Monday, February 6, 2017

Ice Climbing in the Canadian Rockies

Maybe the one downside to living in California is the lack of good ice climbing. It does exists up in Sequoia and in Lee Vining, but all the avalanche hazards have kept me away so far. I had originally planned to go climbing in Ouray Colorado, but escalating plane ticket costs put that trip on the shelf. 

Kyle and his buddy Cory (good name) were going to be in the Canadian Rockies for 10-14 days of ice climbing, and I managed to find a super cheap last minute plane ticket to Calgary. So took the plunge bought the ticket. I LOVE the Rockies, so underrated by American climbers, they have no idea what they are missing. 
As a bonus I got to see Kyle on his birthday!

Ice climbing fun! - Photo credit - Cory McFarlane

I flew into Calgary late in the night after teaching, rented a car and drove to Canmore to meet Kyle and Cory at the Hostel Bear.

Our lovely private room in the Hostel
We had a reasonable start in the morning (on the road by 9 am) and hiked in to tackle my first, and primary objective of the trip, Professor Falls. The climb is on the east face of Mt. Rundle near Banff, is about 300 meters tall, consisting of 4-5 pitches of tiered ice climbing up a draining. It looked spectacular!

The first few pitches of professor falls
The approach was an easy 5 miles through the Banff golf course and then along the base of Mt. Rundle. Along the way we found a very large herd of Elk grazing at the golf course!

Which way do we go?

Golf course approach

Hiking along the Bow river
We found the climb, and amazingly no one else was there. Its one of the most popular ice climbs in the entire Rockies, so it was a big shock to have it to ourselves.

Ready to go - Dr. Cory (Ph.D), Kyle and Dr. Cory (MD)
Kyle and Cory did block leads up the climb. It has a series of 30-60 meter vertical ice pillars separated by short walks up the drainage. Really neat climbing. A fun way to climb almost 300 meters of ice, but with low commitment and exposure. 

Start of the climb

Cory leading the 1st pitch

It was really enjoyable, not very cold (maybe -7C?) great views and really fun, interesting ice. Being a ice climbing gumby, it was plenty challenging for me. 

Cory somewhere on Professor falls

Close up - Nice foot work Cory!

Typical views
We eventually got to the final money pitch. A very nice looking WI3+/4- ice pillar. Super fun - and really hard for me!

Kyle admiring the final pitch of Professor falls

Approaching the final pitch of Professor Falls. 
What a great day! We repelled the route, and walked out. On the way we saw a very large Bull Elk, with a very impressive rack of antlers. He looked like the king of Mt. Rundle. I could get a good photo, but what an impressive beast!

We were back at the car before dark, and off the the pub to celebrate our terrific day, and Kyle's birthday

crappy photo of a very impressive bull Elk.

Done for the day. Back in Banff and our car. 
Back at the hostel we dried our gear, had some beers, and relaxed. 

Kyle's custom drying rack - driven into the fireplace with pitons. Classy.

The next day, the weather took a turn for the worse. It got colder and the snow began to dump. The result was very high avalanche danger, which really limited what we could climb. So we headed out towards Golden, BC and climbed a nice road-side ice climb.
The climbing was fun, 2 long pitches, the first being much harder than it looked. I ended up totally pumping out!

Walking next the the avalanche barrier on the highway

Approaching the day's objective
Roadside ice

1st pitch.
I didn't take as many pictures on the other 2 days of the trip. Its difficult to snap photos with frozen hands and the snow falling.

Full on gear drying going on here

Some sort of weird hand massage? I didn't ask
On the final day, more cold, more snow. We headed into Kananaskis country for some shorter ice climbs in a canyon. It was a long hike in. This was the first time things were busy, there were quite a few climbers. We eventually found a nice WI3/3+ line to climb which turned out to be pretty fun

Snowy approach

Cool climb
Overall a super-fun, but short trip. Its always really nice to see Kyle, and it was nice to meet Cory, who ended up being a very nice super psyched climber. I also really like getting in some ice climbing and going back to the Rockies!

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