Placeholder Routes & Places

Trip Report    

Intermediate Water Ice - Canmore

Good classroom for the new students and a good opportunity for more climbing for the returning/assistant folks.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Overall, conditions were thinner than normal. Locals say the preceding Fall was relatively dry, which lead to a lack of ice formation.

For this year's Water Ice Field Trip, we had 2 new Intermediate Students on board (Varun and Jan), and then the 4 folks from last year (Sherman, Justin, Tim, and Alex) came along as well for more opportunities to climb and build their experience. Alanna had planned to join us as well, but she had some family issues come up and needed to bail. 

Sherman and Justin went out a couple of days early to get some climbing in on their own, and then Varun and I met on Thursday morning to make the drive, with Alex and Tim driving together as well. Jan was flying from Portland to Calgary and would be meeting us on Friday. All-in-all, the drives weren't bad. The worst parts were driving through north Whatcom county with the large drifts and high winds from the major snowstorm the days before (we should have stayed on I5).

On Friday morning, the group met and headed out to Johnston Canyon. This is an excellent playground for all ability levels. The temps were quite low with my truck was saying negative teens, and beards and moustaches were frosty by the time we reached the base (although Justin and Sherman said it was warmer than it had been the previous day!) 

PXL_20240119_154039138.jpg Sherman and Justin proceeded to set up a top-rope on the upper right side of the Falls, while I reviewed skills with the other 3 on the lower part of the flow. Unfortunately, Jan had a few delays in getting in and getting his rental car, so he didn't show up until mid-day. We worked primarily on climbing movement skills, focusing on good swing technique, good crampon technique, and efficient movement. As the day progressed, we started to get into screw placement and a couple of folks did some mock-leads as well.


We had some extra ropes, so in the afternoon, Justin and Sherman set up a top rope on Prism, the main falls. This is usually WI5, but it was even more bulgy and cauliflowered than the last time I was here, and was a fun challenge for folks to try. I think Justin, Sherman, myself, Alex, and Jan all jumped on there. It was a great way to get folks excited about ice climbing! Varun was excited to practice cleaning the anchors and building V-Threads, so after some practice down low, he climbed up the rope on the right side of the flow. He was almost bested when he realized that the anchor screws and been frozen over with new ice and battled to get his Thread made before thing refroze again. He did a good job of keeping his cool during the ordeal, but let out quite the whoop once he got it all rigged and was safely down! It was a good test of his skills.


On Saturday, Justin was very excited to go check out the Rehab Wall in the Evan Thomas River valley in Kananaskis Country. It was a new area that I hadn't been to before, so I really wasn't sure what to expect, but I had heard of some of the other climbs in that area (Moonlight and Snowline). It looked like there were a couple of easier climbs in the area too, so I was happy to oblige. The hike in was quite pleasant, and while we didn't quite have the same "fish in the bowl" experience like you do at Johnston, the area was heavily trafficked by snow hikers.


We were unfortunately scooped on Chantilly Falls (WI2) by another group who was just taking off when we got there. The group continued on to Combo Falls, and this is where Varun, Jan, and I peeled off to use as a classroom. Tim and Alex headed back to wait for a go at Chantilly, while Justin and Sherman continued down the valley to B2 (WI3-).  Varun and Jan worked on more mock leading, and the flow had a lot of interesting features that required them to push their comfort zones a little bit while still being within the safety of the mock-lead. There were spots with thin ice, areas with a lot of snow covered ice, some small ice dams to step over, and some sections of very wet ice as well. While not physically challenging, I think it opened their eyes to some of the hazards they might have to deal with when they are out on their own. By the end of the day, they did a little mini-pitch exercise and swapped leads on the flow.


For the third and final day, we were struggling to find a suitable venue for the the spectrum of abilities we had in the group. There was discussion about splitting up and heading to different locations, concerns about popular venues being crowded or us being in the "danger zone" of climbers above while we were working on skills. After quite a bit of deliberation, I saw on Will Gadd's "Ice and Mixed Climbing" app the Wedge Smear area, and I remembered that Andy had mentioned this as well as a good classroom venue. With climbs ranging from WI2 to harder mixed lines that were accessible by top-rope, it seemed like a worthy endeavor. After a winding hike along the Kananaskis highway and through the forest, we arrived at the zone. Unfortunately, it was less filled in as what the beta photos showed, but it seemed good enough for our crew. Justin and Sherman were eager to get top-ropes up on the mixed lines, so they hiked up the gulley and around for that. Tim did well in leading a WI2 line to put a rope up that could be used for practice on a slightly steeper section as well. And Jan did a short lead up a WI 2 section as well and did a good job of building an ice anchor. 


Towards the end of the day, attentions turned to the harder mixed lines on the right side of the feature. It was a great way to burn ourselves out and push our abilities. Justin and myself led the charge in attempting a stiff M8 line with a big roof move, while Sherman, Jan and Alex all gave it a good attempt as well. There was also an M7 and an M5 that folks top roped, and there was continued mock-leading of the ice to the left. Varun didn't feel ready for a full lead yet of the ice in this area, and had a good head for where he was at and what he wanted to work on. He mentioned that he really liked this 3-day progression and would be contemplating implementing something similar for the Intermediate Rock 2 Field Trip. 





One aspect of climbing in this area is that the climbs are less concentrated than they are in Bozeman. This means that things are generally less crowded because things are more spread out (besides some of the well-known classics), but it also means that you sometimes have to hike a little longer and you don't know what you're getting into until you've arrived. But with Bozeman, you can see many of the areas from the parking lot and can make your assessment along the way. And if the area you had planned to go to is already occupied, you can fairly easily just keep hiking down Hyalite Canyon to another area.  I polled the 4 returning students on which they thought was a better venue for this trip and it was split - some said they preferred Hyalite, and others preferred Canmore. I think if the ice in Canmore was fatter, that may have swayed folks a little more this time. Either way, I think it turned out pretty well overall for this trip. The students got some new skills and the returning folks solidified their techniques with good experience.