Scaling Frozen Waterfalls
So many waterfalls and ice floes cling to the mountainsides in the stretch of the Canadian Rockies between Canmore and Jasper, the biggest decision you’ll have to make is where to climb. The beauty of this region is that so many of the frozen waterfalls are easily reached. There’s no need to trek for long distances, and that may be one of the reasons climbers from all over the globe show up here.
Canmore, a small town about 100km (62 miles) north of Calgary, is where the hardcore climbers gather. Within a 100km (62-mile) radius, there are plenty of places to climb. Climbing guides at Yamnuska (see below), a local mountaineering shop, offer the following ice climbs.
The shop’s guides take beginning climbers who want lessons to nearby Junkyards, one big ice flow frozen at a moderately steep angle. Another popular spot, where the ice climbs tend to be grade 4 and higher, is the mountainside around the town of Field, just west of Lake Louise. The narrow Johnston Canyon has a mix of beginner to advanced ice climbs along one wall. If you want to drive along the scenic Icefields Parkway, which links Lake Louise and Jasper, there are several popular climbs including Polar Circus and The Weeping Wall, which has several different lines. Waterfall Ice by Joe Josephson, published by Rocky Mountain Books, is a comprehensive reference to ice climbing in this region.
Ice climbing is a popular sport in the Canadian Rockies.
No matter where you climb, it is vital to check current avalanche conditions and the avalanche forecast before heading out. Park Canada says, “Ice climbing is an inherently dangerous sport. Poor protection and the varied quality of ice require a great degree of experience and judgment to be managed safely. Avalanches are common in the drainage features where ice climbs often occur.” In addition, always let someone know where you are going to climb.
Conditions for ice climbing are fairly consistent from year to year. It may be possible to go ice climbing at higher elevations in November and in shady locations into April. Again, always familiarize yourself with the weather conditions and check in with local experts about climbing conditions.
This region is a favorite with people who enjoy cold-weather sports. Cross-country trails thread the region, including more than 60 kilometers (37 miles) out of the Canmore Nordic Center (www.canmorenordic.com), which was developed for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. Several ski areas are within an hour’s drive of here, including Nakiska (www.skinakiska.com) and the larger resorts of Sunshine Village (www.skibanff.com) and Lake Louise (www.skilouise.com). You can also race along trails through the woods on a dog sled. Banff (www.banff.ca), a popular tourist destination with hot springs in the heart of Banff National Park (pc.gc.ca), is about a half-hour away. —LF
Tourism Canmore ( 866/CANMORE [226-6673]; www.tourismcanmore.com). Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, 200–50 Lincoln Park ( 866/678-4164 or 403/678-4164; www.yamnuska.com). Canada Guide Association (www.acmg.ca).
When to Go: Dec–Feb.
$$–$$$ Delta Lodge, 1 Centennial Dr., Kananaskis Village ( 888/890-3222 or 403/591-7711; www.deltahotels.com). $$$ Fairmont Banff Springs, 405 Spray Ave. ( 866/540-4406 or 403/762-2211; www.fairmont.com/banffsprings).