Takakkaw Wall 50 Years On

Takakkaw Wall 50 Years On
July 29, 2016 Orvel Miskiw
Takakkaw Falls

                       Takakkaw Falls

This is my story of a great day out that I had in early July — a 50th anniversary climb of the ‘cave’ route on Takakkaw Wall that was first climbed by Bernie Schiesser and Sid Marty on June 20, 1966 — that’s the cliff just left of Takakkaw Falls; this was my first time, but I tried it once before, several years ago with Marcus, when we went the wrong way near the start with a sketchy topo, however in any case that day was way too hot, we drank most of our water by the time we got straightened out, even though still early, and we were cooking — that wall is like an oven in the sun — so we bailed.

This time it was supposed to be a Club trip a couple of days earlier, but — no names mentioned, as no one can be blamed for the weather — we got rained out at the parking lot — this can happen with Club trips, and one reason I don’t lead so many:  I get blamed for the weather: “You’re a Chicken”.  The next day was also dreary, then all but one other person had other plans for Saturday (that was Sid Lee), so he and I went out on our own — now I had to lead!

Sid is a relative beginner but has been going out to the Rock Rage and Club courses, etc., and turned out to be very capable,  a great partner, and good fun.  That was his first multi-pitch climb, so I led the whole thing — about 9 pitches.  We left home at 5am, got there at 7:30, and started climbing at 8:30; the weather was just about perfect:  dry, mild, and calm with a bit of cloud.

We had a good description of the route this time, with a picture, but it treats the climb too offhandedly, as do most people:  it’s more difficult than commonly described.  We found three tough spots in the section up the left side of the big pillar bordering the falls, but the climbing was straightforward.  (Happily) there are several bolts along the way and plenty of belay stations, as well as good places for additional protection in most places where wanted.

Traversing to the Big Pillar

                               Traversing to the Big Pillar

The climb starts just before the top of the scree cone several hundred feet left of Takakkaw Falls and at the bottom of the huge scooped cliff, but about a pitch up, it traverses a long ledge rightward, then it scrambles easy terrain up and right at an angle

Sid Lee Along the Big Traverse

       Sid Lee on the Long Traverse

to a higher ledge at the base of steep slabs right beside the huge pillar.  (The angle serves to avoid wet rock lower down.)  That’s where it gets tougher — I’d say definitely harder than described as 5.6.

Above the First Crux        Above the First Crux

Two pitches up the side of the pillar, and one pitch just above, I’d rate at 5.7, 5.6, 5.8 — the last one begins at the top of the pillar.  For the first pillar pitch, where they say “an awkward move… and a piton above” — yes pretty tough, but that looks like ‘the old’ route right in the corner (which we did), whereas now there’s a new shiney station a few feet lower down and a bolted line above that, farther out on the slab — likely easier but for sure it would have a different character.

Stiff Climbing, Good Protection

Stiff Climbing, Good Protection


There’s not much protection in place in the corner (I think only that one piton for two medium pitches) but protectable otherwise — I used just about everything I took along, during the day: a fairly full rack of 6 Rocks, 3 roped hexes, and 4 cams, plus of course several quickdraws, including 2 ‘tripled-up alpine slings’* (see the end for safety note.)


View from the Cave Entrance

         View from the Cave Entrance

Near the top, the climb veers left and reaches a cave entrance about 200 ft from the falls.  The mouth of the cave has a belay/rappel station,

Sid Lee at the Takakkaw Wall Cave

Sid Lee at the Takakkaw Wall      Cave Entrance

and just inside the entrance, it immediately turns right and becomes a water-worn tunnel about a metre in diameter that goes in a straight line to the brink of the falls.

Takakkaw Cave Entrance

     Mouth of Takakkaw Cave

We left our packs and all climbing equipment at the mouth of the cave, and had to ‘crawl’ through the cave/tunnel on hands and knees for about 50 metres — luckily the floor is mostly coarse sand, but it was still hard on my knees.


Enjoying the Cave Tunnel Crawl

        Enjoying the Cave Tunnel Crawl

Sid had heard advice from someone about taking knee pads, so he did, and they must have been nice — grrr!  The tunnel itself is long enough to be pitch dark for most of the way (lamps needed) ,  but contains some interesting formations and colorful rock, etc., so take it easy — keep your helmet on — and enjoy those sights too.


The Falls-end of the tunnel was partly blocked by a huge log,  but we found no rat-poop hazard that we had been warned about — nice and clean, with a 3-metre section of soft ‘sawdust’ for my knees.

Don't Worry, It's Only a Log

Don’t Worry, It’s Only a Log

Takakkaw Falls is impressive — it starts in the Daly Glacier cirque above and rushes over the edge at the top after roaring through an eroded rock overhang.  Then it gains speed by dropping straight down for about a hundred feet to a scoop ‘springboard’ that shoots it out toward the valley in a huge plume.

Close Enough to Takakkaw Falls

      Close Enough to Takakkaw Falls

Lower down, it often wets the cliff along the climb when wind blows the spray across the rock.  Avoiding the wet section was a bit harder to do during our descent, as wind gusts blew big tails of the plume over onto the pillar above us, so we got a bit wet in one section while rappelling, though we were able to shelter partly under overhangs while the overspill splashed down past us.

For our last rappel down the pillar, we traversed the ledge about 30 metres out left to a dryer station.  That rap took us down to the main traverse ledge, and we followed that some hundred metres west to continue reversing the ascent route all the way, with a couple more rappels at the end,  to our boots and hiking poles on the scree cone.

The Final Rappel

                    The Final Rappel

This was a terrific day of climbing with a new friend, but as usual it depended a lot on good weather and conditions.  Sid obviously also found it a rewarding experience as well as tremendous fun, and I believe that largely due to minimal stress with the nice weather and good safety measures that we used all day.

* One thing we talked about during the climb was precautions when extending a ‘tripled-up alpine sling runner’; that can lead to a dangerous situation if not done right:

Don’t try to extend it only ‘partway’ by unclipping only a single loop from a carabiner, as in some cases that can put the sling in condition to completely disconnect from that crab; always unclip two loops, and in any case, always make sure of the end result.

Don’t  Unclip One:

Don' Unclip One

This subject was the first case studied by the Calgary Section Safety Committee, and a more complete discussion can be found as Case 1 in the Safety Committee page of the new website under “Club” after logging in as a member.  Hint: 3 horizontal bars indicate a menu or list, as a good place to start; we are currently trying to make the new web site more friendly for users.

Orvel Miskiw (Safety Committee Chairman)


  1. Sid Lee 7 years ago

    It was so much fun! Orvel was patient and an excellent leader . Solid and safe decisions gave me confidence from bottom to top , and top to bottom . Thanks of an awesome day Orvel !

  2. David Roe 7 years ago

    Sounds like a great day out, Orvel.
    What an amazing experience for Sid, especially!
    Good one!

  3. Nicole Morter 7 years ago

    Great to see our newer members getting out! Thanks for leading this!

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