On April 17, 2021, Brette Harrington and Dylan Cunningham made the first ascent of the northeast face of Mt. Niblock in Banff National Park, in the Canadian Rockies (traditional lands of Stoney Nakoda, Ktunaxa, Blackfoot, and Tsuut’ina Nations). Their 14-pitch route–Just a Nibble (5.10- M6R WI5, 500m)–took 15 hours to climb.
Harrington and Cunningham skied in to the face via the Ross Lake Trail from Lake Louise on April 16. They bivied that night at the base and began climbing in the morning. In an Instagram post, Harrington described the initial pitches as challenging ice and mixed terrain, which led to “even more psychological rock and mixed pitches through the upper headwalls.” She also mentioned that Cunningham led “one of the most impressive mixed pitches I have ever belayed–finding incipient gear placements while climbing overhanging bouldery terrain.”
The final obstacle of the climb was a snowy slab, which Harrington climbed in her rock shoes. “It was easy climbing terrain, but the rock was compact and downsloping with snow on much of it,” Cunningham told me via email. “A few body lengths off the belay [Brette] still had no pro. Thinking the snow might be concealing some cracks, she brushed some aside. Unfortunately this [action] covered the dry rock she was climbing on in snow, and she found herself without any positive holds and beginning to slip. It was a tense few minutes while Brette tried to move down and off the section she was on without falling. Ultimately she made it off to the left and found some gear.”
The team ended their climb at Niblock’s east ridge, arriving at 5 p.m. Harrington and Cunningham had initially intended to climb the upper headwall to the summit (up and right of where they bailed out to the ridge), but given the late hour and their satisfaction with the climbing to that point, they decided to descend instead. The descent was mostly walking and scrambling (with a single rappel of 50m at the first rock step) down a gully on the southeast face, then traversing under cliffs to the col between Niblock and Mt St. Piran. “From the col,” Cunningham wrote, “we had an excellent bumslide down a north-facing couloir back to where we had stashed our skis below our climbing line.”
“All in all, this line was more of a mental game than anything, but one that held a high level of adventure,” Harrington said in her Instagram post.
Cunningham added that “as with many an adventure, it didn’t turn out quite as planned… That said it was still enjoyable.”