Polar Circus, on Cirrus Mountain in the Rockies, is one of the most famous ice routes, anywhere. The location, accessibility, length, grade and history have elevated the route to 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 became Polar in the translation. Halfway up the route is an optional pitch known as The Pencil, WI6, which rarely forms.

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. 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,” said Blanchard.

Avalanches are a common threat on the route, be sure to check the Canadian Avalanche Association before heading out, when in doubt, contact a local guide.

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Kris Irwin soloing The Pencil, WI6  Photo Kris Irwin Collection

Kris Irwin soloing The Pencil, WI6 Photo Kris Irwin Collection

Approaching the upper ice, the final four to six ptiches, with the final pitch being the WI5 crux Photo Rockies Ice Specialists

Approaching the upper ice, the final four to six ptiches, with the final pitch being the WI5 crux Photo Rockies Ice Specialists

 

For more classic climbs:

Cascade Falls

Reflection Wall

Professor Falls

 


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