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With Gyms Closed, Alberta Climbers Turn to Ice Climbing

Plus tips for climbers heading to the ice in 2021

Photo by: Brandon Pullan

There’s a mini-boom in ice climbing taking place in Alberta’s mountains this winter. Over the past month, I’ve met dozens of young climbers in on climbs in Kananaskis Country, the Bow Valley and on the Icefields Parkway who’ve picked up ice tools for their first time. The reason: gyms are closed.

This is the busiest that I’ve ever seen Rockies ice climbs and I first visited in 2000. Evan Thomas Creek had 20 climbers on a week day, the most I’d seen before was six. On New Years Eve, Guiness Gully had 15 climbers on it, more than half were new to the sport.

Everyone I’ve spoken to is from Calgary or Edmonton, a change from previous years when most climbers visiting were from faraway places, like Europe, Asia, Eastern Canada and the U.S.A.

Unlike three decades ago, new ice climbers in 2021 start with some of the most advanced gear, including lightweight screws, aggressive tools, strong mono-points, and ultra-warm and dry apparel.

Strong rock climbers are quickly transfering their pump-management skills and power to steep ice. Many of the new ice climbers that I’ve met are already leading WI4 and WI5.

It’s amazing to see so many new ice climbers and I expect more people will head to the ice for their first time in 2021. Here’s hoping that all climbing gyms in Canada will be allowed to stay open after the current lockdowns.

Climb safe and have a fun 2021!

New ice climbers from Calgary in Kananaskis Country

Tips for New Ice Climbers

Don’t fall: One of the oldest rules in ice climbing is to never fall while leading. With crampons, ice tools and ice screws, there are a lot of sharp things that can cause damage. Read more here.

Hang off tools: Anywhere – at home, the gym, at the dry tooling crag. Now is the time to get your climbing muscles conditioned to the movement of ice climbing. Deadhangs, tool pull-ups, dry tooling, will all go along way in building the endurance and grip strength you’ll need to hang on for those long pitches this winter. Don’t neglect the opposing muscles, push-ups, sit-ups, and core strength exercises will help prevent a muscle imbalance and possible injury.

Tick-list: Start a list of climbs, grades, or objectives you’d like to complete this winter. Perusing your local guide books will help build the psych and keep you motivated to train and put time aside to meet your goals or climb your dream climb.

Avalanches: If you climb in avalanche terrain, you need to learn about avalanches. Take a course with a reputable company or instructor that’s approved by Avalanche Canada – AST 1 (Avalanche Skills Training 1) is a good start. Review of avalanche gear for ice climbers here. Learn more here.

Sharpen: Look over all your dull points. With a delicate touch, take the file to your picks and crampon points and bring them back to life, or better yet replace them with new ones. As for screws, removing small burs with a file will work but for a big job I’d take them to someone who knows what they’re doing.

Cardio: It’s simple, get fit. Improving your fitness is a must for any climber wanting break through physical barriers. There are numerous ways to get your heart rate up so pick something you enjoy doing and start sweating. When the ice does form up, being fit will also help long approaches seem less arduous.

Take a course: There are numerous companies offering instructional courses, camps, workshops, and guided ascents for beginners and experienced climbers. If you’re open to learning from professionals, look for an instructor or guiding company with ACMG Association of Canadian Mountain Guides credentials.

Weekly Canadian ice climbing reports 2020/21: Ice weekly #1Ice weekly #2Ice weekly #3Ice weekly #4Ice weekly #5Ice Weekly #6Ice Weekly #7Ice Weekly #8Ice Weekly #9, Ice Weekly #10 / For a list of the best ice tools for this winter visit here.

Lead photo: Brandon Pullan