The Cleanest Line

Getting Satisfaction on the North Face of North Twin

Getting Satisfaction on the North Face of North Twin

By Hayden Kennedy   |   Jun 22, 2011 June 22, 2011

by Hayden Kennedy

Today's post comes to us from Hayden Kennedy about a climb he recently attempted with Jason Kruk. Anyone who’s paying attention these days is blown away by the progression. The talented youth just keep getting after it, and it’s Hk - N Twin IMG_1187

“It’s just you and me and a big alpine face, this is what we came here for!” Jason Kruk says as we pack our bags at my van before embarking on an alpine-style push on the north face of North Twin. The North Twin is a beast of a mountain and it is one of the biggest and hardest north faces in the Canadian Rockies. The north face is about 5,000 feet and maintains hard climbing the entire way. It has only been climbed three times in 37 years and each of the three teams were leading alpinists at their time. George Lowe and Chris Jones made the first ascent of the north face in summer 1974; it was a groundbreaking route done in impeccable style. It would be another 11 years before alpine climbing legends Barry Blanchard and Dave Cheesmond established the North Pillar route, in perfect alpine style over four days in August 1985. Tales of horrendous rock fall, scary climbing and a long approach terrified people, and the face loomed over alpinists like a huge tidal wave about to crash. In April 2004 Steve House and Marko Prezelj made the third ascent of the face in mixed conditions; during the climb Steve dropped his boot shell, forcing Marko to rope gun the rest of the route. The stories and the legends of the North Twin make any alpine climber shiver just a little bit.

[Jason Kruk climbing the mental crux of the route, M7-ish choss. Photo: Hayden Kennedy]

Hk - N Twin IMG_1209
[Jason Kruk on a hard mixed pitch just before the first bivy. Photo: Hayden Kennedy]

The weather wasn’t ideal but we packed four days of food and gas and hiked about seven miles to the Alberta Hut. The anticipation before a big climb kills me. All I want to do is start, but I try to calm my mind and just rest. It’s harder than it sounds. I am slowly learning, though I think it takes time and experience before your mind is truly ready for routes like this. The mental game is far more challenging than physical exertion.

We rose from a fitful sleep, and were out the door of the hut at 2:30 a.m. The night was clear and the Twin loomed above. We were psyched and this was what we came for, so we were in full “go mode,” ready for the experience. Jason started leading a runnel with thin ice and sparse protection. We gained a snow ramp and simul-climbed until we reached the next rock band. Jason continued leading broken mixed terrain until he got to a steep bulge of choss. “I am not really sure if this goes,” he yelled down to me. The next 30 feet was the proudest lead I have ever seen. Jason placed two knife blades that were a joke, and he went for it, climbing steep, hard, complete choss. I started up the next pitch on good rock with decent face climbing and hard mixed climbing, until we gained the huge snow field in the lower part of the face and simul-climbed for a very long time. Jason led a very committing pitch with hard dry tooling and many snow mushrooms. Progress was slow, and the climbing above continued to be hard and steep with poor protection. I can’t remember how many pitches we did that first day but we covered more than half the face.

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[The clouds finally clear on the morning after the horrible glacier bivy. Photo: Hayden Kennedy]

At the hut we packed our bags in silence, lost in thought. There is something special about the suffering on a big alpine route that puts you in a very different mindset. I have never been so present and in the moment. The silence is beautiful on a mountain like North Twin.

Back at my van four hours later we removed our boots, put on dry clothes and bumped Outkast as loud as it would go. Jason and I had gotten what we came for – our version of Life.

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