The Playground, IceLines, Canmore, Grotto Mountain, drytooling, Brent Peters, Mikey Stevenson, Single Malt, Banff, iceclimbing, guiding, Canadian Rockies

Drytooling in the Canadian Rockies at The Playground

The Playground
The Bow Valley’s Original Drytooling Crag

Where is The Playground?

The Playground is located in the south side of the second grotto on Grotto Mountain. Park at the Rat’s Nest Cave parking 5km south of Canmore’s Elk Run Boulevard on Hwy 1A (51°3’8.55″N 115°15’22.46″W, UTM 11U 0622217mE 5657095mN). This parking lot serves numerous backcountry activities including The Playground (drytooling), Alcatraz (drytooling), Eldorado (drytooling), Rat’s Nest Cave (caving), and the south summit of Grotto Mountain (scrambling). Several trails leave the parking lot. It is important to find the right one. The main trail heads through the bush to the drainage immediately north. It crosses the drainage and heads uphill through the woods. There is a cairned shortcut (51° 3’16.31″N, 115°15’30.28″W) that heads left before the Rat’s Nest Cave trail reaches the power line. Follow the power line downhill to the flats (51° 3’20.88″N, 115°15’41.18″W) and follow a trail to the right up through the woods to gain the access road above the quarry. Hike north along the road. There is another shortcut at the switchback in the road (cairned). Beyond the switchback, take the trail into the woods (51°4’1.67″N, 115°16’26.40″W). Cross the drainage and follow a trail up towards the second grotto. When below The Playground (51°4’15.11″N, 115°16’21.38″W, UTM 11U 621022mE 5659124mN), head back south across the drainage and up to the crag. 2.75km 350m elevation gain.

The Playground, IceLines, Canmore, Grotto Mountain, drytooling, Brent Peters, Mikey Stevenson, Glenfiddich, Banff, iceclimbing, guiding, Canadian Rockies

Who created The Playground?

The Playground was original discovered by Canmore alpine guide Patrick Delaney. He was looking for a crag that he could develop into a training crag for mixed climbing. It was important that the crag NOT have decent rock for rock climbing so as not to create a debate with the rock climbers. Pat envisioned a Canadian equivalent to some of the Euro grid bolted dry tooling areas. He partnered with Eric Dumerac to finish the routes. Eric was very excited about The Playground’s potential and publicized the venue. The Playground was initially quite contentious as the routes were fabricated specifically for training. As World Cup style drytooling has become more popular, The Playground has found its place in the community. It is not uncommon for there to be 20-30 climbers here on a weekend in the fall and for climbers to come here to train year round. New drytooling routes ranging from D4-D9 have been built during the past 5 years to accommodate all levels of drytooling.

The Playground, IceLines, Canmore, Grotto Mountain, drytooling, Patrick Maguire, Mikey Stevenson, Wild Turkey, Banff, iceclimbing, guiding, Canadian Rockies

Current Drytooling Routes

The drytooling routes at The Playground are described from left to right. It can be divided into 5 areas: Upper Cave, Playground Left, Swiss Cheese Cave, Rat’s Nest Wall, Mutt Wall, and Recess Wall.

Upper Cave – This cave is located left and above The Playground proper. There is only one route here at this time.

Just The Tip D7 This route climbs vertical terrain to the right of a large cave. FA: Michelle Kadatz, Steve Kovalenko

Playground Left – The wall left of the Swiss Cheese cave has 3 longer vertical routes.

Mountaineers Route D5 This is the furthest left route at The Playground. Climb broken terrain to gain a right facing corner up to an anchor. FA: Patrick Delaney.

U Crazy Roundeye! D7- Climb slabs right of Mountaineers Route. Long reaches, mantels and slabby climbing lead to the anchor. FA: Patrick Delaney.

Get to Know You D6+ Figure out how to reach the roof at the second bolt. Seams, corners, and a mailbox slot lead to the anchor. FA: Lida Frydrychova, Veronica Wadja

Trumpsters D7+ Connect corners and stein pulls up the vertical terrain left of the Single Malt seam. FA: Amanda Bischke

Swiss Cheese Cave – This large cave is the home to the steepest climbing at The Playground.

Single Malt D8- Steep blocky climbing leads to the arching crack. Step left and continue up to the anchor. FA: Eric Dumerac.

Amrut D8+ Thin and steep moves lead up the left facing corner immediately right of Single Malt. FA: James Madden

Shropshire Blue D9 Long and thin moves lead up the face inside the cave right of Amrut. FA: Erik Schnack

Swiss Cheese D9- A rib leads up out of the cave. Follow the fixed draws through the huge overhang. FA: Simon Anthamatten

Malt Cheese D8 Connect Single Malt to Swiss Cheese. FA: James Madden

Rat’s Nest Wall – The lower angled wall below Swiss Cheese is home to the original crag warm-ups.

Rat’s Nest Route D4 This route climbs the short wall immediately right of Swiss Cheese. Not recommended if there is a party on Swiss Cheese. FA: Patrick Delaney

Baptism D5+ Climb the right facing corner to the right of Rat’s Nest Route. At a roof, step left and continue up to an anchor under the roof. The original route traversed right to finish on Prowler. FA: Patrick Delaney

Prowler D6 Steep moves lead to the arête. FA: Patrick Delaney

Mutt Wall – From the Prowler arête to the Pride cave, the routes are short but steep, or finish with vertical slabs.

Mutt D6+ Short and steep, just right of the arête. FA: Patrick Delaney

Jeff D8- Start in the corner below Glenfiddich. Traverse left to cracks that lead to a perfect steinpull and the anchor. FA: Patrick Delaney

Glenfiddich D7+ Climb the overhanging right facing corner to a vertical slab with a single crack. FA: Patrick Delaney

Wild Turkey D8- Climb the overhanging right facing corner right of Glenfiddich to a vertical slab finish. FA: Patrick Delaney

Triple Sec D8+ Climb the left facing corner left of the Pride cave to a slab finish. FA: Patrick Delaney

Nothing but Pride D7 Stem in 3d out of the small cave to an overhanging reachy finish. FA: Patrick Delaney

Recess Wall – To the right of the Pride cave is a slabby wall that descends to the approach trail. There are a couple of short challenging overhangs along it.

No Prejudice D4 Climb the slab up a shallow right facing corner to gain an anchor right of Nothing but PrideFA: Brent Peters

Dodgeball D4 Climb the slab up a shallow groove right of No Prejudice. FA: Brent Peters

Red Rover D4 Climb the shallow groove right of Dodgeball. FA: James Madden

The Monitor D5 Climb the mossy right facing corner left of the Bully roof. FA: Brent Peters

The Bully D6- Climb the slab to the roof. Traverse right across the roof and up the slab above. FA: Brent Peters

Patchouli Oil D6+ About 25m down from The Bully. Climb the left side of the overhang. FA: James Madden

Dreadlocks D6 Climb the right side of the overhang, avoiding the broken lose rock on the right. FA: James Madden

What is Drytooling and Mixed Climbing?

Drytooling is climbing rock with ice tools and crampons. It is a growing sport, supported by both the UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing Competition circuit and mixed climbing. Mixed climbing involves climbing rock to gain waterfall ice.

If you’d like to try drytooling check our our courses at or contact us at


The Drive-In, Drytooling in the Canadian Rockies, PeakStratagem

Drytooling in the Canadian Rockies at The Drive-In

The Drive-In
Bow Valley’s EASY ACCESS Drytooling Crag


Updated Public Notice: Due to Phase II of the flood mitigation construction being conducted by the MD of Bighorn at Jura Creek, it is recommended to park in front of the Exshaw Legion in the Prospector Trail MTB parking and walk around on the shoulder of Exshaw Mountain to The Drive-In, minimizing our footprint in the construction site and maximizing our potential to retain access throughout. Happy climbs!

Where is The Drive-In?

The Drive-In is located on the left side of Jura Creek before the canyon. This is the first drainage east of Exshaw. Instead of driving through the access site, we are strongly encouraging climbers going to The Drive-In to use the Prospector MTB trail parking at the Exshaw Legion. From here, start by taking Heart Mountain Drive east to the berm at the end of the road. Follow the trail on the berm to the traverse trail under the hydro line. Take the trail east around the base of Exshaw Mountain skirting north of the active construction to the base of the crag.

Here is the .kml file for the access trail. Be advised that this trail crosses private land and is used by local hikers, bikers, and dirt bikers. Please travel responsibly.

How did we find The Drive-In?

Most of the drytooling crags in the Bow Valley (around Canmore, Alberta) are quite a hike. The most popular crag, The Playground, is about 45 min to an hour of continuous uphill travel for a fit climber. The Playground is also north facing in a large grotto which means no sun. This can be appealing for the summer diehard drytooler. However, it would be nice to have a south facing crag for those cold winter days where a bit of sun can make the difference for the screaming barfies!

About the same time last year as Rafal Andronowski was scoping out new crags, I took a drive up Jura Creek and spotted this scruffy limestone crag. It wasn’t unknown to locals. Jay Mills had put up a rock climb here about 5 years ago when he first moved to Exshaw. The rock was dirty, loose, and would have required a lot of work; he focused his route development elsewhere. With Jay’s blessing, Raf and I simultaneously came to the conclusion that The Drive-In could be the perfect moderate drytooling crag.

The Drive-In, drytooling, Exshaw, Bow Valley, Canmore, Banff, ice climbing, mixed climbing, Canadian Rockies, IceLines, PeakStratagem

Paul Taylor, Dirty Dancing, The Drive-In, Photo by Mikey Stevenson
Paul entering the final squeeze crack that gains the anchors on Dirty Dancing D6, The Drive-In.

What routes are currently here?

As of 17 October 2016, there are 6 routes at The Drive-In. The first route that you come to starts in up a broken wall to a left facing corner just beyond where the approach trail reaches the cliff. The routes are described from left to right:

Happy Feet D5+ Climb broken ledges to the first bolt. Follow the corner system up to a small roof. The route traverses left. 15m  FA: Liam O’Sullivan, Rob Fulton

True Romance D5- Pull a bulge (bolt) to a ledge and a broken face (2 bolts). Traverse left above a small roof to gain a left facing corner that leads up to the anchor. 15m FA: Amanda Bischke

Deception D5 Pull a bulge (bolt) to a ledge. Face climbing leads to a right facing corner. Holds right of the corner make the route easier! Traverse left at a horizontal crack to gain the anchor above. 15m FA: Joel Faubert

Tropic Thunder D6 Climb a right facing corner to a ledge. Face climbing gains an arête. Step left before clipping the last bolt. 15m FA: Alex Lawson

Dirty Dancing D6 Climb the broken face to a large left facing corner. Awkward moves up the offwidth crack gain the anchor. 15m FA: Paul Taylor

Batman Begins D7- A crack system leads through the buttress to the right of Dirty Dancing. 15m FA: Mark Bramble, Paul Taylor

Joe Versus the Volcano D7- Climb the slab just right of Batman Begins. Climb a left facing crack. Trend right than back left entering left facing corner in which a far right side pull allows gain to exit to slab. 15m FA: Mark Bramble

Groundhog Day D6 Climb the slab right of Joe Versus the Volcano. Gain the face with a good side pull out right that allows you to access a weakness left to the upper slab following a good seam with thin feet. The first bolt is a bit high because of hollow rock. 15m FA: Mark Bramble

Jackie Brown D6+ Climb the broken face up right to a left facing corner. FA: Mark Bramble

Demolition Man D7 Climb the face under the large roof. Traverse right under the roof to the break and pull. FA: Mark Bramble

Crag notes:

The Drive-In is a new crag. There is a TON of loose rock ready to get removed. Be aware as you drytool.  Routes have been cleaned, but there will be more rock to remove. Communicate with your belayer. If top-roping, leave your belayer mobile (top-rope belayers shouldn’t be tied in to the belay bolts while belaying).

Routes at The Drive-In climb off a fairly narrow ledge above a 15-20m embankment. Several single belay bolts have been placed to protect the lead belayer. There’s just enough space on the ledge to pass a climbing party, but not a lot of space to accommodate pets without having difficulty avoiding stepping on their paws with crampons…

All the routes to date have sport anchors with a fixed steel lower off carabiner. If you are going to top rope the routes, please lift your rope or build a conventional anchor while top roping to preserve the steel as long as possible.

Lifted Anchor
Lift the rope with a locking carabiner on the top anchor point.

How was the crag developed?

The routes at The Drive-In have typically been cleaned on rappel, then climbed on top rope to determine climbability and the nature of the route. Ice axes and crampons are notoriously damaging to limestone. Holds have been enhanced to ensure the longevity and sustainability of the routes. Effort has been made to create routes that are not just “pull-up” routes, emulating the puzzling nature of limestone drytooling.


Send us feedback about the grades, the bolting, and the climbing movement! If you feel that holds are broken or that the route isn’t climbing like it was built, please refrain from taking your drill and arbitrarily changing the route. The crag building team wants these routes to climb well, for them to be fun and safe. We don’t want this to be just another pulldown site!  Amanda has tested most of the routes. She’s 5’1″.

What is Drytooling and Mixed Climbing?

Drytooling is climbing rock with ice tools and crampons. It is a growing sport, supported by both the UIAA World Cup Ice Climbing Competition circuit and mixed climbing. Mixed climbing involves climbing rock to gain waterfall ice.

GhostCamp 2016 PeakStratagem Guiding

GhostCAMP 2016 PeakStratagem

Our outfitters tent is the ideal place to hang out after a day ice climbing in the Ghost. Photo by Jesse Ahlan.
Our outfitters tent is the ideal place to hang out after a day ice climbing in the Ghost. Photo by Jesse Ahlan.
What is GhostCAMP?

This is truly a unique Canadian rustic backcountry ice climbing adventure. The Ghost River Wilderness Area is a provincial park on the eastern edge of the Canadian Rockies near Calgary. In the rain shadow of the Continental Divide, it receives very little precipitation. This region’s unique limestone geology provides a high concentration of slot canyons and gullies for amazing waterfall ice climbing. “Ghosting” isn’t without its challenges. Access requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle. There are numerous challenging river crossings to reach our camp near the Valley of the Birds.

GhostCAMP 2016 was our second annual event. Our camp was in place for 18 days this year, with a set up day and 17 days of ice climbing. Our accommodations include a dining tent (a canvas outfitters tent with a wood stove) and a Yurtini with cots for 6. This year we offered access, accommodations, and food for recreational climbers in addition to our guided experiences. The dining tent was the scene of many cozy dinner parties with lengthy stories of the daily adventures. Our team made ascents of the classics from IceLines: Weathering Heights, Anorexia Nervosa, GBU (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), Dead Bird, Yellow Bird, Seagull, Albatross, This House of Sky, Beowulf, Fang and Fist, Chilkoot Passage, Sorcerer, and Hydrophobia.

What are the best parts of GhostCAMP?

Hanging out with new friends, sharing challenges on Canada’s finest ice climbs, and escaping the city to relax in our vast wilderness.

Darrell Houle stemming his way through the steeps on P3 of the Sorcerer, North Ghost, Canadian Rockies. Photo by Brent Peters
Darrell Houle stemming his way through the steeps on P3 of the Sorcerer, Ghost, Canadian Rockies. Photo by Brent Peters


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