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Ice Climbing Weekly Update #16: A Look Back at Four Months of Ice News

The cold start to February is freezing climbs on the West Coast, around Toronto and in the Maritimes

Photo by: Stas Beskin of Caro Ouellet on Whiteman Falls

We set out four months ago to provide 16 weeks of ice climbing updates to help you know what climbs are formed, about access issues and new route. This will be the final ice climbing update summary for this winter season.

With the recent Polar Vortex settling in on western Canada and frigid temps hitting the east, most, if not all ice, has formed that will form this year. Some ice climbs, such as the Trophy Wall on Rundle in Banff, are known to form later in the winter. We’ll continue to keep you up to date with ice news that comes to us.

Below are highlights from each week, plus ice news from week 16. Be sure to check avalanche conditions before heading out into avi terrain, be careful on sketchy ice and have fun.

Week 1: Ice climbing started in October in the Rockies. The Canadian Farmers’ Almanac has an unusual forecast this year, calling it “The Winter of the Great Divide: Wet, white, and wild in the West, everything crazy in the East.” In the Bow Valley, Super Dark in Protection Valley was climbed by Ian Welsted and Nikolai Paterak, which means there might be a race to get on it this weekend. Also in with a rarely-formed right-hand finish is Bourgeau Left near Banff Sunshine ski area.

Week 2: Three big new climbs were done this week, one on Goat Mountain west of Calgary, and two on the Storm Creek Headwall. On Oct. 22, Alik Berg, Peter Hoang and Dylan Cunningham made the first ascent of the 410-metre seven-pitch Goat Face Ice Line M5+ WI4 on Goat Mountain east of Canmore. It’s one of the biggest front range mixed routes to be climbed. On Oct. 25, Takeshi Tani and Toshiyuki Yamada made the first ascent of Ichinen WI5+R M4, a new three-pitch 130-metre mixed route on the Storm Creek Headwall on Highway 93 South in the Canadian Rockies. On Oct. 28, Niall Hamill and Patrick Maguire climbed a new 130-metre M4 WI6 on Storm Creek Headwall called Fancy Feast.

Week 3: Sebastian Taborszky, Jacob Dans and James Walter made the first ascent of Sleight of Hand, a 95-metre WI4+R, on the Storm Creek Headwall. The area has been getting the most attention of any in the Rockies this season. The first pitch is a 55-metre WI4R and the second is a 40-metre WI4+. Also on Storm Creek Headwall, Taborszky and Niall Hamill made the first ascent of Smith & Wesson, a 125-metre WI6 A0. It’s one of the most stunning looking new routes climbed this year. Hamill said, “It’s one of the best drips of ice I’ve had the pleasure of climbing, and challenging too, with two separate pillars up top, super 3D, chandeliered and steep.”

Week 4: On Vancouver Island, Marie-Lou Piché, Danny O’Farrell and Max Fisher climbed a new alpine ice line on Mount Arrowsmith. In Field, Guiness Gully WI4 250m and Guiness Stout WI4+ was climbed, as was Silk Tassel WI4 and a number of WI4 routes around Twisted. Pilsner Pillar WI6 and Carlsberg Column WI5 should be ready to go by mid-week. Back up on the Storm Creek Headwall, a 200-metre band of northeast facing rock north of the Stanley Headwall, continues to see a lot of action. James Walter and Seb Taborszky hustled past a number of other climbers to bag the first ascent of two new pitches after the route Splitter Choss. “Excellent day out,” said Walter. “Pitch one is worth doing in it’s own right but with the extra ice up there this winter it’s worth going to the top.”

Week 5: Sebastian Taborszky and James Walter completed a new 160-metre M6 WI3+ in the Cosmic Messenger drainage called Ferrethawk. It finishes up a stunning upper corner. The line was first attempeted by Taborszky, Maarten van Haeren and Jas Fauteux. One of the climbers took a 20-metre whipper. “The smallest black Totem cam held the fall,” said Taborszkey, breaking the six-inch-wide wedged block sitting in the crack. Two more bolts were added after that to keep things sane, and the broken block fell out on the first hand pull.” In Protection Valley, Rory O’Donnell and Ryan Daniel Patteson climbed a bold new mixed route they called High Hanging Fruite M6+R WI4 305m. Read about it here.

Week 6: The classic Quebec ice climb Montmorency Falls will be closed this winter as construction is taking place. You can read more about it here. Northwestern Ontario is finally getting some ice, with routes in Orient Bay, Kama Bay and closer to Thunder Bay starting to form. Local guide Aric Fishman uploaded a video of a fall 2020 ascent up Hully Gully, a classic WI2 at Orient Bay first climbed over 40 yeras ago.

Week 7: The Stanley Headwall has been getting a lot of action this past week with a number of climbers getting up Nemesis WI6. Visit here for a list of every route on the Stanley Headwall. The canyons have steep walls up to 100 metres with chimneys, cracks and canyons where ice forms. Kama has some of Ontario’s most stunning ice lines, many of which are nearly fully formed. Dr. Patrick Martel, a leading Ontario route developer, reported: “Kama Bay is forming up. Getting Oriented WI4+ looks OK, Icebreakers WI6 is reaching the ground but Icebreaker’s Arrete WI5 and Whimpsicle WI4 both still look really thin the from the road.” Mazukama Falls WI3-5 (Powerline Falls) is also formed.

Week 8: Above Lake Margaret, which is next to Hector Lake below Pulpit Peak, Sebastian Taborszky, Stas Beskin and Dylan Cunningham climbed a new serious 245-metre five-pitch mega ice line they called Katana WI6+X. The east-facing route goes at WI3 60m, WI6R 45m, WI5+ 55m, WI6+X 40m and finally WI6R 45. About the fourth-pitch: “Climb the improbable free standing pillar… first screw after pillar is at 30 metres. Pillar had a two/three-inch unhealed crack half-way up.”

Week 9: Ice out east starts to form. Eagles Nest routes in Ontario are forming: Roller Coaster WI2 is in, but Dirty Harry M4 WI4 is well dirty, wet and not in. At Papineau Lake Sideroad: Consolation Prize WI3 is in, Clip and Go M5 is in, Spector M5 is in and Naked Soul is in. The Quebec ice season is game on with dozens of climbs formed in the province, such as routes at Lac Sylvère, Gros Bras, Sérénité, Mastigouche and Parc National des Hautes Gorges de la Rivière Malbaie. Raphael Slawinski and Juan Henriquez also established The Hand of God M7 WI5 135m on Mount Murchison this month. Slawinski said: “This route climbs the obvious dagger a few hundred metres left of Cosmic Messenger. It’s been suggested that it might’ve been climbed in the nineties by Serge Angelucci, but we didn’t find any evidence of previous traffic. If it were indeed climbed back then, it’d be an impressive and futuristic ascent, before M-climbing and power drills.”

Week 10: Quebec has lots of ice, from east to west, including classics in Vallée Bras-du-Nord and Grandes Piles. Péa Paquet and Nathalie Fortin opened a new route on Gros Bras that climbs 240 metres of granite mixed terrain up to M6 trad that they called La Coupe aux Lèvres. On Vancouver Island in mid-December, Max Fisher, Liam Gilchrist and Ryan Van Horne made the first ascent of Sutton’s Finest Seasonal Ale AI4+R 400m up the middle of Sutton Peak’s east face. The three then climbed another new route on the south edge of Sutton Peak’s east face. They called it Talisman AI5 350/400m. Most recently, Marie-Lou Piché and Ryan Van Horne climbed a new line on the far north end of the east face, next to the North Ridge. They called it T’was the Night Before Christmas, AI3+/4 350m.

Week 11: Dorset Rocks in Ontario 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 here. 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.” 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).

Week 12: In Quebec’s Hautes Gorges, Yan Mongrain, JP Bélanger and Charles Roberge made the first ascent of Klondike, a new 220-metre WI6R. The pitches go: WI5R 50m, WI3+ 35m, WI6R 35m, WI4+ 40m WI4 40m. In Northwestern Ontario, Ice Breakers WI5+ was climbed by Wes Bender and friends. He reported, “We did the long haul into Ice Breakers today. Thank to Kevin and Patrick for trail maintenance. The ice quality on Ice Breakers was poor for the most part. I was throwing junk all the way. Protection was good for the most part. I worked for it today. If you want to dance, you have to pay the band. The arete had similar ice quality but it was a little more manageable. The top out was a bit spicy though. Feeling comfortable while being uncomfortable is good trait to poses. Ran out of time to bang on Wimpsicle this time.”

Week 13: On Vancouver Island, Danny O’Farrell, Steve Janes, Garner Bergeron climbed two new mixed routes on Vancouver Island’s Mount Arrowsmith. The new routes are Master of puppets M4 WI4R 80m bolted on lead, and For Whom the Bell Tolls M6 WI5 70m bolted on rappel. The routes are located on the steep walls to the right of the climber’s trail at about the same elevation as the Ice Box. Both routes are equipped with bolted anchors and bolts for protection where needed. O’Farrell said, “The area is an amazing zone, with endless potential for high quality mixed routes and some full ice routes. Some routes will fatten up considerably and offer better protection later in the season.” We heard from Kevin Duquette who reported that some big lines in Gaspésie, Quebec, are formed, including the 10-pitch Corridor Lumière WI4+ M4R and the classic 10-pitch Ouskissont WI2 M2R. Corridor Lumière can be very serious in early season or thin conditions.

Week 14: Niall Hamill and Raphael Slawinski made the first ascent of Gasoline Alley, a 160-metre M5+ WI4 in Kicking Horse Canyon. Sarah Hueniken linked all routes up to M12 in the Haffner Cave, read more here. The other big news in the Rockies this week, besides Polar Circus WI5 700m being climbed and getting some new rappel bolts, was the development of the Mythos Crag with in the Rockies the new drytooling crag on Vancouver Island called Chamber of Torture.

Week 15: Riptide in the Rockies was climbed, rad about it here. In Southern Ontario, Bancroft ice has been fat for the past few weeks, as has ice around Diamond Lake. Farther south around Hamilton, rumours of ice being formed and climbed have circulated, but most known ice climbs are slushy or not frozen. Tiffany Falls is freezing and has lines from WI2 to WI4. A new route was climbed at Gros Morne en Gaspésie by Jean Francois Girard and Mathias Arroyo Begin called Ad Absurdum M6 WI5+ 105m. In B.C. at Sumallo Bluffs near Harrison Hotsprings, Mohammad Pahrbod and Sam McEwen climbed The Buszowski/Kippan.

Week 16: Ice on the West Coast is in and getting climbed. Routes like Rambles, Loose Lady, Tube and Synchronicity are in. Some routes are thin and still forming. Nearly all of the classic and off-piste routes in the Rockies are formed. Avalanche danger is high in areas so check conditions. In Ontario, Orient and Kama Bay have fat ice, as does Montreal River and Agawa Canyon. Lines around Sudbury and Parry Sounds are fat. Ice in Algonquin, on Diamond Lake and Kushog is in. Ice around Hamilton, like Bronte Creek, is formed and is being climbed. Warm temps are making lake crossing dangerous so be weary at Bon Echo. Quebec ice is fat. Maritimes has is forming with the current cold temps with climbs in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland being climbed.


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Lead photo: Stas Beskin of Caro Ouellet on Whiteman Falls