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Ice Climbing Weekly Update #11: Busy Rockies, Warm Coast and Icy Quebec

Ice pillars collapsing, new routes and dangerous avalanche conditions take us into 2021

The last week of 2020 saw a boom in ice climbers heading to the Canadian Rockies, with dozens of young gym climbers turning to ice climbing because Alberta’s indoor climbing facilities have been closed for a month. For more on busy intro Rockies ice lines visit here.

Of note this past week was the collapse of French Maid WI6 (FA Jeff Everett, Glenn Reisenhofer 1990) in B.C.’s Kicking Horse Canyon. Mark Herbison is a member of Parks public safety and all-round skier and climber who wrote a Mountain Conditions Report about the incident. Top climber Will Gadd said about the report: “So there I was…” stories. I keep reading or hearing about people climbing in spindrift, pictures of small slides going by, missing dogs after avalanches, but very few posts like this one from Mark. We need more of this.”

An excerpt from Herbison’s post here reads: I had swung my tools three times as the first spin drift came over the cliffs 100m to the right of the climb, nothing significant as it dissipated into the open air. I contemplated, for a split second to put up my hood, but my thoughts were interrupted by “spin drift!” and my world turned white, snowy and cold. I held onto my ice tools, preparing for what I hoped was not coming, an additional mass of snow. I waited for 20 seconds or so for it to stop, clinging to the ice with thin blades of steel. The downflow stopped and I quickly made my retreat. If I had been only a few meters high, I would have have been more exposed to the direct flow and likely flung off the ice. 

The 15 minutes of solar input had triggered several loose dry avalanches in the area above us, no larger than a size 1. My timing and location was unfortunate, as the first two pitches of The Fine Line climb a tight, ice filled ‘chimney’ feature where even a small amount of snow could have serious consequences. We bailed and descended back down the drainage in fear that the sun would trigger additional small avalanches… this is where we received the biggest surprise of the day. The ‘thin pillar’ on The French Maid had collapsed.

Curtain Call has been getting a lot of attention and is said to be in at WI5+. Alpine guide Ian Welsted reported: The easier left side of the first pitch is pouring water. The right side sports a well protected roof pull at half height that had Jesse joking about sport climbing at the gym. The second pitch starts steep but quickly backs off. Good screws and ice throughout, and a very thick pillar, make for enjoyable climbing with no worries about the stability of the formation. We rappelled from the bolts at the top of the mixed route to climber’s left, which required a swing to return to our mid-way anchor. Overall, a much more confidence inspiring trip up an awesome chunk of ice than can be had sometimes.”

Dozens of ice routes have been climbed since Christmas, including: Gibraltar Wall WI4 (Canal Flats), Cold Choice WI5 WI5, Cold Comfort WI5, Spray River Falls WI5, Hamilton Falls WI3+, End of the Line WI3, Beer Climbs, all routes in Evan Thomas (except Snowline), Kings Creek climbs, Mount Murchison climbs, Weeping Wall, most classics in the Ghost (however deep snow is making for hard driving), Haffner Creek climbs, Waterton area climbs and Jasper area routes.

One of the only climbs that isn’t really formed is Tokkum Pole WI5, however Caro Oullellet climbed a new route in Marble Canyon called Split in the Nest WI5 27m.

West Coast

It’s warm and wet from Marble Canyon to Vancouver and not many ice climbs have formed this winter. One promising report noted: “Current ice conditions in The Bridge: The Gift and The Theft are trying to shape-up. Shreak Of Sheep, Nightingale, and Capricorn are all trying but thin. Capricorn looks the most promising. WI2 ice below Capricorn is trying. Salmon Steaks is coming in, but thin. Cedarvale Falls is rushing water. Temperature in the canyon was +4c.”

Despite the lack of freezing temps, Mohammad Pahrbod and Pierre Etienne Banville climbed a new line up the north face of Steep Peak. Pahrbod reported: “We climbed this very demanding line that I had my eyes on it for two years – this beauty goes at WI5 and is about 50m. It was very thin and hard to protect at some parts. We are calling it Doudoune/Nona (nicknames of our late sisters Andreee and Noushin). Note: the last few meters didn’t get climbed due to unfavourable ice which will be climbed very soon when conditions allows.”

A series of snowstorms pushed the avalanche danger into “high, high, high,” so be sure to check conditions here before heading out.

Ontario

Northwestern Ontario has a lot of ice. Orient Bay classics like Reflection Wall WI5, Cascade WI3 and Starquake WI5 have seen ascents in the past week. About Reflection Wall, veteran local ice climber Wes Bender said, “Reflection Wall today. Wet through the middle. We climbed up the right side of right column. It was a bit dryer but the ice quality was also a little worse. A couple crappy screws in a row but keeping them closer together kept the voices away.”

Ice around Montreal River is formed, however with a provincial lockdown, many climbers won’t be travelling there for a few weeks. That goes for many ice climbing areas within a few hours drive of Toronto.

Dorset Rocks is a new mixed crag that has some fun climbs. The new crag report reads, “There’s now enough to do at this little crag that it warrants sharing more broadly. Mostly mixed. Access info and a small little topo can be found https://www.kolos.ca/eguideshere. Lone Pine is thick enough to climb, but finding spots for screws may be a challenge, except higher up. Nonetheless, it offers a great opportunity to hone in low angle technique. Damsel in Distress M5 is a new route offering pleasant mixed climbing (protected by bolts). The ice sections (start, middle flow and exit sheet) are in excellent shape. However, the exit is starting to dry out… Wolf’s Dictionary M7 is fully equipped, and good to go.”

The Calabogie area is forming up nicely. One report reads: “Nemesis is not thick yet, but climbable. Middle section of ice was not solid. We mostly hooked ice instead of hitting it in the middle section to save it for others. Other walls were still forming and not stable – lots of water coming down, so it won’t be long now.”

Ice is also being climbed at Oxtongue Lake (Pillar of Doom), Eagles Nest (Dirty Harry and Rollercoaster), and Papineau (Clip and Go and Consolation Prize).

Quebec and Maritimes

Quebec has a lot of ice and nearly all of the classic lines are in. The province has hundreds of routes from 10 to 200 metres and up to WI6+. Over the past week, routes have been climbed at Mont Brassard, Zec Batiscan-Neilson (Saskatchewan WI4 135m), Lac Sylvère, Weir, Grands Jardin, Cap St-Francois Chicoutimi and at Charlevoix/Saguenay (Évêque WI5 and Archevêque WI5).

At Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park, the mega classic La Pomme d’or WI5+ 360m is in, and nearby La Loutre WI5+ M5 350m and La Ruée Vers l’Or T WI5+ M7 350m are also in.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have been warm and wet this winter with short periods of snowfall, but not enough freezing temps to form any ice.

Gear

Lightweight Ice Climbing Avalanche Gear
Ice Tools: Seven of the best for this winter
Edelrid Swift Protect ProDry 8.9
Sleeping Pads: Best new pads reviewed
Valandré Odin Neo winter sleeping bag
Sleeping Bags: The ultimate review
Camping Stoves: Six of the newest stoves reviewed

Ice Climbing for Beginners: Don’t Ever Fall
Ice Climbing for Beginners: Avalanche Beacons and Recco Tech

Past reports: Ice weekly #1Ice weekly #2Ice weekly #3Ice weekly #4Ice weekly #5Ice Weekly #6Ice Weekly #7Ice Weekly #8Ice Weekly #9, Ice Weekly #10