‘Hot’ Ice Trip Report
by Margaret Imai-Compton
January 20, 2016
YMA Hot Ice
January 16-18, 2016
At the risk of sounding uber patriotic, the Canadian Rockies have the best extreme ice climbing in the world. It’s common to come across ice climbers from Europe, USA and other countries, who have made the pilgrimage to climb classic ice routes in the Canadian Rockies.
Reading about Yamnuska Adventures’ Multi-Pitch Winter Ice Climbing Trip, I was immediately captivated. I was drawn to the description that the camp is designed to give ice climbers the opportunity to experience the best of Rockies ice, at a level tailored toward one’s ability, strength and previous experience, all under the leadership of Yam’s certified, professional ACMG guides.
Day 1 Haffner Creek:
There’s always an element of suspense when one is meeting up with a new group. For me, I have doubts about my abilities; whether I’ll be the weakest link; questions about my technique and experience; whether I’ll be able to “keep up” with the group. As it turned out, my four fellow ice climbers were lovely, supportive and friendly men who were out for their annual “mountain men weekend”.
Yam’s Hot Ice climbing trip is designed to showcase the best of Rockies’ ice climbing, so to prepare for subsequent days of multi pitch climbing, we started with a warm-up day at Haffner Creek. Our Yamnuska lead guide, Darren Vonk, reviewed basic techniques to make our climbing more efficient and precise. Then for the balance of the day, he coached each of us individually, pointing out correct stance, efficiencies in tool grip, how to find a flat foot position to rest our burning calves and how to retrieve a fallen tool (that was me!)
Day 2 Multi Pitch Classic Ice Routes:
Our group headed out to different destinations. The four mountain men and their Yam guides, Jean and Takeshi, tackled the classic intermediate routes, Moonlight and Snowline in the Evan Thomas area of Kananaskis. “Snowline was a challenge but the best ice I’ve climbed” enthused Todd.
Meanwhile, Darren and I opted for a mellow two pitch route called Waterhole on McGillivary Slabs near Exshaw. Afterwards, over coffee and sweet treats in Canmore, we debated whether the highlight of the day was the ice climb itself, or the yummies afterwards!
Day 3 Lake Louise Falls:
On our last day together, we approached the ever popular and classic four-pitch Louise Falls. For safety, Darren and Takeshi’s ropes took different sides of the frozen falls (left and right) and climbed up two pitches to a magical cave at the foot of an ice pillar. For maximum thrills and chills, one then exits the ice cave and traverses onto the face of the pillar – a daunting few moves even for those of us who relish exposure – and straight up to the gnarly last pitch which ends in the trees, then a walk off through deep snow, down a narrow gully.
Reflecting back on our three days together, I realize my initial trepidation was unfounded; the guides expertly tailored the climbing objectives to our individual abilities and experience. They certainly delivered on providing a classic Hot Ice experience, and I’m now looking forward to Yam’s summer Hot Rock program.
Well done Yam guides Darren, Takeshi and Jean. And thanks to Steve, Todd, Evan and Patrick for a thoroughly enjoyable time together.