Climbing the (Frozen) Walls
During the winter you can walk on water in Jasper National Park’s Maligne Canyon. It’s frozen, so you’re treading on ice as you stroll on the Maligne River, guarded by high limestone walls. Along the way, you’ll see ice climbers challenging the cascades of ice that are waterfalls in the summertime. This frosty cold playground is a haven for winter ice climbers.
If you’re an avid rock climber in warm weather, try ice climbing. It’s a wintertime extreme sport that will have you inching up ice-sheathed cliffs, rock slabs, and frozen waterfalls using ropes, belays, and other climbing gear. Ice climbing isn’t for the timid. It requires training and endurance.
On your climb, you may find yourself straddling the flows on the Queens Curtain, which sprawls out in multi-tiered layers cascading downward from the canyon’s rim. The neighboring Queen is instantly recognizable because the bottom portion is a free-standing column with a very thick base. Because it’s one of the most popular ice climbs, top-roping (a practice in which fellow climbers leaves ropes anchored for other climbers to use) is common on the weekends. The Last Wall is a large sheet of ice downstream from the Queen that often has enough room for two people to climb at the same time.
Throughout Jasper National Park a wide variety of ice-climbing routes from long alpine ice routes to short bolted mix and dry tooling routes are available. Connect with Parks Canada (www.pc.gc.ca) and local ice climbers, such as the folks at Gravity Gear (see below), about local conditions and guide service if you are going to climb Maligne Canyon or any of the many other ice-climbing routes in the park or along the Icefields Parkway. You’ll want advice on the best way to reach the routes in Maligne Canyon. The trail many climbers follow along the rim of the canyon is very slick and there have been instances of climbers sliding over the edge and falling 25 meters into the canyon. (Some climbers have been killed.)
If you’re going to ice climb, be aware of the dangers. Avalanches can be common, so be sure to use good judgment (or better yet, an expert’s experience) before picking a climb site. Follow the link below or call the Jasper National Park office for more specifics and suggestions about ice climbing here. Parks Canada lists Waterfall Ice by Joe Josephson, Published by Rocky Mountain Books, as a comprehensive reference. Local guides are available, too. Whether you go with or without a guide, always let someone know where you intend to climb.
In addition to the amazing ice climbs available, Jasper National Park has many offerings that appeal to cold weather sports enthusiasts. Once you get away from the small Jasper townsite, there’s a large wilderness to explore on cross-country skis or snowshoes. Check in with Edge Control Ski Shop (626 Connaught Dr., Jasper; 888/242-3343 or 780/852-4945; www.explorejasper.com/edgecontrol) for equipment rental. Downhill skiers spend the days at Marmot Basin. Bring a camera if you’re going wildlife viewing because you’ll probably see moose, elk, deer, and maybe foxes or even a cougar. —LF
When to Go: Many of the waterfall ice-climbing routes start to form in Nov. Many of the avalanche-prone climbs can be climbed most safely in earlier months of the winter before the snow has accumulated in the alpine. Ice routes are generally in their best condition from Dec–Mar.
Edmonton (362km/225 miles).