The Alt-Left (5.11b A0), Canmore’s Best “Local” Big Wall Climb

The Alt-Left is an amazing big wall multi-pitch climb located high above the not so sleepy Town of Canmore. The route was established in 2016 by Marc Piché and Steve Holeczi including several days of trundling blocks during heavy rains during one season.

Despite being surrounded by towering limestone walls and impressive mountains, there are shockingly few high-quality, moderate modern multi-pitch rock climbs in the area. This is largely due to the generally poor (often horrific) quality of the rock in the area, the effort required to develop such routes, and the existence of many old-school, less amazing routes on the obvious walls.

Technical Moves on Pitch 7 of the Alt Left on EEOR
Technical Moves on Pitch 7 of the Alt Left on EEOR

The Alt-Left is a quintessential modern mixed route, complete with excellent stations protected from a lot of potential rockfall, the ability to retreat with a single 70m rope (for most of the route anyways), and perfect protection that makes this route approachable for almost anyone looking to push their big wall capabilities into the 5.11 range.

The route is 11 pitches long (or 10 if you combine the first 2 pitches) and includes mostly sustained climbing in the 5.10 range, with 2 “money” pitches at 5.11b with excellent gear, and only a few less memorable pitches with somewhat lower quality rock. 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.

Craig climbing the top of the perfect 5.11- corner on Pitch 8 of the Alt Left on EEOR
Craig climbing the top of the perfect 5.11- corner on Pitch 8 of the Alt Left on EEOR

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 medium lone pine tree growing near the wall below a large white rock scar and 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.

Accessing the Alt Left, 5.11b from Canmore Alberta
Access to the Alt-Left, 5.11b A0 above Canmore Alberta

Route Description

The first 5 pitches are fairly 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 or overhanging excellent quality rock following corners and features all the way to the top of the wall. Belay stations for pitches 6-9 are semi-hanging or small.

Starting up the slightly chossy 5.10d Pitch 6 on the Alt Left, on EEOR
Starting up the slightly chossy 5.10d Pitch 6 on the Alt Left, on EEOR


From the top of Pitch 10, hike/scramble up chossy scree around 100m and then traverse left (west) around the gully to meet the

You can retreat with a single 70m rope easily up to Pitch 5, however, would require some tricky back clipping to retreat from above this pitch – rappelling is certainly possible for sure, but not recommended. All pitches are 35m or less with bolted stations and rap rings.

Required Gear

To climb the Alt-Left, you will need the following gear

  • Single 70m (small tagline is recommended if bringing backpacks to haul)
  • 15 Draws, including at least 5 long runners (18 recommended to combine Pitch 1 + 2)
  • A small rack of cams from micro 00 up to #1.
  • Doubles are recommended from .3 to #1, although most won’t need them. A #2 could be useful on pitch 8 but not mandatory.
  • A small selection of smaller nuts is also recommended.

Pitch Breakdown

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.

Pitch 2 (5.10c, 30m) – Step left and make a few tricky moves above a small pillar into a crack system until you can step 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 a groove until you reach a small ledge. Find some sneaky left-hand beta to surmount the 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 on somewhat sub-optimal rock to a good ledge at the top 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 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 improves dramatically. There is a good #0.3 / #0.5 BD placement here. Pull a few tricky moves on fantastic 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.

The "Money Pitch" - 5.11b on gear on the Alt-Left on EEOR
The “Money Pitch” – 5.11b on gear on the Alt-Left on EEOR
The "Money Pitch" - 5.11b on gear on the Alt-Left on EEOR
The “Money Pitch” – 5.11b on gear on the Alt-Left on EEOR
The "Money Pitch" - 5.11b on gear on the Alt-Left on EEOR
The “Money Pitch” – 5.11b on gear on the Alt-Left on EEOR
The Aid Pitch on gear on the Alt-Left on EEOR
The Aid Pitch on gear on the Alt-Left on EEOR