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Canadian Classics
by Will Gadd, photos Roger Chayer

Canada ice climbing

Chris Shubert climbing Expert's Choice, WI 6, Waterton, photo Roger Chayer

Terminator Wall
After 100km you will reach the mountains and Canmore. Just after Canmore the massive Terminator wall will be visible on your left, high above the town of Banff. This always dark wall is home to many dead-vertical, grade six and seven routes such as Sea of Vapors, the Terminator, and Replicant. The walk up isn't too bad, and you may see a moose or two in the woods. You will also seem some Elk, but the bears sleep all winter so don't worry about them, the climbs will be your main problem.

Cascade Falls
On the other side of Banff is Cascade Falls, one of the sunniest, best routes in the world-plus its only 20 minutes from the car. Cascade isn't hard, grade four at most, but no trip to Canada will be complete without a tour up its 300m length. I often solo it for an afternoon workout, and each time I revel in the position and beauty. It can be crowded on the weekends, but its usually empty on the weekdays. During the 50km drive west from Banff to Lake Louise you will pass many more great routes. If you drive at night you'll miss seeing the routes, but watch out for the elk, they are almost invisible. The 90km an hour speed limit will make more sense the first time a herd of massive elk appears in your headlights! Make sure to visit the hot springs in Banff for an apres-climb soak.

Lake Louise has Louise Falls, surely another of the best routes I've ever climbed. The third pitch is a steep pillar of beautiful blue ice; swinging your tools up this pillar is a defining moment in anyone's life. After the climb you can relax with a beer or hot chocolate at the Chateau Lake Louise and decide where to go next; straight west toward Field and the "beer climbs," or north toward Jasper along the Icefields Parkway. It's a big decision and good things await in either direction.

Field
The climbs around Field have short approaches (less than an hour), and offer a great variety of climbs. Field is on the western side of the Rockies, and is usually significantly warmer than Banff or Lake Louise. While some climbers enjoy -30 climbing, most will head for Field where it should be warmer. Pilsner Pillar is a 30m free-standing icicle, and there are many mixed routes in the area also.

Weeping Wall
The Icefields Parkway is perhaps the most amazing road I've ever driven. Any climber will have a case of whiplash from eyeballing the possibilities along its 200km length, and more than one person has driven into the snow-filled ditches while looking at the routes. 100km from Lake Louise is the Weeping Wall, a vertical football field low and soaring smears of ice above the tree-covered ledge. To the right is Polar Circus (Italy's Ezio Marlier was the first to free solo all of this route), which offers 400m of excellent climbing. On any sunny day there will be many parties on both routes, but there is more than enough terrain to accommodate many climbers. These routes see a lot of traffic because they have the shortest approaches in the Rockies: five minutes!

Another 30km up the Icefields Parkway looms Slipstream, an 800m route riding a a beautiful prow of rock. Every climber will dream of this route, but few will see the reality: it's a long approach and descent with serious glacier travel and other hazards, but if it's in good condition and you climb it then the memories will make the flight home a short one! Just after the Columbia Icefields look up right for Curtain Call, a stellar three-pitch line only 45 minutes from the car. If you like mixed, try Stage Right, a wild M7 with excellent gear that joins the final pillar. Even if you don't climb anything, the 250km drive up the Icefields Parkway is simply one of the best in the world. At the end of the Parkway lies the town of Jasper and Maligne Canyon.

Ghost River
The above areas will keep you busy for weeks, but I'll recommend a few other places just in case. For a uniquely Canadian experience, rent a 4WD vehicle at the Calgary airport and explore the Ghost River climbing. The climbs here, such as the Sorcerer, Hydrophibia and the easy but incredible This House of Sky, offer wild climbing in a remote setting.

While the climbs are awesome, the "four wheeling" approach is almost more fun! The avalanche hazard is generally low in the Ghost, so it's a good bet if there have been big storms or conditions are otherwise high risk. If you have randonee skis or the trail is in good shape, the Stanley headwall on the Radium Highway has Nemesis, Acid Howl and many other wild alpine classic routes. All of these areas are well-covered in Waterfall Ice: Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, available at almost any bookstore in Calgary, Banff or Lake Louise.


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Canada ice climbing
Sorcerer, WI 5, Ghost River, photo Roger Chayers
Season
It's possible to climb ice from October through late April, but the best months for classics are November and late February to the end of March. The snowpack is generally more stable, the days are longer and the temperatures reasonable.
Canada ice climbing
Travel
Fly into Calgary (any other city is too far away), there are many flights from Europe. Check on the web for deals on 4WD car rentals at the airport, they are usually reasonable (less than $300/week).
Kim Caizmazia, The Curtain, photo Roger Chayers
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