TEN PEAKS, SEVEN YEARS,
Q+A WITH PAUL ZIZKA
Words by Kyla Jacobs
Photos by Paul Zizka
Few people have summited each of the Ten Peaks that tower over Moraine Lake. Even fewer have photographed from their highest points. Writer Kyla Jacobs interviews Crowfoot Media’s Photo Editor, Paul Zizka, about his journey to climb and photograph one the most famous skylines in the Canadian Rockies.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow. Interview with Paul Zizka begins below.
Q+A WITH PAUL ZIZKA
KJ/ Did you originally set out with the goal of climbing the Ten Peaks?
PZ/ Not at all. A few years ago I had the opportunity to stay in the Neil Colgan Hut, Canada’s highest permanent structure between Mounts Little and Bowlen. This was a chance to climb some of the peaks that I’d been photographing for some time, but from one thousand meters higher. It was the perfect occasion to shoot in the opposite direction, down onto Moraine Lake.
After this first trip, climbing the remaining peaks to photograph from their summits became a side project that took seven years to complete, the last peak being Wenkchemna, which I climbed this past July.
KJ/ Which was your most memorable climb in the Ten Peaks?
PZ/ Deltaform Mountain (Peak 8). I climbed with a friend, the conditions were spot on and I was able to head home having captured several images I liked.
On this particular climb, we spent the night at one of the most stunning bivy sites I’ve ever experienced. Perched up between Peaks 8 and 9 on a crystal clear night, the auroras came out. After looking at these peaks from below for quite some time, it was memorable, to say the least.
KJ/ Which peak was the most challenging?
PZ/ Definitely Deltaform. The approach is the hardest of the lot. Plus the rock climbing is more technical and sustained than any of the other nine peaks.
KJ/ Any advice for climbers wanting to tackle these peaks?
PZ/ Be prepared to deal with some of the worst rock in the Canadian Rockies. Although they stand tall, the ten peaks are falling apart. You’ll spend a significant amount of time walking and climbing on loose rock and rubble.
The day we climbed Allen and Tuzo was a 17-hour day. The entire time you need to be fully aware. There are always overhead hazards, and everything you touch wants to go. You have to contend with loose rock for hours on end.
It’s not a big climbing feat when tackling the normal routes, as they not very technical. Some of the peaks are climbed many times every year, and others will go several years without being climbed (like Mount Tuzo, where according to the register, we were the first party in 18 years to make the climb). Some peaks, like Mount Bowlen, are climbed probably each week in summer.
KJ/ Fast Forward: You’re eighty years old and thinking back on your experience with the Ten Peaks. Describe what comes to mind?
PZ/ The Ten Peaks are quite the daunting sight. The fact that people climb them leaves you feeling very impressed. Even as a climber, when looking back I think, “Wow. I’ve been there, I’ve conquered those peaks.” Thankfully, they’re the type of mountains that, as you get closer, they don’t seem as imposing. What was daunting from below begins to vanish.
You also often have one foot in Alberta and one foot in BC. You’re right along the spine of the continent, and you’re exposed.
I’ve spent a lot of time at the base exploring and wondering what would it look like up there. To then finally discover this, sitting on all ten looking down at Moraine Lake and the rock pile, was remarkable.
KJ/ So, these Ten Peaks seem to hold quite the special place in your heart?
PZ/ Seven years, five trips, enduring different weather and conditions, shared with thirty people all make this area unbelievably special. Also, knowing the colourful stories involving the mountaineering history and the Rockies’ legends for each peak going in adds to the trip.
It’s become one of my favourite places to climb and to shoot in the Rockies. It’s absolutely beautiful. I will keep going back.
Between hiking Tunnel Mountain daily and calling Wild Flour her home office, Kyla Jacobs loves the Banff life (one year turned into ten). Writing, editing, branding, social media and asking questions are her jam.