Icefalls in the Rockies - Canada - by Charlotte Barré and Alex Pittin
Published on 13/02/2020
January 13, 2020, we are on a direct plane to Calgary. After long hours of flight, stuck on too narrow seats, we land in this country that I can't wait to discover. The air is invigorating. We were aware of the weather forecast but we did not expect to reach these temperatures. It's -39 ° C and even our rental Jeep can't heat up enough to defrost the windows. So we’ll keep mittens, down jackets and hats on even in the car.
We are highly motivated and the next day we hit the road with the idea of climbing. We leave a little too quickly, we have neither map nor guidebook. The road hours add up with beautiful 4X4 sessions on the forest tracks before giving up. Today we will not climb. We are tired of the trip and we were not aware of the extension of this country and the often complicated access to reach the valleys where the waterfalls hide.
The following days the temperatures still do not go up, but we do not give up we want to climb. We decide to go after the classic "weeping wall". The tips of our fingers are frozen numb, our eyelashes and our hair are completely frozen. It is -30 ° C but we don’t give up and climb the 150m of ice that separates us from the summit. The ice is hard, compact and even the screws have a hard time getting into it. We realize how difficult, unpleasant and even dangerous it is to climb in these conditions. New day, new awareness! Besides, we do not come across any locals and understand that they are waiting for more comfortable conditions to bring out their ice axes.
After 2 days of forced rest, the thermometer softens. Our goal is to climb in the south ghost known for its “terrible” 4X4 approach with “off piste” driving. Every day the first challenge is to reach the car park without getting stuck. Fortunately Alex is an outstanding pilot.
In the company of Fleur Fouque (a Chamonix mountain guide), we climb two pretty waterfalls "Wicked Wanda" and "Malignant mushroom".
These are our first days of ice climbing of the year and we measure how lucky we are to be here.
The next day will be reserved for the mythical “Hydrophobia” waterfall. Surprise! This morning on the road: beautiful traces of cougar. I have been scared of meeting a bear until now, but finally beside the cougar the bear no longer scares me.
We don’t have skis and the fresh snow has made our lives hard. I often take a look back to make sure I'm not being followed by the feline. At the foot of the waterfall everything is forgotten, there is more than the desire to climb these impressive and majestic 150 meters of vertical ice.
Ice waterfalls are particularly thick this year, notably "rainbow serpent" located in the Ghost Valley. The heavy warmth after this polar cold, makes us a little doubt about the state of the waterfall but we decide to try it.
"Aquarius" allows us to reach the spectacular circus where "fearful symmetry" and "rainbow serpent" are found. "Fearful symmetry" looks gray in the sun and is ready to collapse but its neighbor is quite fit!
We spend several minutes wondering about the best place to attack it. Traces of passage are nonexistent. The first pitch is rather technical on large "mushrooms" and it is difficult to assess their solidity. It follows a pretty steep pitch. Another nice day.
But now, it’s already time to go back and, a bit reluctant, we pack our bags.
The country and its landscapes as far as the eye can see, the wild side and the isolation, without forgetting the kindness of Canadians will make us return home with no doubts about this wonderful land.
Article and pictures by Charlotte Barré and Alex PIttin, February 2020.
Charlotte Barré, born in 1986 and based in Chamonix, is part of Grivel Team since 2018. She is rock climber, mountaineer and Mountain Guide. She collected some expeditions around the world and she opened some new rock climbing routes in Greenland and Pakistan.
Favorite Grivel products: Dark Machines, crampons G20 Plus.
Alexandre Pittin, born in 1983 and based in Chamonix, is part of Grivel Team since 2018. He is steep skier, mountaineer and Mountain Guide in Chamonix. He collected some steep descent in the Mont-Blanc Massif and he opened some new descent in the Italian side; he repeats two times the Nant-Blanc descent. Favorite Grivel products: Dark Machines, Mistral, Ghost Evo, crampons Ski Tour.