting a shot at Riptide (see the guidebook WATERFALL ICE). Rocket Man is at least half again as long as Riptide but has a slightly shorter approach. Altogether there are nine pitches of climbing, the first two of WI3 providing a warm-up for the steep M7 and WI5 pitches above. By fortunate geological coincidence, the bedding planes of the local limestone slope down into the cliff, resulting in many positive edges for enjoyable drytooling .

Access: More or less the same as for Riptide. Park at at a roadside pullout on the west side of the highway about 7 kilometres north of Bow Summit (this is a short distance beyond the bottom of the long hill). The route is somewhat obvious on the steep cliffs at the north end of the amphitheatre along with another icicle to the right. From the pullout ski down and across the bottom of the valley, then up an open streambed onto a small circular plateau. Continue between a pair of moraines and branch right to avoid what may be a remnant of glacier. Ditch the skis at the base of the huge slope under the climb and slog on up to the ice. At time of first ascent (March /April 99) this slope was stable but numerous slides come down onto it from the steeper slopes above. Expect morning sun to bring down chunks of cornice. The Snowbird Glacier hanging on the cliffs between Riptide and Rocket Man is not frequently active but when seracs do fall the detritus can spread out over a huge expanse (affects approach only). Note that there is also an avalanche slope feeding directly onto the top of Rocket Man itself. All in all this is not a real safe place to climb. Given average conditions, expect the approach to take from 2-2.5 hours. There is a protected alcove in which to gear-up on the right side of the snowslope across from the start of the ice.


Rocket Man Pitch #1: 50m. WI3 Climb 25 metres of fat blue ice, then swim up the snowslope to a two-bolt belay at a small rock band directly above. The bolts are on the left-hand side of the right-facing corner under a small roof and may be obscured by spindrift. There is also a belay on the rockband at the left side of the base of this pitch, which may also require some excavation.

Pitch #2: 50m. WI3 Move right and then either climb a sloping, right facing corner on thin ice with good natural gear or continue right and go up a steep snowslope to the bottom of the next icefall. Move left here and climb 10m. of thin ice which leads to a short steep pillar. At this juncture (before you climb the pillar) a single bolt is visible to the left. Move past it into a small alcove with a two-bolt belay.  

Pitch #3: 40m. M7, WI5 Climb the pillar, then move up and right into a small right-facing corner. The first two of eight bolts are on the left where the pillar thins out and there are three more on the face above and another three over the small roof up by the hanging dagger. From here 20m. of fairly steep ice leads to a good belay at a roomy alcove.( As the ice in the alcove is fat and much more solid than the neighbouring rock, the usual two-bolt belay was not installed.)

Pitch #4: 25m. WI5 Move right from the alcove on a steep curtain, then go straight up to a two-bolt belay at the top right-hand side of the ice. A thinner and somewhat rotted ice flow, farther right, could also be attempted as a variation of pitches #5 and #6.

Pitch #5: 40m. M7 Move right from the belay and go up into a steep corner, then move right again to access a narrow vein of ice (8 bolts). Continue in a beautiful right-facing corner (M5) with narrow discontinuous cracks on the left-hand wall for pins and some small friends and tcu's. The ice will take medium screws and stubbies in many places but the rock gear is reassuring. Four pins were left in situ on the lower section.There is also a bolt where the difficulties diminish at a small sloping ledge. Stop at a two-bolt belay on the left-hand side of this ledge. This is an excellent pitch.

Pitch #6: 35m. WI3 M2 This is a lousy pitch (get your buddy to lead it). Take some pins and friends and stubbies and continue up thin ice in the corner to a large snow-covered ledge, which is steeper than it looks and loaded with loose rock. Clip a bolt if you can find it under the snow and move on up, traversing right past a two-bolt belay at the base of the next cliff. Continue right past two more bolts to another two-bolt belay on a snow ledge under a small roof.

Pitch #7: 30m. M6 A pure rock pitch. Climb straight up the face into a large, right-facing corner and follow it to a two-bolt belay on a ledge immediately right of the ice pillar. There are l5 bolts. Rope drag is possible and it is recommended that you reach back and unclip some of the draws from above

Pitch #8: 35m. WI5+ Move left onto the vertical pillar and climb good ice until it disappears under the snow on the next ledge, also steeper than it looks. Tunnel up and left to a roomy alcove under the large roof and bash some pins into the mostly rotten rock (sorry, no more bolts).

Pitch #9: 40m. M7- Climb 5m. of slightly overhanging rock ( good moves and positive drytooling but no real pro) and latch onto a small drip, then proceed up a WI4 corner to the top of the climb. The free-standing pillar that looks like the obvious choice from a distance would offer an exciting WI6 finish to the route if it got a little fatter.

Descent: Rap the route. Slings through the ice were used on Pitches #8 and #9 and #3. The rest goes fine on the bolted belays. Do not rap off the belay at the bottom of pitch #7; traverse left to the other belay passed on the way up. For pitches #5 and #3 the first person down will have to clip some draws to access the belay and then pull the second in after. No attempt was made to traverse off the top of this route, although the Snowbird Glacier is occasionally climbed and might provide an alternate, if somewhat avalanche-prone, descent.

Rock Gear: Bring 15 draws, a selection of pins (lost arrows are nice) and tcu's and some small friends. Please do not remove the pins already in situ.

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Copyright White Spider, 1999
Copyright David Thomson, 1999