Polar Circus, on Cirrus Mountain in the Rockies, is one of the most famous ice routes in the world of ice climbing. The location, accessibility, length, grade and history have elevated the route to a classic status. Polar Circus has 700 metres of elevation gain with 500 metres being waterfall ice. Joe Josephson said, “It is the showpiece of the Canadian Rockies and a must for all climbers.”

Charlie Porter is credited for naming the route while on the first ascent. He was complaining about setting up a station on one of the steep pitches, referring to the situation as a “Polish Circus.” Polish quickly turned to Polar. Halfway up the route is an optional pitch known as The Pencil WI6, which rarely forms.

Upper pitches of Polar Circus after turning the Pencil

Upper pitches of Polar Circus. Photo A. Jones

In 1975, Bugs McKeith, Charlie Porter and the Burgess twins sieged the route over eight days, using fixed ropes and aid. Two days later, Laurie Skreslet, Eckhard Grassman and Mike Lailey finished the route, after only five days, free climbing all, but five metres. Polar Circus was the end of an era, the big, aesthetic routes had all been climbed. In 1982, cutting-edge climber John Lauchlan was killed in an avalanche attempting to solo Polar Circus.

In 1988, Barry Blanchard soloed the route, “I had soloed a number of waterfalls in the last month and I was enjoying it,” said Blanchard. I loved the freedom. The constant motion, always climbing, never belaying, and never being cold. I always need the fear, but in just the right amount. I have no interest in overdosing.” Avalanches are a common threat on the route, be sure to check the Canadian Avalanche Association here before heading out.

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