Ice Climbing in the Canadian Rockies

If Ice Climbing is your thing then read on, Neil Allamby, British climber and outdoor education specialist gives some insights on Ice climbing in the Rockies. Neil is also a member of the Alaska Mountain Bike expedition to cycle across the Alaskan IceFields.

The captivating wilderness and the immense quality of climbing on offer makes ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies a real climbers paradise. Couple the accesability, diversity and the wide range of climbs to suit all standards and you have a place that is probably without equal.

The guarantee of finding climable ice, no matter what the conditions means that over the first few days your fitness and confidence are sure to increase. Match these gains with a little bit of thought on developing your technique and you will very quickly find yourself ready to take on some of the longer, classic routes, of which there are an abundance.

I experienced the thrill of climbing some of these routes during a two week trip this Easter. Only the week before I had been struggling up a wet, thawing Aladdins Mirror Direct in the Cairngorms, wondering where the attraction of ice climbing lay!.

The first piece of advice I would give is to suggest you purchase a copy of the excellent guidebook Waterfall Ice: Climbs in the Canadian Rockies by Joe Josephson. In addition to the relevant detail on routes and grades the guide is packed with lots of other useful information.Neil climbing the last pitch of Professors Falls, grade III, tech 4.

The grades by the way are probably a grade harder than their Scottish equivalent, especially in the middle grades. In other words, a Canadian technical grade 3 would more likely equate to a Scottish grade 4, though the ice will in most cases be of better quality. Whether this holds true in the higher grades is something you will have to discover for yourselves.

In a normal year, if there is such a thing, the climbing season extends from early November through until early April. March is probably the most friendly month with longer days, warmer temperatures and softer ice. You will probably find the trails to the routes to be well trodden by this time of year. Having said this, after a snowfall or for those routes further into the wilderness Skis or Snowshoes are definitely recommended.

On the subject of equipment, you'd be well advised on current exchange rates to buy your technical equipment once you have arrived in Canada. The Mountain Equipment Co-Op on 10th Avenue in Calgary has a wide selection of gear at very competitive prices. The 1:200,000 Banff, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks maps give good overviews of most of the climbing areas and will allow you to get a feel of distances and scale.

There are a number of hostels along the main highway between Canmore and Jasper which are reasonably priced for those with an IYHA membership. The Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) Clubhouse, just outside Canmore is recommended as a first stopover, as you should be able to get up-to-date information on the current conditions. Bookings can be made by writing to the main ACC office, Box 2040, Canmore, Alberta, Canada, T0l 0M0. Tel 403-678-3200.

What about the down side of climbing in Canada? Well firstly, the danger of being avalanched is very real, with a majority of the climbs being at least partially threatened by avalanches. Commonsense, experience and references to the guidebooks will go a long way to reducing risks. Secondly, medical care in Canada is expensive, so make sure you are properly insured for all eventualities. It will save on the second mortgage.

Start making plans for next winter, you won't be disappointed.

The top picture is Neil on the last pitch of Professor Falls, 280 metres and graded III with a tech grade of 4. The lower picture is Melt Out 100 metres and graded III with a tech grade of 3.