AN OBSCURE PEEK AT JASPER CLIMBING CULTURE
Rock climbers have been snapping up Northern Exposure, Francois Leplante’s recently-released guidebook to Jasper National Park sport climbing.
For a window into the less-known, more esoteric world of Jasper rock, however, look no further than Rockies Obscure.
The website is the strange and idiosyncratic brainchild of former Jasperite Greg Cornell. Cornell, who lived and played in Jasper in the late-80s to mid-90s, created the site to share some of his weird and wonderful explorations over the years, and also to have an outlet for his journaling compulsion.
“I’ve always kept a journal,” he said from his Calgary home. “It was kind of a family habit.”
Thanks to Cornell’s addictions—both to writing things down and to exploring seldom-climbed nooks and crannies—rockiesobscure.com is a vault of rock, ice and bouldering routes as random as they are gnarly. The site covers a fair swath of the Alberta Rockies, but it leans on its Jasper content, not only because Cornell spent seven years here as a rock jock, but because for most Alberta climbers, Jasper is still obscure. Cornell says he misses the low key vibe and uncrowded crags of his former stomping grounds.
“When you come to the cliffs in Canmore it can be a zoo,” he said. “There’s often 50 ropes on the wall…it looks like an indoor gym.”
Moreover, he misses the rock in Jasper: more chossy, and less glossy, is how he put it.
“I love the loose rock and moss,” he said. “That’s part of the mountain.”
Cornell came of age in an era of Ray-bans, lycra and cutoff jean shorts. His hero in those days—like most Jasper rock climbers, he said—was legendary North Rockies climber Ken Wallator.
“Wallator used to look like Grizzly Adams,” he said. “He had this super long beard. He was just a badass.”
Working at Beckers Gourmet Restaurant, before his shift Cornell would bike to now-forgotten climbing areas such as Wabasso Slab and Chuck’s Corner. There he’d set up a solo top rope and practice his smears.
When he could round up a partner, he’d head to the Rock Gardens, Hidden Valley or Morro Mountain. His forte, however, was in the obscure. His were the first bolts on Ribbed For Your Pleasure above Medicine Lake. Similarly, he provides good beta for Shredder Reef, a climb that holds some Jasper lore for its hidden-in-plain-sight quality.
Rockies Obscure isn’t all rad routes and first ascents, however. A good portion of the site is dedicated to rainy-day options, Rockies trivia and fun, funky hikes. Cornell even lets the reader in on some of his more unique ideas—goofy yet practical outdoor tips like how to avoid toilet paper flying into your face in a drafty loo, advice on DIY ski basket replacement and, for disc golf enthusiasts, instructions for setting up a portable outdoor course.
While the website is handy for those wanting to get off the beaten path, it’s practically drowning in nostalgia—which makes it all the more charming. From musings about his favourite bands, artists and Rockies-filmed movies to trips down memory lane with his kids, Rockies Obscure traverses a strange but stirring route in Jasper’s mountain culture.
“Other things I fondly recall about my time in Jassy town are watching the British military start bar fights when they were stationed south of town; seeing legendary local Hans Schwartz instruct beginners at Morro Slabs…and taking the keyboard player from the 80s rock band Boulevard caving at Cadomin when he was touring solo.”
Obscure indeed. Find your next random adventure at www.rockiesobscure.com.