The following report was written by Ryan Bowie after he and his partners climbed a number of new routes at Monkman Cascades in B.C.
Monkman Provincial Park is found south of Tumbler Ridge, B.C, and is named after Alex Monkman. He was the driving force behind a trading route that would attach a northern BC and Alberta trade route to Prince George, B.C. Unfortunately, after three years of establishing road and trail, WWII halted the project and the route was abandoned.
Along the trail, which the Wolverine Nordic Mountain Society based in Tumbler Ridge is revamping and maintaining, are the Monkman Cascades. A series of eight main cascading waterfalls, in addition to other waterfalls cascading from another tributary creek. The Monkman Cascades are known to be indescribably beautiful.
In 2016, an ice climbing party made a multi-day siege on the cascades which included pulks and hundreds of pounds of gear and support by Altitude Sports and they were successful in the first ascent of what is known as Cascade 8, the bottom cascade. Open water forced them to retreat.
This year, myself and my climbing partner Matt Dawes decided to do a fast and light approach and we invited a man named Ben Brochu who had navigated Monkman Creek in the summer via packraft, and who also ended up taking great photos of the trip.
On Feb. 8, after my dayshift at work, Matt and I left Fort St. John, B.C. and drove to Tumbler Ridge with two snowmobiles in tow. We arrived and met Ben, who drove from Debolt, Alberta, at Subway restaurant. He loaded his gear into my truck and we hit the road again. We drove down the Kinuseo forestry road which is only snow plowed for the first 21 km of road due to industrial activity.
At kilometre-21, we took the sleds out and sledded for roughly another 30 km. The sky was clear and the moon was bright. We hydrated, put on snowshoes and started the journey to the cascades. We decided that instead of taking the forested trail to the cascades, we would stay on the moonlit creek for quicker time. Did I mention it was cold?? It was at minimum -30 C.
About to top out the #firstascent of #dinnerplatter. A small WI4 #seep in the #belcourtvalley! I pulled out a 4 foot by 4 foot by 6 inch chunk of ice pulling the bulge. Unexpected and scary but my feet were bomber. It inspired the name. Ice conditions have been #peculiar. #iceclimbing #getoutside #explorebc #trgeo #northernbc #grippedmagazine #rockandicemag #greengreywhite #leadclimbing. Thanks to @chinchew11 for the sweet photo.
With most of my layers on, I tried desperately to warm up on the approach, but the entire night I couldn’t seem to get my core at a comfortable level. Finally, at around 3:30 am we came across Cascade 8, the waterfall climbed last season. We quickly climbed it in the dark and proceeded to the next cascade (lower Moore Falls). We decided that climbing in the dark didn’t allow for any photos of the trip and possible proof, so we opted to bivy on the creek for a few hours until sun rise. Matt and I didn’t really prepare for a warm night rest by staying light, so we were rather cold those hours.
Finally, the sun rose and the climbing could begin. Lower Moore falls and Upper Moore Falls were next. They were both easy WI2 routes. Next was Brooks Falls, we had been stressing about Brooks Falls for days. It is 30 metres high and the water rages and we were very skeptical if it would be in shape to climb or have any ice at all to climb.
We could hear it before we saw it which wasn’t a good sign, but luckily to the left enough ice was still barely hanging on we could climb. I opted to leave out screws for the first half of it, as the bottom half was severely cracked and seemed ready to let go at any moment. I led it quickly to minimize objective hazard, but it was a fun and memorable WI4 climb to say the very least.
Shire Falls was next. Shire is from another creek that splashes very aesthetically into Monkman Creek. Matt wanted to lead this climb and did so with ease and style. There were two separate lines on here that we climbed at WI3. Monkman Falls is above Shire Falls and has three separate ice lines that form on it. Monkman Falls wins gold for the most amazing looking cascade and was a lot of fun to climb. It boasts a WI2 line, a WI3+ and a WI4 line.
McGinnis falls was next and was a favourite. The bottom was completely open and the falls were ultimately hanging and unsupported. Given our remote location, we rigged up a bomber hanging belay at the bottom, so as I began on the floor, I didn’t break through. The ice was like styrofoam and created a chimney towards the top which made it feel more like rock climbing than ice climbing WI3.
Above came Chambers Falls, a small and insignificant falls, yet boasted very thin ice. Last was the unnamed Cascade 1. Why do I always have trouble with the last one? Being slightly tired and definitely complacent, I decided to cross a patch of thin ice to ensure I could complete the quest by remaining strictly on ice (being a purest on this trip).
Suddenly, I broke through the creek and as I went to climb out broke through again and again and again. I was soaked below the waist, my boots were filled to the brim with frigid water and I was close to 60 km away from the warmth of a truck. We completed the quest and finished Cascade 1 and returned to out bivy site. It was still -20 C and I was still wet. I tried to warm up and boil water in water bottles.
I ended up leaving burn marks on my leg in an attempt to warm up faster. I am unsure when it happened but I ended up getting frostbite and blackening the end of a toe. After trying to warm up in the tent for a few hours, I boiled water again in the bottle and slid it into my frozen boot to thaw it. I found two large ziplocks to put around my second pair of dry socks to create a vapour barrier to keep my feet dry until I got to the truck.
We packed up and hiked back down the creek through the night again, by headlamp this time as it was clouded over and snowing. By sunrise we were approaching the sleds which we found relatively easily, started them and made the final push back to the truck. I was elated to see my truck and the warmth it presented. Matt, Ben and I ended up eating lunch at the Dragon Palace in Tumbler Ridge. Chicken balls never tasted so good. We parted ways and Matt and I headed back home to Fort St. John. I made it back in time to work my night shift.
After a round trip of 400 km of driving, 60 km of sledding and 40 to 50 km of snowshoeing, we ended up with many first ascents and feel very blessed and fortunate to now be a part of the Monkman Cascades history.