Routes we have done and for which we have a trip report and photos on this site are located by red triangles and labeled in red on the map below. They can be "clicked" on for trip reports and photographs. Also make sure to check out our Ghost and Waiparous page.
To assist climbers in evaluating conditions and avalanche hazards, the map also provides links to weather forecasts , near-live photographs from web-cams , avalanche forecasts from the Canadian Avalanche Association , and snow reports from ski resorts in the area .
Ever since we started ice climbing in southwestern Colorado, we had always dreamed about the big classics of the Canadian Rockies. Most of those climbs are concentrated in an area around the Banff and Yoho National Parks, strattling the border between British Columbia and Alberta. After several mild winters in the Southwest, we also longed for a real, cold one (what more could an ice climber dream of than a 7-month winter?). So we decided to spend the season in Canmore, a much friendlier town than Banff, just a few kilometers to the east, and a good base for ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies.
Having experienced winter bus-camping in very cold temperatures last year, we were hoping to find a room for rent in a house and store the bus for a couple of months. We arrived in Banff early November, just before the Mountain Film Festival. We spent the first few days parked at the Canmore visitor center in -40°C weather while looking for a room. We quickly found a great place to stay with a couple of cool locals and their pets (2 dogs and 4 cats!).
After we settled down, we spent the next three days at the Banff Mountain Film Festival. We had seen their "best of" tour in Santa Fe the previous 3 years and loved it. The real thing is even better. Two and a half days of continuous mountain movies, presentations, and panel discussions were great fun!
In the meantime, the temperatures were dropping and ice was forming everywhere... an exceptional start to the ice season according to locals. For our first climb of the season, we had planned on "R&D", a classic WI4 ice climb in Kananaskis country, south of Canmore. It had been snowing hard all night though, so when we got to the parking area, it was covered with a foot and a half of fresh powder. Bummer. The climb and the approach are extremely exposed to avalanches from the huge bowl above. There would be no climbing that day. (Later that day, we met one member of a party of 3 who had attempted the climb that morning, only to get caught in a small avalanche on the approach scramble; they luckily escaped with nothing worse than a broken leg).
Next we went to Lake Louise to climb the popular Louise Falls, where avalanches are not a concern. We climbed the first pitch of Louise Falls (WI3) for warm-up (the second pitch was too wet), then a fun technical smear just left of it, Lunar Eclipse (WI4, 55 meters, which had never formed before, and was first climbed this year).
After a rest day, we drove to the Sunshine ski resort, north of Banff to climb the classic Bourgeau Right (WI4, 310 meters). The climb was in great shape and we had a blast!
After a rest day, we drove to Field, about two hours west of Canmore to climb Carlsberg Column (WI5, 90 meters). Though the climbing was great, Lucie unfortunately got hit in the knee by a large chunk ice while belaying Eric up the last pitch. She was barely able to walk out. Several days of forced rest ensued.
Ten days later, Lucie was ready to climb again and we went back to Louise Falls (WI4+, 110 meters). This time, we found the pillar in good shape and completed the climb.
We then headed toward the Shunda Creek Hostel near Nordegg. We stopped just before the Saskatchewan River Crossing to climb Murchison Falls (WI4+, 240 meters). After a day of rest spent driving along the Icefields Parkway to check the ice conditions, we climbed Nothing but the Breast (WI 4+, 150 meters).
Our next climb was Bourgeau Left (WI 5, 200 meters), above the Sunshine ski resort, near Banff. A great climb, not to be missed!
After a day of rest, we took our first trip to the Ghost to climb in one of the most popular areas of the North Ghost, the Valley of the Birds. We climbed a couple of lines there and scoped out a couple more we would go back for.
We then drove up to Bow Lake, hoping to climb "Uli's Revenge", a WI4-5 line located in the same amphitheater as Bow Falls. Unfortunately, the route was threatened by a large cornice above, so we gave up on the climb, feeling like a bunch of "chickens". A few minutes later, as we were hanging out a safe distance from the base of the route, part of the same cornice, further left, broke off and exploded down the cliff... good call after all!
On December 21, we went back to the Ghost for two days. We climbed The Eagle, in the Valley of the Birds on the first day. We camped near the river and the next day, we climbed The Sorcerer, one of the best WI5 line anywhere! Awesome climb!
Cold weather and several episodes of cold/flu prevented us from climbing for a while after that. After two more - failed - trips to the Ghost, we finally climbed Malignant Mushroom, a great WI5 pitch route in the South Ghost with a short approach and a southern exposure. The next day, we hiked to "Wicked Wanda" but the climb was not in condition.
We then enjoyed good weather for about ten days so we climbed as much as we could. After a rest day from our expedition to the South Ghost, we climbed Pilsner Pillar, the most famous of the "Beer Climbs" near Field, BC. The first pitch this year was fat and only about WI5+.
Two days later, we were back in Field and climbed the popular Guiness Gully as a back-up plan for "Superbock", a line on Mount Stephen that was not formed.
New snow was on its way so we wanted to climb the jewel of the Dave Thompson area, "Kitty Hawk" before the storm hit. We packed our gear for a two day trip to the DT area. On the first day, we climbed Five seven Zero, a nice two pitch WI4 line sitting high on a ridge above Whirpool Point. After spending the night at the Shunda Creek hostel, we drove to the "Kitty Hawk" parking only to get scooped by another party that got there just a few minutes before us... we climbed Elliott Left Hand instead.
We drove back to the Nordegg area two days later to climb Kitty Hawk. This time, the climb was ours.
After a couple of days stuck in Canmore fixing the jeep (again!), we went to the Columbia Valley hoping to escape a new artic front. The temperatures were not much warmer on the other side of the divide but we managed to climb Gibraltar Wall near Canal Flats, the Western Rockies equivalent of the Weeping Wall.
Heavy snowfall followed the cold front. We had a forced break from the ice and went skiing at Lake Louise. Because of the high avalanche danger, we decided to go check out "Kemosabe" in the Waiparous Valley, an area that receives less snow than the Banff area. Unfortunately, after breaking trail on snowshoes for 2 hours, we found the climb completely drenched. Oh well, no climbing today but a nice snowshoe hike!
We then climbed Lacy Gibbet, a long route in the South Ghost that does not often form completely. The approach is longer than advertised and took us three hours... A long but good day! And the climb was fully formed!
We finally climbed the Mount Rundle classic, Professor Falls on February 11 - it was about time after three months in the area!
Friday the 13th! We picked the right date to climb Rainbow Serpent, the most incredible WI6 free-standing pillar we've ever seen. This amazing route is tucked high in the Recital Hall, a unique amphitheatre in the South Ghost that can be accessed after climbing a WI4 "approach" pitch, Aquarius. Great day in a magical place!
The following Sunday, we made the 5 kilometer ski in to do the classic Whiteman Falls in Kananaskis country. Located at the back of a scenic canyon, Whiteman is a fine climb, although not as good as many of the Ghost classics, we thought. As it turned out, using our soft leather ice climbing boots (Nepal Top) to ski in was a big mistake. We both had serious blisters before climbing the route. They only got worse on the ski out.
The sorry state of our feet after Whiteman Falls forced us to rest for a couple of days before attempting Hydrophobia, the Waiparous mega-classic. You can either approach Hydrophobia from the North Ghost or from the Waiparous. The approach from the Waiparous is shorter provided that you can at least drive to the second river crossing. Since we had had trouble with the drive into the Waiparous on a few occasions before, we opted for the North Ghost approach, a longer but usually safer bet. On February 19, we drove to the North Ghost only to get stuck in huge drifts well short of the parking spot for the Sorcerer and Hydro. That was it for the day. We went for it again the next day, this time from the Waiparous side and got lucky. We made it past the second river crossing and parked. A long but scenic approach brought us to the climb. What a sight! Beautiful and steep, Hydrophobia is a spectacular waterfall sitting at the back of a gorgeous rock amphitheater! We had a great day. Great climbing on plastic ice. A must do!
Three days later, we were at the Stanley Headwall parking lot only to watch snow falling from very low clouds. We came back the next day, found better weather, and climbed the spectacular Nemesis, definitely the hardest climb we've done so far!
By the end of February, we were pretty much done with our to-do-list in the vicinity of Canmore but still had a couple of classics to climb along the Icefields Parkway. To shorten the commute and save rent money, we decided to leave our cozy home and move back into the bus for a couple of weeks. It took us several days to get the bus loaded and ready to hit the road again.
On March 3rd, we headed north along the Icefields Parkway and parked at the "Big Bend" (a huge hairpin turn north of the Weeping Wall) to spend the night. The next day, we climbed the complete Weeping Wall by linking up Central Pillar and Teardrop. We initially had intended to climb the lower wall only that day, but we moved fast and the weather was great, so we just kept going. A great day: eight long pitches of great ice only 10 minutes from the road!
After a rest day, we hiked up the Beauty Creek drainage, north of the Columbia Icefield, to climb Shades of Beauty and Memorial Falls, two good climbs that sit high on a cliff above the scenic canyon. Had a good time even though it was miserably cold and windy.
The next morning, a warden knocked on our door... Oh Oooh. Our time at "The Big Bend" was over - we had to leave and find another place to stay. We were also out of water and dreaming of a hot shower. To top it all, the bus had been losing air pressure on the drive up and needed to be fixed. It was time to head back south for a few days... We stayed at the campground in Lake Louise so Eric could take a look at what was wrong with the bus (the camground is opened year round and provides electricity, water, and hot showers). He found out that one of the suspension leveling valves was leaking air but we had no way to fix it - we had to drive to Calgary for that. The weather forecast did not look that good anyway - snow and very warm weather were expected for the next couple of days, so Polar Circus would have to wait!
After two days in Calgary having the bus fixed (we found a great little shop there that specializes in buses), we drove back to the Icefields Parkway. This time, we parked at the picnic area just south of the Weeping Wall. The park service allows people to camp there in the winter when none of the other campgrounds are opened. No water is available but it's a nice spot only minutes away from the Weeping Wall. On March 11, we had an easy day out on the Lower Weeping Wall and climbed Left Hand, one of the most popular lines on the wall. Nice climbing on soft ice. Crowded but still worthwhile considering the very short approach!
The weather was really warm and sunny. We were waiting for a cloudy day to climb "Polar Circus" but that did not seem to be coming. In the meantime, we climbed the last "route" we had yet to do on the Lower Weeping Wall, Right Hand - a three pitch line on the right (duh!) side of the wall. Back at the bus early, we packed the gear for the next day - the weather was supposed to turn cloudy so we might finally have a go at "Polar Circus" without fearing afternoon avalanches from above.
When we got up the next morning, there were scattered clouds and some flurries. Since another front was forecasted for later in the week, we decided to go for it. It turned out to be a perfect day - thinly overcast, and nobody else on the climb on a Sunday! We really enjoyed the last four pitches even though we did not care too much for the long rambling pitches to get there. Polar Circus was a great ending to our ice season in Canada!
Back at the bus, we left the Icefields Parkway that evening and drove back to Lake Louise. The next day, we hit the road again - direction sunny California and mellow sport climbing at the Owens River Gorge near Bishop. We'd had an amazing time in Canada; one of the definite highlights of the trip, but by now, we'd had enough of the cold and ice. We'll miss you, Canmore!
Ice Climbing in the Canadian Rockies
|Canmore, our homebase for the ice season.|
|Lovely downtown Canmore.|
|Yo! You lookin' at me?|
|The joys of hiking by -40°C (Johnston Canyon, near Banff).|
|Ice sculpture competition at Lake Louise.|
|Driving and ...|
|... ice boating on the Ghost reservoir.|
|Arriving in Banff, November 2, 2003.|
|Bull elk, in Banff.|
|Gorgeous views on Mount Kidd, Kananaskis country.|
|Living in comfort for the winter.|
|Cracker, the goofy cat.|
|Chloe, the hunting dog...|
|Bogus, the elder.|
|Kaslo, the climbing cat.|
|Pippi, the paw...|
|Atticus (it's really hard to get a decent shot of a black cat!).|
|Christmas Eve celebrations.|
|Early morning on Bow Lake (Icefields Parkway).|
|"Amadeus", a beautiful WI4+ line in Kananaskis country.|
|Snowshoeing with Chloe after the first heavy snow of the season.|
|Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep, licking salt off the pavement.|
|Driving the bus along the Icefields Parkway in early March.|
|Stopping at Bow Lake on the way to the Weeping Wall.|
|Life in the bus on the Parkway - all bundled up!|
|Lonely coyote near the Columbia Icefields.|
|Parker Ridge, Athabasca and Andromeda.|