As February slipped into March I reluctantly left Lake Louise. The call of Nyssa and the Tower was growing in my heart, but also the start date was just before April and I had more adventures to tick off! The next one came rather unexpectedly, Tim (who came to visit in January) had sent me a voucher for an ice climbing course! I headed down to Canmore for a couple of nights to do Basic Ice Climbing 1, with Yamnuska, a local guiding company that knows the area very well. They provide all the climbing kit – appropriate boots, ice tools, helmet, crampons, etc, but I was also prepared with my warm winter gear, harness, and a brand new pair of mitts, to keep my hands warm and dry.
I’ve done plenty of climbing in my time, but this was a whole new thing and my instructor – Grant – spent the first morning showing me and my group the basics of moving around in crampons and on icy terrain, and then we graduated onto rope work and actually climbing stuff.
All the climbing we did that day was on top ropes, and on gentle climbs with not a lot of vertical, which made things much more comfy for learning. Despite this (and typical of my attitude to climbing in general) I was constantly eyeing up the more dramatic vertical features on offer and wondering aloud if we’d get a chance to climb them! The basic of ice climbing are relatively simple, try to use your axes mainly for balance and try to get your legs doing as much of the work as possible. It’s important to keep your hips forward, forcing your centre of gravity over your crampons to maximize their effectiveness.
Once you’re confident in your crampons it becomes much easier but at the end of the first day my arms and hands were still quite achy. The ice axes (referred to in the sport as tools) present an attractive thing to cling on to when you’re nervous, and like in rock climbing, your arms tire much quicker than your legs!
During that afternoon a large snowstorm (that had been bothering me for other reasons before the trip) settled into the area, and the next day due to the avalanche risk Grant was forced re-assess and pick another location for us to climb at. To my pleasant surprise this was Johnston’s Canyon! It was a great turn of fortune for me, as I now got a chance to climb the ice that I’d enviously watched other people climb when I’d been to the canyon with my parents. After a couple of warm-up routes (and some more wondering aloud from me) Grant set up ropes on some of the larger features in the canyon and I got to do a WI 4 – a respectably graded 12-15m route that went up close to all the huge icicles that hang down around the upper falls.
It was a really awesome couple of days, one of the big highlights of my trip, and a fantastic early birthday present from a great friend that I won’t ever forget.Next stop Golden, and (hopefully) some heli-boarding!