The Alt-Left is a fantastic 335m (1,100′) big wall multi-pitch rock climb located on EEOR (The East End of Rundle) high above the (not so sleepy) Town of Canmore. The route was established in 2016 by Marc Piché and Steve Holeczi and the prep included a tour de force of cleaning during very heavy rains during one season.
The Alt-Left is a quintessential modern mixed classic destined for popularity. It is fairly sustained with the majority of pitches clocking in at 5.10+ or harder with fun, thoughtful movement throughout. It is well-designed, with well-thought-out rappel stations protected from most potential rockfall. The route is also very approachable for even those pushing into this grade with excellent protection, short cruxes, and limited runouts.
The Alt-Left is certainly a diamond in the rough. Despite Canmore being surrounded by seemingly endless towering limestone walls and impressive mountains, there are few high-quality, safe, moderate modern mixed multi-pitch rock climbs in the area. This is largely due to the generally poor (often horrific) quality of the rock on many walls, the effort required to develop such routes, and the existence of many old-school, less amazing routes on the obvious walls and features.
Mandatory Disclaimer: The Alt-Left is not a sport route. It is still a serious multi-pitch trad climb in a semi-alpine environment that requires a wide range of skill, equipment, and experience to complete safely. The route can be subject to rockfall, has loose rock in places, and requires competence placing traditional gear for protection in 5.11 terrain. Do not attempt this route unless you are confident in your abilities at this standard, and do so at your own risk.
If you are looking for an adventurous day out close to the car, the Alt-Left will deliver. Give yourself 7-9 hours to complete the climb as the route is 11 pitches long (or 10 if you combine the first 2 pitches). The 2 “money” pitches at 5.11b feature excellent gear placements, and most other pitches are of excellent quality. There is one large 5.12a roof that can be fairly easily aided at 5.10d, made easier if you bring a small 00 BD X4 or similar.
Overwhelmingly, this route is top of its class in terms of quality, and the crux pitches, as well as several of the 5.10 pitches are among some of the most memorable and exciting you will find this close to a McDonalds.
Accessing the Alt-Left
To access the route, drive up Smith-Dorrien (Spray Lakes Road) from Canmore to the top of the gap. About 4km from the Canmore Nordic Center, you will come to a one-way parking lot (you will need to turn around) with a small outhouse located just north of the large pond. If you reach the Ha-Ling parking lot (also Goat Creek) you will need to turn around and drive back about 400m.
NOTE: To park here, you will require a Kananaskis Conservation Pass which can be purchased here for either the day or an annual.
Cross the road, and follow the faint goat trail which will switch back steeply up and to the right towards the main East End of Rundle cliffs. Eventually, you will reach the base of the wall below a LARGE gully splitting the wall. Directly above (up and right to a ledge) is the start for True Grit (10b). Traverse down and below the ledge along the wall for about 80m until you get to a small sized lone pine tree growing out at the base of the wall below a large white rock scar with a small roof. You will see the first black bolt about 8m off the ground. The route starts halfway between the Econoline and the lone pine. The route follows good rock to the right of the scar and above the small roof.
From the top of Pitch 10, you can hike/scramble up chossy scree around 100m and then traverse left (west) around the gully to meet the main EEOR hiking trail. The walk-off takes roughly 30-45 minutes.
You can retreat with a single 70m rope easily up to Pitch 5, however, retreat beyond that would require some tricky back clipping and traversing in some spots. Rappelling is certainly “possible” for sure, but not recommended, and a second tag line would be beneficial in spots (not to mention, to haul a pack for the upper pitches). All pitches are around 30-35m and all stations are bolted and have rap rings as of early 2023.
To climb the Alt-Left, you will need the following gear
- Single 70m rope (small tagline is recommended if bringing backpacks to haul)
- 15 Draws, including at least 5 long runners (18 draws to combine Pitch 1 + 2 for a 50m pitch)
- A small rack of cams from micro 00 up to #1.
- Doubles are recommended from .3 to #1, although not mandatory. A #2 could be useful for the gear crack on pitch 8 but other options exist.
- A small selection of smaller nuts is also recommended.
Overall, the route can be divided into two distinct sections. The first 5 pitches are relatively straightforward lower-angle climbing and almost entirely bolted with the exception of a short section of 5.9 on Pitch 4 which requires a few small/medium cams. The belay stations are comfy for the first half of the route. The second half of the route changes dramatically, switching to vertical and overhanging climbing on excellent quality rock following corners, cracks, and amazing features all the way to the top of the wall. It is worth noting that belay stations for pitches 6-8 are mostly semi-hanging.
Note: The route goes into the shade in the mid-afternoon but gets direct sun for the entire morning, especially the lower half. Pitch lengths and other details should be accurate but take them with a grain of salt and use your own judgment.
Pitch 1 (5.9, 50m combining first two pitches) – Climb up on moderate terrain following 9 bolts above the white rock scar to a station (30m), continue past the anchor another 20m following another 9 bolts to the second anchor on a chossy ledge (18 bolts total, no gear)
Pitch 2 (5.10c, 30m) – Step right from the station and make a few tricky moves above a small pillar into a crack system until you can step back left and follow better rock up the face/arete to a bolted station. (11 bolts, no gear).
Pitch 3 (5.10d, 35m) – Follow easy terrain up a ramp into technical climbing up a groove until you reach a small ledge below an overlap. Find some sneaky left-hand beta to surmount the tricky overlap and follow good rock to a bolted station. (15 bolts, no gear)
Pitch 4 (5.9, 35m) – Head straight up the corner above on bolts and make a few tricky stem moves on gear to reach easier ground and more bolts above. Trend up and slightly right to a good ledge. (8 bolts, small rack with a few small cams/nuts for the crux)
Pitch 5 (5.9, 30m) – A forgettable but easy pitch climbing slightly sub-optimal rock to a good ledge and station at the top/right end of the “True Grit Terrace”. A retreat is straightforward from here with a 70m rope. (7 bolts)
Pitch 6 (5.10d, 30m) – An easy but technical well-protected traverse up and right on a ramp on some slightly horrifying rock following 7 bolts until you reach the obvious break in the cliff where the rock turns vertical and the quality improves dramatically. There is a good #0.3 / #0.5 BD placement here. Pull a few tricky moves on very good rock (5.10d) through another 2 bolts to reach a mostly-hanging belay at the bolted station.
Pitch 7 (5.11b, 30m) – The first “Money” pitch! Make fun but difficult moves on good holds through 6 bolts and 1-2 pieces of gear to reach a small stance below a stunning vertical corner. Place perfect gear (~00 – #0.4) and make a few strenuous moves low down to reach better holds and cruise up the rest of the absolutely breathtaking corner to reach one final bolt and another semi-hanging belay at a bolted station.
Pitch 8 (5.10d A0 / 5.12- 30m) – A fantastic and varied pitch! Make technical moves up a corner following 4 bolts until you can traverse left on easier ground into a beautiful gear crack (mid-sized cams). Follow the crack up to a roof, passing it on the right past another bolt to reach another stunning crack above. Place a few more pieces to reach a bolt below the massive 5.12- / A0 roof. Either aid through the next 5 bolts (use a #00 BD X4 to aid between the first two bolts), or free at 5.12- to the left, finding some hidden holds above the roof and making a strenuous reach to a good crimp just below the bolted station.
Pitch 9 (5.11b, 30m) – An absolutely glorious pitch of climbing! One of the best in the valley. Climb up and trend leftward following 5 bolts, making lie-back moves around a small roof/corner to reach the base of a splitter corner. Place small to medium-sized gear and stem your way up with difficulty (5.11b) until you reach a bolt halfway up the corner. From here, follow easier but glorious climbing with good gear (mid-sized pieces) up the remainder of the corner before stepping left to a bolted station.
Pitch 10 (5.8, 35m) – A straightforward pitch following 12 bolts up beautiful stippled limestone to the final bolted station at the top of the cliff. From here, switch to trail runners and scramble straight up the remaining 100m to meet the walk-off hiking trail.