Morrow Canyon (Canadian Rockies)

I had been reading about the canyons in Canada long before I even entered the country. Morrow was one of the few in the Rockies that seemed to be visited somewhat regularly — probably due to the local adventure company offering guided tours (it also offered the only beta I could find which was plenty! Max abseil of 20m — what else did I need to know?).

Since my canyoning trip down into the Lower 48, I really hadn’t canyoned much except for a few around Vancouver, so when a colleague said it would be fine this time of the year, I decided I would visit it on the weekend.

The canyon from the road

The only thing I wasn’t too sure about was the approach. After climbing nearby Cinquefoil Mountain the day before, and paying extra attention when driving past, I had pretty much worked out what I would try.

Parking, I quickly checked out the sulphuric warm spring before scrambling up the embankment. Locating a goat trail, I headed up the valley. Favouring the sensibility of my four legged friends I headed up a half-way ledge that featured a good trail and amazing views! When the ledge ran out there was some talus to negotiate, but all in all it worked well. Kicking some steps into the snow I gained the saddle without even donning my crampons.

The view looking back

Following the gullies down on the other side I soon reached the creek. Apart from the trees, the canyon break-down reminded my a lot of the canyons I had done in Death Valley.

Passing some peculiar round rocks, I soon reached the first pitch, which you could easily bypass, but it was bolted, and it was an icefall, so I couldn’t resist!

The first pitch

After the first pitch the canyon narrowed, ice flowing from cracks in the towering limestone walls.

My footing was often a little precarious, but lots of fallen rocks (justifying wearing a helmet) had fused to the ice, making it easy to negotiate (like the fringes of a surface moraine).

I still hadn’t found many people to go adventuring with in Jasper, so to take the photos I wanted involved me rappelling down, setting up my camera, ascending the pitch and then dropping down again.

As I got further down the canyon, I began noticing running water. I really hoped I wouldn’t have to strip down to pass any pools. From the tour company’s website I knew that it wouldn’t be more than about waist deep, and since most of the water would be frozen I wasn’t too concerned.

Edging closer to the frozen lip, I clipped in my cows tail and looked down the longest single pitch of the canyon. I was itching to do some ice climbing, but was still sorting out a touring setup and had just missed out on a pair of second hand tools.

Part way down this pitch were some really cool inverted icicles. I wasn’t entirely sure how they might have formed. Perhaps in a similar way to stalagmites.

The canyon soon ended. The final pitch was the longest but was stepped. My 100ft rope didn’t quite reach, but offsetting the ‘biner block a bit allowed me to rap down. I could then chimney up a bit to grab the end, although maybe tying some webbing in would have been a safer way.

Picking up some trash, I slipped my harness off and continued down the frozen creek. I was surprised when the creek entered a second constriction. I was too lazy to put my harness back on and decided to descend the rope hand-over-hand. More pitches followed. Being stubborn, I used a partial flying angel on one of the steeper ones. Others had logs that I could use which had probably been placed there by climbers reversing the canyon.

I worked out what the second rap ring was for

Some cool patterns in the ice

On one of the drops the icy floor at the bottom collapsed. I instinctively looked for foot holds on the edges, managing to keep my feet dry.

On another pitch I was trying to down climb, slipped, and went crashing down through a thin floor of ice. Luckily it wasn’t far and the thin ice that had partially broken my fall hadn’t hidden any water. It was a short climb, but it made me realise that I need to be extra careful when alone, especially in icy canyons.

I soon reached the trail that had been marked on my topo map. It was getting late and having not brought lunch I was starving. The sun set on the drive home decorated the sky with streaks of pink and purple. What a great day!

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4 Replies to “Morrow Canyon (Canadian Rockies)

  1. Awesome pictures and an awesome adventure!!! I’m certainly going to have to start going through your pages!

    I’d like to do this canyon this summer. Based on Bing aerial views, it looks appropriate to enter the canyon on the N end, after hiking on the north side of Morrow peak, roughly here 53.032793, -118.058190. Is this what you did? I don’t think I’ll get a chance to do it south-to-north as an ice climb this winter, so any beta on a good entry point would be great! I definitely don’t want to do all that walking to find I’m a few cliffs upstream of the typical route and rap stations haha. If you don’t want to publish the info, you could email me.

    Cheers

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