Canada Ice Climbing Blog - by Jaz Morris and Frazer Attrill
We have included a link to the best photos of the trip below. Even if you are not a Facebook user you can click on the photo selection and see all the photos. Scoll down the page to see both the FB album and a short video of 10 classic Canadian ice climbs. Scroll down to the bottom of the page if you want to see our tips for staying in the Rockies and a gear list we used for the trip.
Day Thirty (30 Jan 2015) - This was my last full day on the trip (I'm sad to say). While I didn't realise at the time Whiteman falls would be the last big climb of my trip, we woke up in the morning feeling well and truly shattered. In saying that there is no way I could complain! I had 3 goals for the trip: Get better at climbing ice, climb a WI5 and climb a S@#% tonne of ice. All of those goals have been well and truly achieved! And we had a real blast along the way. I just want to thank Dan, Jaz, Rose, Ben and Al for making the trip what it was, Joyanne for letting us stay in her cabin and the Alpine Team for making it all happen! So that's guys and girls it's been awesome! (hopefully there may be a final up date from Ben)
Day Twenty-Nine (29 Jan 2015) - It was Bens day and he wanted to do "Whiteman falls" (WI6) so that's were we went. For the record the idea that every ice climb in canada is right next to the car, and 'belaying out the car window", is well and truly dead. The approach was 5km along a closed road followed by some swift soloing up the lower falls of a narrow slot canyon, however the protracted walk in was well worth it! Whiteman falls was a fantastic looking pillar. Ben took the first pitch and despite it's mellow look, he had a real fight his hands. The main line was a completely fresh piece of ice and Ben had to smash his way up the whole thing and it was deceptively steep to add to the WI6 grade. Al and I followed up, then Al started up the next pitch. It was a stunning pitch with amazing bridging and even an ice chimney which made the general overhang of the pitch manageable. Then with a massive "whoppp!" Al pulled over the crux bulge and finished soon after. Despite only 2 pitches the route took all day and we only got back to the deck at 5pm! Once again an amazing climb in an incredible location!
Day Twenty-Eight (28 Jan 2015) - The temps have dropped and normal service has been resumed. Ruari and I headed for Carlsberg Column (WI5), Al and Ben went to Pilsner Pillar (WI6). Ben and Al dispatched with Pilsner swiftly and without incident, in the words of Ben Dare "F@#$ing awesome!". Carlsberg also went down a treat, Ruari and I swung leads. I took the main pitch of WI5 which was a push for me but really pleasantly hooked out, and Rauri took the next pitch. He did a fantastic job for someone who says he isn't confident on WI4, he cruised up! The final pitch, while only a WI4, was short and staunch with fresh ice and provided a classy end to the day! On rappel we came across Ben wandering around above the first pitch, turns out he'd just soloed the main pitch of 5 which was a fantastic effort given the feeling of exposure the route offers. An Incredible day had by all!
Day Twenty-Seven (27 Jan 2015) - The trip has taken a turn into the bizarre, with another day in the low teens, me and Ruari MacFarlen decided to go rock climbing! Despite leaving late we headed to Yamnuska and decided on easy street, (5.6, 5 pitches). While it wasn't much beyond scrambling it was good to get hand on rock and Ruari made for good company on a striking piece of rock, even if it wasn't the medium I was expecting to be using!
Day Twenty-Six (26 Jan 2015) - Once again the chinook was howling and getting out of the car in Canada, in January, in 12 degree's on the premise of going ice climbing is never a comfortable feeling. But we set off in the direction of the mixed lines at the head of grotto canyon. The walk in was on a spookily frozen river and the head of the valley revealed some decidedly delaminated ice pillars, not looking to great. Fortunately Grotto Falls (50m WI3) was fat enough to still be in ok condition so after a quick solo we headed off while the going was good. The unbelievably warm weather is messing with our plans a bit however there is hope in the weather forecast that it will cool down towards the end of the week.
Day Twenty-Five (25 Jan 2015) - We've moved into friend of a friends place (Joyanne) who has very generously offered to put us up for the next week in her cabin which is awesome! The weather really has become wild with the temperature in Canmore hitting 11 degrees today! However we were desperate to climb so we set out regardless. We settled for R and D a 55m WI4 in the shade and after our most involved snow wade of the trip it was my turn to take the lead. It was pretty challenging and thin in places but felt really good. Al and Ben made short work of it and we headed back to town to find town seemingly tropical with much of the snow no where to be seen!
Day Twenty-Four (24 Jan 2015) - Unfortunately the snow piled up through the night and into the night, which produced high avalanche risks across a number of elevations. As a result we bailed back Canmore. Considering we had been in Canada for 2 weeks now it's pretty good to have only one day of bad weather.
Day Twenty (20 Jan 2015) - In the morning Dan and Jaz packed their bags and headed to Calgary, this then left Ben, Al and myself (Frazer) in lake louise for the next 2 weeks. Even more worryingly me in charge of the blog, applogies in advance for any more teething problems. Me, Ben and Al started out in the morning to climb pilsner pillar (WI6) which Dan climbed with Jaz and Rose earier in the trip, however the plan was vetoed by a member of canadian avalanche control, who came running up to the base of the climb to inform us that control work was going on later in the day. After a re-group, we switched focus to johnson canyon and the 40m, WI3-5 located there. Unfortunately the main cliff was in the beating sun so we settled for a more delicate line in the shade, dispite the poor ice Ben lead the pitch well and I seconded the pitch clean. Due to the late start we only had time for the single climb and a trip into canmore to get supplies for us shifting base up to rampart creek tomorrow.
Day Thirteen (13 Jan 2015). Today we took a rest day before heading up to Rampart Creek tomorrow to climb on the Weeping Wall again, and hopefully Polar Circus. Meanwile Team FAB got on Twisted (WI5) which Rose and I climbed a few days back. It sounds like they had a grand old time, even including a very social hanging belay for three, 3/4 of the way up the crux pitch (Ben had run out of ice screws). Frazer led the first pitch and is starting to enjoy things, and is by all accounts improving rapidly! Allan led the final WI4 pitch and reckoned the route was an excellent line.
Day Twelve (12 Jan 2015). It seems we are enjoying an excellent weather spell at the moment because today was balmy and clear all day. It's a great spell of climbing going on as well! Today Team FAB (Frazer, Allan and Ben) climbed Carlsberg Column (WI5), which saw Frazer do his first lead of the trip (a good WI3) and Ben Dare finally get into the action, leading the final WI4 pitch. Allan Uren was the man of the hour though, leading the crux and claiming "it was alright if you like that sort of thing" (that is exactly the sort of thing Allan likes).
Meanwhile, following an unpleasant hour's grovel up loose snow to the start of the route, Dan found fat conditions on the first pitch of the super-classic Pilsner Pillar (WI6), putting in a solid lead before embarking on a variable and creative second (crux) pitch. In order to avoid stepping out on badly aerated vertical ice, an alternative was found that involved a creative piece of icicle speleology. Nice work Dan to get up a solid WI6! Rose and Jaz were grateful for the belay assistance on the crux pitches but both put in good leads on the upper pitch, including a wet and tricky pitch of 4+ right at the top.
Day Eleven - (11 Jan 2015). Today was a great day for the team with some great climbing by all. We headed back to Field, BC and enjoyed the best conditions of the trip so far (balmy -5°C and no snow). Rose and I climbed Carlsberg Column (WI5) and I was stoked to lead the crux pitch (30m pure vertical ice) for my first WI5 lead. Rose led a good pitch of WI4 to complete the route. Meanwhile on Castle Kronenburg (sp?) (WI6) Dan and Jim Elzinga also had a good day, while Al and Frazer climbed Guinness Gully (WI4) in the next drainage over. Tomorrow we are heading back to Field to have a look at Pilsner Pillar (WI6). We are looking forward to Ben Dare making an appearance after his travel insurance kindly allowed him to replace some of his gear lost in transit to Canada. Calgary airport is cursed!
Days Seven-Ten (7-10 Jan 2015)
A big few days!
Day Seven - Weeping Wall! We departed Jasper and headed for the Weeping Wall, one of the world's most famous ice climbs and one of our top priorities. Despite the long drive along the Icefields Parkway we were first to the wall and had our choice of route. With Dan fired up for a good day we picked the Central Pillar route, the most direct line on the lower Weeping Wall and 3-4 pitches up to WI5+. Dan led the first 80m up to a cave belay before setting off on the Pillar - a sustained pitch with 30m of vertical, chandeliered ice. We were nervous just seconding! From the crux pitch it was one more fun pitch to the large terrace between the upper and lower Weeping Wall. We retired to the excellent Rampart Creek hostel nearby, much better equipped than we'd expected.
Day Eight - Rose and Jaz send WI4! we were back to the Weeping Wall with Rose and I aiming for the Right Hand route (WI5) but sadly we weren't the first to arrive and had to settle for the Left Hand route instead. Finally WI4 has gone down - we had an excellent day and it was awesome to get up the four pitches of the wall under our own steam. Meanwhile, Dan joined locals Ian Welsted and Alik Berg for an ascent of the lower and upper Weeping Wall in a day. Before Rose and I had got very far the three of them were at the top of the lower wall and en route for the Weeping Pillar (WI6). They reached the top at a similar time to us but had a lot farther to abseil - this caused complications when Rose and I were unable to find the car keys Dan had hidden. Thanks to Ken the warden at Rampart Creek for giving us a ride back to the hostel so we wouldn't freeze!
Day Nine - rest day, Calgary gear purchasing spree and picking up the rest of the team. After hours on the phone to Emirates and the various dodgy satellite companies to whom the buck was passed, Rose finally got her pack which was lost en route to Canada. After various members of Calgary airport staff were unable to offer help, the pack was located sitting idly against the wall in the Customs arrival area. It had been there over a week. Very shoddy job from the airlines and probably the pack would have been lost in the ether had Rose not insisted on personally searching the airport for it! Meanwhile Ben Dare was having his own baggage problems - arriving with Al Uren and Frazer Attrill but without his pack. Lame!
Day Ten - to Field with Jim Elzinga from the American Alpine Mentors group. A fortunate encounter saw Dan arrange a day climbing with local legend Jim Elzinga, who has been involved with Steve House's Alpine Mentors group from America. He took us over to Field, BC, where Rose and I got on 'Twisted' (WI5), above the Canadian Pacific Railway at Kicking Horse Pass (on Mt Stephen) as he and Dan went up an unknown mixed route to the right. Dan and Jim had great fun on a tricky route with very thin ice and poor gear. On 'Twisted,' Rose did an awesome job leading the sustained vertical crux pitch, much harder than anything we've led so far and our first WI5! Running out of screws she reached a welcome belay before I finished the route with a pitch of wet WI4. One week ago we were both completely gripped on a lesser pitch with pre-placed screws at Haffner Creek - now we are feeling solid on way harder terrain! It really is amazing how quickly you can improve climbing every day and getting some mileage under your belt.
Tomorrow we are heading back to Field with the rest of the team - we are looking forward to some good social climbing and I'm pretty keen to get a WI5 lead done for the trip as well (under penalty of beer purchase).
Day Six (6 Jan 2015)
It has been puking snow here in Jasper and everything is getting a good covering of amazing dry sugary powder. What this means for climbing is a slight reduction in the enthusiasm for long or unknown approaches. Subsequently the WAD Valley will go unclimbed by us on this trip, and instead today we ventured into 'Bullshit Canyon' (aka Gorby Canyon) to scratch our way up some short harder climbs. Dan led a good M6 dry tooling route before giving Rose and I a lesson in climbing thin delicate ice pillars, which involves delicately chipping each tool placement, rather than the usual brutal whack of the ice axe. The reason for this became obvious when we reached an obvious fracture in the pillar about 3m up. No point placing gear below here, and if you hit it too hard the whole thing will collapse!
It looks like the weather is finally going to warm up so tomorrow we are heading back south along the Icefields Parkway to the Weeping Wall before heading to meet the rest of the team in Calgary on the 9th. Probably no more updates till then, so wish us luck for a couple of nice days on some very cool climbing terrain.
Day Five (5 Jan 2015)
This morning we headed off to find the WAD Valley, near Jasper and a little way past the Maligne Canyon. Despite taking care with the guidebook's navigating advice, and following a boot trail up terrain just like the guidebook decribed, we found ourselves grovelling uphill for over an hour to reach a rather underwhelming (although good for the grade) 60m flow of WI2 ice. Hang on - we could do that at the Remarkables in NZ! After talking with locals we have decided that we were not in the right location (but can't have been far off) so will try again tomorrow.
While Dan soloed, I led the route, deciding that WI2 is basically maximum calf-strain angle. At the moment we are working on being able to second quickly (with a toprope, after all!) and Rose and Dan (self-belaying) raced up the pitch to meet me at the anchor. After deciding either we hadn't found the WAD or that if we had, the routes weren't in condition, we headed back to the Maligne Canyon for a quick lap each.
Only five days ago we were shivering and swearing about -18°C temperatures but after climbing yesterday in -25°C and below, today almost felt warm! The difference in the way the ice behaves is really obvious between the two temperatures as well. Yesterday we basically couldn't swing axes, only place them, whereas today was a lot more straightforward with decent sticks and none of the 'fingernails on a blackboard' squeak to it. The canyon was fairly busy today so we didn't have many climbing options, but Dan led the 'Queen Curtain' (WI4) to the right of yesterday's route. Rose and I also managed to lead the route on Dan's pre-placed screws. Our first proper WI4 lead can't be far away now!
Day Four (4 Jan 2015)
6am saw the three of us enact a highly efficient escape from the hostel at Lake Louise with designs on an early start on the Weeping Wall, 1.5-2 hours drive along the Icefields Parkway. We enjoyed a stunning drive watching the temperature on the car's dashboard slowly drop. -30°C, the low point of the gauge, occured at our approximate destination. Subsequently our motivation for scratching and shattering our way up three pitches of brittle ice with frozen feet, frozen hands and frozen noses deteriorated. The only sensible decision was to change plan.
With a stunning morning for driving we pushed on past the amazing glaciers on either side of the road, marvelling at Mt Athabasca and Mt Andromeda to reach Jasper, another 2 hours on. En route we were able to see good fat ice conditions on some of our objectives for later in the trip - 'Polar Circus,' 'Curtain Call' and the Weeping Wall. Sadly 'Mixed Master' looks way too thin. In Jasper, we were enticed by the prospect of the Maligne Canyon, which promised several 30m routes up to WI4. Perfect for a cold day (to be fair, Jasper was warmer, at -25°C). But what a stunning place the canyon is! A 10m wide, 30m deep slot with great ice features cascading down to the frozen streambed at the base of the canyon. We tested the squeaky and brittle ice on 'The Queen' (WI4) before deciding the ice was good enough for us to each lead a pitch or two. For ease of access on a frigid day, the canyon offers fun ice routes in a great setting.
We are now writing from our rather comfortable bed and breakfast. So much for the hostel (glorified hut) along the highway that we'd planned. That can wait for later in the week when it warms up to -10°C or so!
Day Three (3 Jan 2015)
Snowfall, wind and bitterly cold temperatures saw us take a rest in preparation for some big days ahead. We are heading up to the Columbia Icefields area and will be without internet access for a few days before heading to Jasper. The forecast is for more cold but perhaps a little sunshine as we head for routes on the Weeping Wall, and hopefully 'Mixed Master' nearby. Today we used the opportunity to stock up on food, more thermos flasks and more gloves. Wish us luck, or warmth, or both!
Day Two (2 Jan 2015)
We headed up to Haffner Creek to try to get a large number of short ice laps under our belt. Rose led off on a nice short WI4 but she and I found the climb rather steep and it took a while to get comfortable on it. With all day and plenty of other teams using the other available ice routes we did plenty of laps of the same climb and eventually managed to get a little more comfortable on the route.
Meanwhile Dan found some locals and ended up with some good flashes of the local mixed routes (M6-M7 ish), involving climbing steep rock then bridging out to freehanging ice pillars (very impressive). Meanwhile our WI4 was getting us more and more saturated (note to self - if you are going to dog an ice climb, pick a dry one), and we are feeling pretty tired now. Tomorrow is meant to get to -24°C and snow quite a bit - time for a rest day perhaps?
Day One - New Year's Day 2015
Rose, Dan and I got into Calgary last night and after some car rental issues (Dan neglected to pack his driver's licence, so sorry Rose but you are now the full time trip chauffer). We headed straight up to Lake Louise, past Canmore and Banff. We all declined to partake in the New Year's festivities at the hostel but were bemused when Rose was reprimanded for waking someone's toddlers up downstairs whilst sharpening her crampons in our room (not quite sure who takes their children to a hostel and puts them to bed before 10.30pm on NYE).
This morning we headed up and climbed the Lake Louise Falls (110m, WI4-5). Conditions are pretty cold, the car thermometer read -18°C in the morning but happily it warmed up to -14°C during the day today. Nice. Things here have been fairly dry and there isn't much snow, which suits us well and the falls were in pretty good condition today. We'd got up early to beat the crowd, which was handy as three or four other parties turned up later. I drew the first lead and spent a fair amount of time on a full 60m WI3+ pitch with Dan soloing a different line and offering some handy advice. Dan led the somewhat wet crux pitch with ease, normally WI5, but hooked out enough by previous climbers to take the strain off. Rose led the third short pitch to a handy walk off spot - it's a classic route with just the right amount of difficulty for a great start to the trip!
One of the most important things about the first day of the trip is getting a feel for the right amount of gear to take and how cold we are going to get in these conditions. Fortunately today we all kept warm and noone had the screaming barfies (aka hot aches). Little things like not sweating on the approach, keeping your gear dry and always putting on your belay jacket before you get cold make all the difference to a successful climbing day. We're all very happy with the gear we've received from Macpac for this trip. Dan and Rose are trying out a few new prototype base and shell layers, including a 200g waterproof anorak, which stood up a lot better to the dripping icicles today than my softshell... Rose is so excited about her new gear that she hasn't removed the tag from her belay jacket yet.
We used an all-wheel drive car with no snow tires, and had no trouble getting around. We actually found the Enterprise rental (link) at Calgary Airport to be good value at only $1330CAD for three weeks with full insurance. We were really impressed at their level of service/flexibility (after a nameless member of our team forgot his liscense).
We used quite a few wilderness hostels and found them to be really good value for money with a $200CAD seasons pass (link) giving you unlimited nights accommodation. This includes Rampart Creek hostel at the base of the weeping wall. We also used the Alpine Log House home-stay in Jasper, which provided welcome respite from the cold at a reasonable price (Phone: 780-8552-3930, Addr: 920 Bonhomme St). We found the Hi Hostels to provide excellent value for money. If your on a tight budget buy their annual pass for around 200$ which lets you stay unlimited nights at their wilderness hostels during the off season. This is perfect for ice climbing with hostels located near Castle Junction and Rampart Creek (Ice Fields Parkway) You also have the options of hostels at Lake Louise and Canmore. Note that most of the wilderness hostels don’t have showers but you can always sneak into the shower and sauna at Hi- Lake Louise if your passing through or having a meal there.
All hostels we stayed in on the trip had their own linen and cookware. No sleeping bags or jet boil required.
If your staying and climbing in any of the national parks you will need a national parks pass for your car. These cost around $130 CAD. An annual pass offers the best value for money if staying more than a couple of weeks.
Insurance – we all took Austrian Alpine Club membership. This provides cheap and effective rescue insurance. Most of us also purchased our flight tickets using a credit card that included travel insurance. Otherwise you could purchase your travel insurance separately. This works out significantly cheaper than purchasing insurance though the New Zealand Alpine Club. Worth noting the AAC insurance is not a full comprehensive cover so best to read the terms and conditions to make sure your happy with it before travel. Global rescue via the American Alpine Club is another option also worth checking out when comparing prices and cover options.
The Canada national parks service runs a good website and fb page with regular conditions and avalanche information updates. Grav Sports also has a great website where route conditions are updated regularly www.gravsports-ice.com
For gear its hard to go past MEC www.mec.ca however there are reasonable gear shops in both Banff and Canmore which will have most things you need for your trip.
Canadian Ice Climbing Gear List
Macpac Wrap LS
Macpac light weight hooded fleece (prototype version should be in store mid 2015)
Macpac thermal leggings
One piece thermal suit. Most of us use an OR one piece available from Bivouac in NZ. However Earth Sea Sky and Patagonia all make a similar version.
When layering we used either thermals , one piece and rain pants or just the one piece and soft shell pants.
A thermal balaclava and fleece beanie
Macpac Sonic wind shirt or soft shell jacket
Macpac mid weight Fleece non hooded
Optional Macpac Pulsar synthetic jacket hooded or non hooded synthetic. Another option could be a light down jacket i.e Macpac Supernova. This was only necessary for days when the temperature was sub -20. This extra layer is most useful if your visiting during the colder months of December and January. Mostly we did not need it.
Macpac prototype anorak. New shell in store late 2015. Lightweight with a great fit for climbing.
Macpac rain pants or soft shell pants.
We would recommend taking both hard shell pants and a hard shell jacket as many of the waterfalls will have wet pitches on them. Especially if you are visiting early or late in the season. If space is tight we suggest leaving your soft shells at home. Many of us climbed in hard shell pants and jackets for most of the trip and found these the most versatile.
Macpac Equinox down jacket
Never an easy thing to have the perfect glove combination. We recommend one pair of warm synthetic belay mitts, at least one cold weather leading glove i.e a BD Punisher or OR Alpine Alibi 2 in addition to both the belay and cold weather leading gloves one or two pairs that are slightly lighter leading gloves will be handy especially for long climbs where your hands might get wet on one of the pitches. A light pair of fleece gloves like the Macpac Stretch gloves are perfect for approaches and wearing around town on cold days.
Wax for gloves – regular waxing of your leather gloves will help them last longer and keep you dry during the trip.
Wax for boot zippers if you are using a boot with an integrated zip gaiter
12 x ice screws we prefer a rack of 1 long screw for V threads, 4 blue BD express screws, 5 yellow and 2 red stubby screws
Travel cases to protect your screws while travelling
V thread tool
2 x ice tools
Crampons. If possible having the options of mono and dual is ideal. This allows you to change out your crampon style depending on whether you are mixed or ice climbing.
12 quick draws usually including 4 x 60cm slings and 3 -6 screamers in the mix. In addition with 2 x 120cm slings for either anchors or slinging icicles are handy.
A set of quick draws for mixed climbing if you plan on doing bolted sport routes. You could also consider taking fruit boots if you plan on doing allot of mixed cragging however we found ourselves kept pretty busy with the pure ice climbs.
File for sharpening crampons and axes
Ice screw sharpener , Petzl make an excellent one
First aid kit
Travel adaptor for North American power outlets
North America power adaptor
Ice screw clippers for harnesses
Teathers for ice tools
Daisy Chain. We prefer the types that have full strength loops.
4 x locking carabineers per person. This allows you to have one for your atc, one for your daisy chain, and four for anchors, per two person rope team.
10m of 6-7mm cord for V threads
2 x 7.8 – 8.5mm half ropes suitable for ice climbing. We use the Tendon Master ropes and have found their dry treatment excellent. 60m ropes are essential really as many of the rappel lines are rigged for 60m ropes.
Perhaps a single set of cams, single set of nuts and single set of tri cams plus a couple of pitons per rope team. If your mostly climbing ice then a trad rack is not essential but it is handy for some of the climbs, especially if they are in thin condition.
40L ice climbing pack. We prefer the Macpac Alpine Series Pursuit
2 x 1L thermos
We found something around the weight of a Scarpa Phantom Guide, La Sporta Nepal Extreme is a suitable weight boot for winter cragging in Canada. If your planning on longer alpine routes you might like to take a heavier double boot like a Phantom Guide 6000.
Canmore has two supermarkets: Safeway and Save-on. We shopped at the Safeway, but apparently the Save-on has better sales. We also found the Rocky Mountain Bagel Company (link) to be an excellent source of bagels. $5CAD will buy a dozen day old bagels, which still tasted acceptable after almost a week.