The Stanley Headwall is a wildly impressive limestone big wall located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, right on the Alberta/BC Border. It is one of the most storied and infamous alpine big walls in the world that is best known historically for its world-class ice & mixed climbing routes such as Nemesis (WI6), Suffer Machine (WI5+ M7) & the God Delusion (M8+ WI5).
In recent years the wall has become increasingly popular as a July & August rock climbing destination thanks to a small group of motivated route developers including the late Gery Unterasinger who first discovered and developed most of the wall in the summer of 2020, as well as Craig McGee & Lindsay Anderson, Mason Tessier, Dexter Bateman, Francois Bergeron, Matt Laird, Tristan Berendt and others. The walls on either side of the Nemesis waterfall now host close to 35 routes, ranging from 5.9 to 5.13d, with a very high concentration in the 5.12 range, and more being developed every year.
The Stanley Headwall features a very unique and specific flavor of highly compact Dolomite limestone, ranging from Eldon Limestone near the top of the wall, through, Stephen Shale, and finally Cathedral Dolomite at the bottom according to Ben Gadd’s book Handbook of the Canadian Rockies. This rock makes for some mind-blowing vertical face climbing on mostly perfect, extremely compact stone and makes the mostly 30m pitches at the Stanley Headwall among some of the best you will find anywhere in Canada, if not the world.
In addition, the location is world-class, high in the alpine with wild sweeping views of the headwall itself, the overhanging glaciers above, and extraordinary waterfalls all around. The alpine locale makes this one of the best summer crags, however, the late seepage and early alpine cold means that the season is incredibly short. The wall often only becomes climbable in July, and is much to cold by late August or early September.
The climbs are roughly divided into two sectors, split by the Nemesis waterfall at the far left (west) side of the North facing Stanley Headwall. The Adventure Sector is left of the waterfall and features several high-quality multi-pitches along with a few shorter hard sport climbs. The right side includes a few significant multi-pitches and the main sport climbing zone currently known as “Gery’s Crag”
Gery’s Crag was primarily developed by the late Gery Unterasinger and features around 22 single-pitch routes, mostly in the 5.12 range with a few outliers in the 5.13 and 5.10-5.11 range. The crag also features one notable 5.9 on the right side, with a great deal of potential for more easy/moderate route development on the fringes of the main wall.
This wall is extremely high quality. Routes are dead vertical or slightly overhanging, and typically quite sustained, most rising close to 30 meters tall. The entire crag is comprised of bullet-hard dolomite limestone, with interesting features. The bolting is good but spaced. The routes manage to be exciting and a touch spicy without being dangerous or scary. Stick clip is highly recommended as most routes start in the slightly chossy band to the first bolt.
This sector also includes the incredible Arch Enemy (5.11d) about 50m to the left of Gery’s Crag, as well as several much longer and more serious summertime rock climbing multi-pitches off to the right.
The adventure sector features a range of high-quality short and medium-length multi-pitches in the 5.11+ and 5.12 range. Some of these routes require a selection of gear, while others require a short 4th-class scramble to get to the base of the main climbs. Disclaimer: All of these routes are relatively serious in nature due to their difficulty, location, and approach/descent considerations. Do not attempt any of the routes in the Adventure Sector unless you have the relevant capabilities and are experienced climbing in the 5.11 range on trad gear in an alpine environment.
Arch Enemy, 5.11d
I cover this route as its own post and topo – see Arch Enemy, 7 Pitches, 5.11d for topo and route description
Mason Tessier, 2022 – Sharing the first few bolts of Living In Paradise this line continues straight up the prominent feature where LIP breaks right. Climb through the orange rock on perfectly sculpted holds to a good rest below the final Headwall. From here the wall kicks back and hard sustained moves guard the anchor. A striking king line to test your endurance. Descent: The mid anchor is a lowering station that you can use to lower twice with a full 70m rope. Tie knots. This route was not pitched out but climbed as one monster pitch! 18 bolts, 45 meters
YOLO Amigos, 5.12d
Marcus Norman, 2022 – Starts a few metres right of Living in Paradise MP, and tackles the amazing white and black streaks. Since it’s almost 50m there is a lower-off station at 2/3 height to get down with a 70m cord. It’s also set up to be an alternate start to the multi-pitch lines – with a higher set of bolts over the lip. 16 bolts, 49 meters
Escape from Reality, 5.12c
Mason Tessier, 2022 – This route is actually called ‘Escape From Reality’ which is exactly what climbing at Stanley feels like. Easy climbing leads to excellent sustained rock that when the rock looks blank escape left. 18 bolts, unknown length (approximately 50m)
5.11d, 132m, bolts + gear
Established by Gery Unterasinger, 2019. Start around 100m left of Nemesis, just below and left of the lower, rightmost obvious triangular yellow roof. Rappel route on single 60m rope. All anchors are fixed for rappel. Gear: 11 draws + small rack of cams 0.3 – #2. Bring a helmet. All information is approximate.
Pitch 1 – 5.11d, 30m – A pumpy start! Carefully climb loose 5.9ish pillar passing two bolts and clipping but not stopping at the first anchor ~10m up. Make a sequence up and right, then follow sustained climbing and a final short crux at the last bolt to a semi-hanging belay at a large white flake. From here, it is a 30m rappel on a single 60m rope. 11 Bolts, no gear.
Pitch 2 – 5.11b/c, 29m – Sustained with a tricky crux. Follow 3 bolts, then step left to better rock and good gear in a good crack. Avoid the dirtier crack to the right. Climb up and clip 2 pitons (top one loose), and make a cruxy tricky traverse right to better holds and a stance. From here, follow sustained climbing up the crack, placing gear, then passing 2 more bolts and a piton to a funky mantle, and a comfortable sit-down ledge/anchor. 5 bolts, 2 pitons + gear.
Pitch 3 – 5th Class, 22m – Climb up 3m to a bolt, then head right up easy but loose 5th class terrain. Follow the easiest line up until you can move back left to a comfortable ledge and an anchor in the corner to the left. Do not continue right up the very big corner.
Pitch 4 – 5.11a, 25m – Follow steep stemming corner through 5 bolts, avoiding loose flakes on the left. Step left and follow easy 5.8 to the anchor at a comfy ledge with Optional gear. 5 bolts + optional gear.
Pitch 5 – 5.11b, 26m – An absolutely amazing pitch! Head right immediately from the anchors great holds around the arete and follow good rock to a short-lived crux at the 2nd bolt (move right slightly around the arete for better holds). Swim up the rest of this glorious pitch, placing great gear and passing a final bolt before arriving at a “clip and go” anchor where you can lower back to the ledge. 4 bolts + 1 piton + gear.
Rappel the route with a 60m rope.
Livin’ in Paradise
5.12a, 120m, bolts + gear
Established by Lindsay Anderson & Craig McGee, 2020. Start around 50m left of Stanley Fever, scrambling up a bit of Chossy 4th class to an anchor just past a yellow roof. Rappel route on double 60m ropes or walk off to the left with caution. Rappel the route on double ropes starting at the final anchor – 28m, 25m, 17m, 55m and finally 20m to the ground. Gear: 11 draws + cams 0.3 – #1 + Helmet
Pitch 1 – 5.9, 20m, 6 bolts – Follow bolts up easy 5.9 slab to an anchor at the base of the steep yellow wall.
Pitch 2 – 5.11c, 35m, 11 bolts + optional gear – Climb excellent grey limestone to a steep, rightward leaning crack with optional gear to a belay. Bring your second up and move the belay to the left.
Pitch 3 – 5.5, 17m, 4 bolts – Scramble up easy terrain past 4 bolts to another anchor
Pitch 4 – 5.10a, 25m, 7 bolts – Climb excellent limestone past 7 bolts to anchor.
Pitch 5 – 5.12a, 28m, 9 bolts – Climb moderate terrain to a well protected crux move on a tricky/slippery fingerlock. Move up to a good hold, and enjoy immaculate black stone with good pro to the top of the wall. Rappel the route as per above.