As the plane taxied toward the terminal at Calgary the pilot happily announced that the temperature outside was minus sixteen degrees Celsius.
“That’s doable,” I thought. I did have a vague recollection of someone saying that it could get really cold and it can screw up the climbing. Well it did and it did.
Is minus 33 degrees cold enough? It was for us and believe me it makes for hard days and a serious risk of frostbite and if you are really unlucky Death. In a three week period we experienced everything from extreme cold to a thaw at plus 18 degrees C and very high avalanche hazard on all slope aspects.
We did see some superb ice climbs, we even managed to climb some of them but all in all it was a very frustrating and expensive trip.
Even taking into account the Post Brexit devaluation of the pound Canada, or at least Canmore and Banff, were expensive.
$18 for a burger, surely not? well that is the average and don’t expect anything memorable. Mid priced eateries in this part of Canada seem to have followed the American model of serving total crap, in every respect, and pretending it is food.
What’s the Climbing Like?
The routes we did climb were sensational and the ones we stood at the bottom of while they melted over us were quite impressive too.
Without a doubt the Grades are a bit stiff. A 3/4 here would be a five in Scotland and a 4 in the Alps. The grade fives here are the real deal, unremittingly vertical for long distances with no easy rests.
Expect to do a lot of driving as many of the best routes are a long way from accommodation.
This is an excellent article which gives far more information. https://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=8836
Top Tips for an ice climbing trip to Canada
Hire an AWD of 4WD vehicle and make sure you have winter tires. If you are aiming to go to The Ghost get a vehicle with high clearance.
Expect to do a lot of driving.
Waterfall Ice Climbs in the Canadian Rockies by Joe Josephson is the guide to get, it’s currently out of print so beg, borrow or steal a copy. Try every trick you can think of to get a copy, you will need it.
If you can only lay your hands on the “Ice Lines” by Brent Peters only God can help you. In a lifetime of climbing this is the worst guidebook I have ever come across. It is full of typo errors, photos wrongly attributed and many other sins. It is just awful and possession of it will make your trip harder than it should be.
The walk in to Professor Falls is easy
Use three pairs. One for walking in with. A thick pair for belaying and a thinner pair for climbing. When climbing keep the pair you are not using inside your jacket against your chest. That way they will be nice and warm when you put them on. This system is a must if the temperatures are in minus double figures. Frostbite is not nice.
Take a huge dose of avalanche paranoia with you, many good climbs are in serious avalanche territory. A lot of the climbs are relatively low down on large mountains and the huge slab laden slopes that are waiting to kill you are not immediately apparent. Get the app “Canadian Avalanche” and use it, it may save your life. Talk to local guides and ask them what is and isn’t in. They will generally not give you definitive answers, who can? but they will steer you in the right direction. But at the end of the day it is up to you.
You do not want to be like the two climbers who, during our visit, they had a miraculous escape on Polar Circus.
Having read what they had to say I think the worst that can be said is they made a poor judgement and haven’t we all done that?
Take plenty. Twelve or more for longer routes. If two belays are using four that only leaves eight and plenty of pitches are 60 metres, that leaves you with one screw every 7 – 8 metres. Think about it.