Rock Climb Plutonian Shores in Banff

Added by James Hueser

Plutonian Shores is a 7-pitch, 5.9 climb that, with it's combination of excellent views from excellent belay stations, makes for a perfect introduction to multipitch climbing.

To get to the base of the climb, you must brave the (hordes of) tourists at the Cave and Basin Historical Site in Banff. This requires a park pass and calloused elbows fit for pushing your way through crowds. Or an alarm clock to get up early - the visitor centre is only open after 9 AM and this climb sees a lot of traffic so it's a good idea to get there early. Once you're parked and geared up enough to draw stares from any visitors (wearing your climbing helmet for the approach is recommended), head along the paved pathway to the west.

After 10 or 15 minutes, take a left along a dirt trail. It's marked with a sign, but the sign won't show you the path to Raven's Crag or the Plutonian Wall. Just keep your eyes peeled (if they haven't been eaten by the mosquitos yet) for a cairn and left fork from the path in another 10 to 15 minutes. It's not the steepest approach and it's not the flatest, which means it's perfect for a warm up! Within the next 30 to 45 minutes you'll come across another fork in the road - as is tradition, take the left fork as keeping true will take you up switchbacks to the peak of the climb (the boring way).

Now, before you take the next left fork, keep an eye out for bolted routes on the wall to your right - this is Raven's Crag. Once you're at the crag, you'll need to take a hard left off the path and lose quite a bit of elevation - it's quick and almost feels like the wrong way, but keep at it and you'll flatten out at the base of the climb. You'll know if you've missed that trail from Raven's Crag if you hit a steep 5 metre long section that leads up to a "cave".

As you flatten out after losing elevation, keep looking to your right and keep your eyes peeled for the bolted route. Plutonian Shores is well bolted and should be obvious, but not if you go too far. The climb begins almost as soon as you start getting out of the forest and the trees thin out along the trail. While one person looks at the wall, the other person can look at their feet and try to notice the wooden (and covered in dirt) platform at the base of the climb.

The climb is 7 pitches:
-  Welcome to Texas, 20 m of 5.5
- The Battle of the Bulges, 55 m of 5.7 (or split into 30 and 20 m if you don't have enough quickdraws)
-  The Castling Move, 10 m of 4th class scrambling
- Left, Left, Right, 20 m of 5.8
- A Murder of Crows, 50 m of 5.8 
- Billy the Destroyer, 30 m of 5.9
- and The Cooler, 35 m of 5.7 

Disclaimer: I hate slab climbing. Particularly multipitching where the routes can be longer and less opportunity to let my feet rest. I also just don't find it very fun. Luckily, Plutonian Shores only has about 2.25 pitches of slab climbing (the first, second, and the end of the seventh). 

The climbing starts getting good around the fourth pitch (the first pitch of 5.8) and the climb finds it's groove on A Murder of Crows. It might just be a 5.8, but the length of the route and style (juggy stemming mixed with navigating bulges) has made it pretty much a classic in my books. You should sneakily try to get the lead on the fifth pitch, or fight your partner to the death for it.

Leading the fifth pitch means you can TR the sixth pitch, which had a couple of committing moves for me. Either I'm terrible at route finding, became used to the solid climbing below, or just suck. If you suck like me, at least there's great feet.

The seventh pitch ends on some slab, which after 185 m of climbing my feet were really in the mood for. Keep an eye on the bolt line here - near the top it gets close to another climb to the right that tops out at the same spot. While it traverses along the right a bit, you shouldn't be going too far out from your last bolt. Keep an eye above you - after the second last bolt, the line is directly above you.

This climb is a walk off (hopefully you brought your shoes with you), so the last anchor is just two bolts with hangers to set your TR anchor up. Once you take in the view (which is best around the second last bolt), the trail heads a little to the left and loops back on itself so that you start descending the west side of the mountain. The descent is hardly fun - loose dirt and scree, but poles are probably too awkward to haul up. 

The fact that you could always hear and see the highway, as well as the Banff townsite were the only things I didn't enjoy about this climb. Like, reeeeeally didn't like, but I think that's just bitterness. Luckily, this climb is classic and totally worth it. The view of the Bow River and surrounding swamps was really unique and it turned out to be an amazing vantage point. 

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Rock Climbing
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