At least once in your ice climbing career, you have to go to the “Canadian Rockies”. To cross these major lines, admire the immensities of the landscapes and mountains and immerse yourself, for a time, in a wilderness, still "preserved", and where man is not at the top of the food chain ...
Europeans are not used to walking in the mountains, on the paths and in the forests while having in mind that an encounter with a wild animal not necessarily well-intentioned is possible ... Grizzly bears and cougars walk around and a chance of meeting them is never impossible.
The "Rockies" are the Canadian part of the Rocky Mountain range. The area of special interest for ice climbers is around the towns of Banff and Canmore, Alberta.
The Ghost Valley
Ph. “The Real Big Drip”
Southeast of Canmore, not far from Calgary, there is a small "secondary" massif: "The Ghost Valley". Lower in altitude and eccentric, the "Ghost" is a place apart ... Difficult to access, the tracks which lead to the waterfalls can be really difficult according to the conditions (snow, ruts, more or less frozen rivers ...) and driving sometimes is more stressful than climbing…. 4x4 is mandatory and good off-trail driving experience is recommended!
Ph. First pitch of “The Real Big Drip” – M9
In the "Ghost" we had the pleasure of climbing some of the most beautiful lines in the area: "The Real Big Drip", two superb draperies separated by two lengths of Dry Tooling (M9 and M8).
"Fearful Symmetry" and "Rainbow Serpent", two magnificent lines in WI6 at the bottom of the "Recital Hall", an amazing amphitheatre that can only be reached after climbing an easy pitch. By climbing these lines, we had an emotional thought for Guy Lacelle (THE legend of the icefall) and Stas Beskin, who both climbed these two routes in full free solo.
"Hydrophobia" and "Cryophobia" are located in the "North Ghost", where the access is a little longer and more complex.
The first is a beautiful waterfall, just little less than 200 m high and almost 5+. Opened in December 1986, it bears the name of "Hydrophobia" because during the first ascent, some water or rather a torrent had spilled on the climbers when they were almost out of difficulties. Soaked, they had to come back down, as quickly as possible, leaving all their equipment behind.
Passionate about history, we had the pleasure of reliving exactly the same scenario, 33 years later: rupture of the water pocket, torrent, soaked to the panties and abandonment of equipment.
The next day, dried and motivated, we ran through "Hydrophobia" then, since the conditions were good, through its neighbour "Cryophobia", more technical and more mixed, but so beautiful.
The Stanley Headwall
Perhaps the most impressive place is "The Headwall" as they call it there. The lines of ice flow from a steep limestone wall or even overhanging ...
Very exposed to avalanches, the climbing of these dream lines is only to be undertaken under stable snow conditions.
Nemesis… One of the first WI6 in the world - Stanley Headwall
The Icefield Parkway.
Much more than an area, "The Icefiled Parkway" stretches along the road from Banff to Jasper. The two most famous waterfalls, "Weeping Wall" and "Polar Circus" are surely the lines most photographed in the world of waterfalls. But it’s not just them!
The possibilities are endless, especially for those who use imagination….
Anyway, after this quick overview, you will understand: if you like ice, go to Canada!
Article and pictures by Damien Tomasi, February 2020.
Damien Tomasi, 33 years old athlete born near Nice, France is mountain guide and ENSA instructor. Main activities: climbing, ice climbing and big alpine routes.
Grivel favorite products: Dark Machine X, G20 Plus and Duetto helmet.