Mixed Master is one of the finest mixed climb of its type in the Rockies. This ultra-classic route has been on my list for a while now and I was incredibly excited to have the chance to jump on it in challenging conditions with local crusher Niall.
We attempted to get on the route a week earlier but found a jackknifed transport truck blocking the highway after getting stuck trying to illegally drive the 93 North to Jasper. On attempt number two we were able to get on in great conditions.
|Grade||IV, WI 5, M4-5, 5.8|
|Length||300m, 4-7 pitches|
The following gear photos were taken a week prior to our successful climb and we made a few slight changes based on the anticipated conditions (read: colder) but for the most part the equipment used was as follows:
Climbing Gear and Hardware
- Screws – Expecting a lot of thin ice, we brought extra stubbies and heavily favored the shorter length of Petzl Laser Speed Light screws. Our selection was 10cm x2, 13cm x6 and 17cm x4 plus a 21cm for V-threads.
- Rock Gear – A single rack of cams to 3″ with doubles of mid sizes and a handful of nuts. In thin conditions a few thin knifeblades would have been helpful but not required. The rack shown here was replaced by a full collection of Totem cams with doubles of the midsizes.
- Draws – Alpine draws x6 and quickdraws x6. All were equipped with Petzl Ange carabiners, which have my vote for the best alpine carabiner on the market. We had a single Cassin load limiter draw, which was helpful on thin ice. Could have used a few more long slings.
- Ropes – We climbed on my 57m Petzl Salsa 8.2mm half ropes and the length was fine. Had we brought 70m ropes it would have enabled us to link a pitch or two differently but it would have meant more rope handling most of the time,
- I chose to climb with dual point crampons (Cassin Alpinist Pro) as the mixed terrain was not overly challenging and didn’t necessitate monos. The recent dumping of snow reaffirmed this choice.
- Cassin X-Dreams with mixed picks. I like to use the Petzl V-Link umbilicals on multipitches.
- Harness – Arc’Teryx 395AR with four DMM Vault ice clippers. This is my go-to harness for ice and i like the option of clipping my tools to a nearly indestructible clipper like the DMM’s for varied climbing.
- Helmet – Petzl Sirocco (older style) – Not winning any beauty competitions with this thing but I love the weight and it trust it implicitly.
- Personal Kit – Petzl Reverso with two lockers (old style Petzl Hera and DMM Phantom), two extra lockers (new style Petzl Hera), cordelette bundle and Sterling Hollowblock, a anchor kit and v-thread supplies. This packing list can be found here.
- Small First Aid Kit, tiny repair kit, one liter of water, a few bars and some nuts.
Since we geared up at the car I was able to fit everything I needed to carry into a 26L MEC Alpinelite pack. I could have gone smaller but I like the crampon straps.
It was freezing in the parking lot (-27C) and I did the short approach in a pair of synthetic puffy pants. Being shaded most of the day with bluebird skies meant balancing cold in the shadows and warm in the sun. I chose to balance this dichotomy by layering heavily with active insulation, in the case the Nano-Air series for the breathability.
- Boots – Scarpa Phantom Tech’s. These are my go-to for ice and mixed climbing. I threw a pair of adhesive toe warmers on first
- Socks – Single pair of Bridgedale Mountain. If it was a longer, harder approach I would bring a second pair and change at the base.
- Baselayer Lowers – Patagonia Capilene Lightweight
- Pants – Patagonia Dual Point softshells. I typically climb ice in softshells. It was a little cold in the wind but fine when moving. Had there been more snow on this route I could have opted for hardshells.
- Baselayer Upper – Patagonia Thermal Weight Crew
- Midlayer – Patagonia Nano-Air . This piece is amazing. It breathes, it stretches and it feels great on the skin. A little warm at times but it makes up for that in climbing ability. I paired with with a Nano-Air Light Hoodie (not pictured). I’m very fond of eliminating the extra zipper and pockets under my harness. I had a tailor take in the sides for a slimmer fit.
- Soft Shell – Patagonia Levitation. Still my favorite softshell. I’ve been beating this thing up for three years and it still looks new. This lived in the pack for the day.
- Belay Jacket – Patagonia DAS Parka. I originally opted for a synthetic because I assumed the route would be snowy but ended up lending this jacket to my partner who was cold and wore my Patagonia Fitz Roy. I was happy to have the extra warmth.
- Extra Insulation – I run cold so usually throw in an extra puffy in case of emergency. This time it was the Outdoor Research Cathode. Mine is the older style with the stretchy side panels and it breathes well enough to wear under a shell, as well as over. I ended up climbing in this as my shell for the day.
- Glove System – I usually bring more than I need. Today I packed two pairs of Black Diamond Arcs for leading, Outdoor Research Aretes for seconding and Black Diamond Enforcers for rappeling.
Mixed Master Trip Report
We parked at the plowed roadside pullout, as per Weeping Wall, geared up at the car and walked couple hundred meters north on the road to the obvious start of the route, where we were already second in line as another party was beginning the upper pitches. It should be noted that the ravens have grown accustomed to human interactions are are extremely bold and crafty. I wouldn’t recommend leaving anything at the base of this route, regardless of how secure you think it is. Leave it at the car or taking it with you.
Pitch One (WI3) – The Scottish Gully type feature was thin and rock hard. We had no trouble finding good protection but Niall managed to warp an X-Dream pick in a manner which I’ve never seen before. Granted, he was climbing on a set of prototype picks given to him from a team athlete so who knows what went wrong there. He bent the pick badly enough that he lowered off and we played alpine blacksmith to straighten it enough. That tool was henceforth relegated to the seconding tool. After giving him one of mine, He finished his pitch to the first of the two belay stations.
Pitch Two (WI4ish) – The ice was thinner in spots and climbed more like a mixed pitch with stemming on rock and occasionally hooking and torquing in cracks. Protection was mostly 13’s with a few tens. The second half had a really fun overhang that was well hooked out and protected with 17’s in bomber ice. I stretched it about 55m to the mini amphitheatre atop and belayed off bolts.
Pitch Three and Four (WI2-3) – We traversed straight right to comfortable, sheltered cave. On arrival we realized we should have just linked these two and continued up the short section of low angle ice. Niall put in a two screw belay in another comfortable cave. He tried this pitch with the bent X-Dream. It was not confidence-inspiring on lead.
Pitch Five (5.8) – Traversing back left onto rock terrain was a little tricky as the sun just hit the pitch and the snow began to slide off the rock. It was a little slabby but the protection was easy to find with a rack of Totem cams. There were lots of little flared pockets that seemed custom made for these. A single rack to 2″ would have been fine but since we had a #3 it got placed. The gully above felt much more like alpine with the deep snow trudging and there were a few pins to be found. The station was bolted and easy to find.
Pitch Six (M4) – Easy, low angled climbing on thin ice with almost entirely rock pro. Niall was super excited about a bomber chokestone he found to sling. Belayed from a tree high above. We unroped and scrambled up 60m of kicked out snow and a few small ice ramps to a bolted station at the base of the final pitch.
Pitch Seven – (WI5, M6ish) – The ice was non-existent on the bottom section, making for a scrappy mixed start. There were two pins (a bomber baby angle and horizontal Lost Arrow) on route but we found a great purple Totem on the right and a perfect red pulling over the mantle to the start of the ice. The ribbon of ice itself was thin, hooked out and insecure but Niall cruised it with ease. He found a great green cam on the side wall which helped as the ice really only took 10’s and 13’s,
Descent – Five raps easy raps brought us right back to the staging area without difficulty. There’s a few spots with belay stations that could cause confusion but we only used the stations we belayed off on the way up. When we reached the ground we found that the group below us had left their packs and raven had ripped them to shreds looking for food. Another reminder not to leave anything at the base.
With the cold start, thin ice gullies, mixed protection and a spicy finish, Mixed Master has plenty of character. Even though you can see your car from just about any point during the climb it is an excellent training day for bigger objectives and has the feel of an old-school alpine climb. You aren’t throwing Figure-4’s off enhanced holds in a cave on sport draws. This is an excellent way to develop your mixed climbing skills and a highly recommended route.
For a list of resources to use before venturing up Mixed Master, or other climbs on the Icefield Parkway, feel free to use the collection of links I put together organized by region on the Climbing Resources Page.