Mike and I both sent Blue Jean Direct on Mt. Yamnuska last Wednesday, our second day on the route. Blue Jeans has become a somewhat well-known hard multipitch route, one I’ve known about and wanted to do for a while. When it first went up at 5.13b, 7 pitches, in 2010, it was the hardest multipitch route in the Canadian Rockies. Since then, a handful of harder routes have gone up, including Sonnie Trotter’s variation of Blue Jeans, “Blue Jeans Direct.” Sonnie’s variation replaces the 5th pitch of Blue Jeans with a harder, more direct variation. It’s a short pitch that basically dumbs down to a fun V9/10 boulder through an overhang. Sonnie called it 5.14a.
The whole route is pretty sustained. The pitches break down at 5.12b, 5.12d, 5.12d, 5.13b, 5.14a, 5.12a, and 5.10d. Yamnuska is south-facing and lower elevation relative to the other walls we’d been on, so the heat presented a challenge. We had to hike to the base of the wall in the blazing sun and climb the first few pitches before the route went into the shade around 5pm. The sun plus the difficulty of the pitches leading to the crux zapped us on our first day on the route. We needed full strength for the powerful crux, and by the time we had figured out what to do, we were too tired to give it any good attempts.
On our second day we were able to get to the crux a little more fresh, despite the beach vacation sunshine on the lower pitches. The conditions were a bit better than last time though, with a slight breeze. And we were in the shade by then. We were both wearing shorts too, which was probably the ticket.
We both fell on our first attempts. The boulder, the way we were figured it out, was super dynamic and powerful, like a Moonboard problem. The holds were all positive, usually with good thumbs, but they were all sideways and far apart. It was super fun to try. After getting the power turned ON, we both sent on our second attempt. The climbing to the top is mostly easy and we were over the lip of Yamnuska at 8pm, seven hours after leaving the car, in time to catch the last rays of sunshine.
It was sort of an anti-climactic moment, finishing my dream Canadian Rockies ticklist of Castles in the Sky (5.14a, 5 pitches), The Shining Uncut (5.14a, 9 pitches), The Path (5.14a R trad), and Blue Jeans Direct (5.14a, 7 pitches). It had been exactly two weeks since getting on Castles for the first time. I didn’t think that my four week trip would be enough time for just two of these routes. Yet they all ended up being easier than expected, maybe partially because I was performing on a whole new level. I was prepared and totally in my element.
My suspicion is that none of these routes present pure 5.14 physical difficulties. But each of them have a difficult mental element. I’ve wondered if this should be factored in or not in grades. Traditionally the mental/technical side of things has been downplayed. That’s why slabs are so hard. And one would expect to climb well below your limit in the mountains because of all of the other added factors like the approach, loose rock, exposure, uncomfortable belays, and logistics. The cumulative mental and physical fatigue of being “on” all day takes a serious toll on performance. Regardless of grade, these routes are all badass routes, and success on any of them is a huge accomplishment.
Blue Jeans is the easiest logistically of the Canadian Rockies Alpine Trilogy. The Yamnuska guidebook contains all the beta for the route and the approach.
We were climbing on the route early August, and the route was in the shade by 4:30 or 5pm. We started climbing around 2pm both days on the route. The lower pitches are doable in the sun, but the slippery rock on the first pitch was a bit rough.