Yamuska, Diablo and the aftermath.

I moved to Calgary, AB at the beginning of May 2012 to return to General Dynamics Canada as a co-op software engineer. One of bonuses is the compressed work week, which allows me to work extra time throughout the week to receive every second Friday off. These days off combined with living so close to the Canadian Rocky Mountains made me pledge to scramble a mountain (weather permitting) on each of these days off. My co-worker and good friend Austin Warren shared the same idea and has also pledged to join me on these adventures.

On our first Friday off we decided to scramble Mount Yamnuska, also known as Mount John Laurie. Scrambling is a method of ascending rocky faces and ridges which blends the lines of hiking and vertical rock climbing. Scrambles can be defined by the need to use hands to hold on for balance and to support body weight, but not enough exposure to warrant safety equipment such as rope. Yamuska is a 2,240m high limestone mountain with a gigantic, yet beautiful, rock face. It is the first mountain you see travelling west on the #1 TransCanada highway leaving Calgary and is easily identified by its unique south face. It is a great scramble but is also a popular rock climbing destination with over 100 traditional climbing routes with varying degrees of difficulty and has one of the greatest scree runs in North America. It also has the benefit to receiving the warm Chinook winds, making the conditions ideal to climb this early in May.

Several days before our scramble, Diablo 3, the third installment of the Diablo trilogy was released. Diablo is an online role-playing PC game where the user plays a hero who fights alongside archangels to purge the land of Diablo, the lord of terror, and his minions. Before you roll your eyes you must realize that this was a highly anticipate game with over 2 million preorders making it the fastest selling PC game of all time. On release night, Austin came over because his internet was down, which was required to be able to install and play the game. He ended up playing with me until 5am, we stopped early to be able to get a few hours of sleep before work. With this addiction, how were we ever going to have the willpower to fulfill our pledge of mountaineering all day on Friday?

That was when we came up with the brilliant idea: “let’s play Diablo 3 on the summit!”

“How many people can say they’ve played Diablo 3 on a mountain? I bet we would be the first.” And it turned out we were.

Diablo 3 requires a constant internet connection in order to play. On release night, our Shaw internet went down a few times, so rather than wait for it to come back up we tethered our internet via 3G on our smartphones. The connection was so consistent that we completely forgot we were playing over 3G. I also knew that mountains in the Bow Valley / Canmore area had plenty of cell reception on the top. Also, from what I have been told there are cell towers on top of a few of these peaks in the area so that the whole valley has coverage.

We got to the Yamnuska parking lot at 11:30 am on Friday and began the ascent at 11:37. The first portion of the route is an uphill hike about a kilometer or so before approaching a fork in the road. Alex Kane’s Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies guide book mentioned that there were three possible routes to the summit. The first is a longer hike that eventually connects to the east to west trail, a secondary approach bypassing the long hike but with a more vertical approach which connects to the east to west traverse, and finally the vertical hike that most rock climbers take to take the west way up. We decided to bypass the hike, take the more difficult approach to the face and continue across the east to west traverse.

It took us about an hour to reach the east end of the face, at this point we were a bit hungry so we stopped for a quick bite to eat before continuing on to the back side of the mountain traverse. Shortly after hiking on the back side of the mountain, we lost the trail due to a bit of snow and ice. Instead of looking for it we decided to just simply “go up” and began climbing a kilometer or two of loose rock, snow, and ice. This was the most physically taxing point of the ascent, by going this direction we changed the difficulty to more of a “moderate” scramble rather than Alex Kane’s rating of “easy”.

The crux (hardest point) of the scramble isn’t so much physically difficult, but it is psychologically. The scrambler must traverse a rocky ledge, with less than one foot of space and a 20-30 meter drop by hanging on to a fixed chain length. While this was no difficulty for us, I can see how difficult it might be for someone lacking confidence in their abilities, trust in the fixed gear, or not experienced travelling through exposure.

At 3:15pm we finally reached the summit, 45 minutes longer than Alex Kane’s expected time. We figure it was the result of our frequent stops for photo opportunities and brute force climbing the backside that put us behind. After signing the log book and having the rest of lunch, we did what no person has ever done before. We had a Diablo 3 LAN party at the top of a mountain.

I had forgotten my iPhone’s USB cable at home, so I was forced to tether to 3G over wifi, this resulted in a bit of a delay getting up and running and didn’t provide a very consistent connection. Our pings ranged from 300ms to 2000ms to timing out. However, it was enough to maintain a reasonable connection to Battle.Net (Diablo 3’s online service). After killing a few zombies in Nightmare Act I and posing for the camera we decided that with the high latency and glare on our screens wasn’t feasible enough to continue playing. We relaxed for a full hour on the summit before packing up our gear and descending.

On Yamnuska, the way down is significantly fast on the way up. The mountain is covered in scree, small loose rock that allows the climber to run down at full speed and glide to the base of the mountain. We made a large error on our descent, we hit the scree slope too early and ended up trekking through the bush for a few hours. At this point I was exhausted and disappointed in ourselves for screwing up, I was really looking forward to the epic scree run but once we ended up at the parking lot all my anger went away and I was happy to be able to sit down in my comfy car seat.

I was browsing reddit.com the following day and noticed a post in /r/gaming titled “This is how my Dad plays Diablo 3”, which featured an older man playing with a cat in his lap. The post had received over a thousand up-votes and I thought “Hey, I can do better than that”. I posted a few pictures from our ascent to the same subreddit with the title “Mom told us to go play outside, so we did. Playing Diablo 3 on top of Mt. Yamnuska”. It was an instant hit, in little over an hour it made the front page of r/gaming and a few hours later it was promoted to #15 on the reddit.com frontpage. We were internet famous.

I spent most of the day replying to comments in the thread. Users were wondering what speeds we were getting, what type of hardware we were using, etc. A few comments were highly entertaining as well, my favorite was “Throw that shitty Apple product off the ledge”. OSX gamers aren’t treated with much respect in /r/gaming, good thing I mainly game on my desktop!

The imgur album has since received over 4 million views with over a terabyte of bandwidth used. My picture was featured on kotaku.com in the Diablo 3 section, as well as justD3 and a Norwegian IT website. It also inspired a gentleman in the armed forces serving in Afghanistan to make a similar post of his own.

Yamuska was a lot of fun. If you ever get the opportunity to climb it, or any mountain, take it! You won’t regret it.