First climbing week in Canada

18/11/2012 17:41


First Ice climbing week in Canada

The Playground, Cosmic Messenger (60m III,WI5), Murchison Falls (180m, III, WI 4+) and Virtual Reality(160m IV,WI6)




On Friday morning, 5.30 o ´clock we leave the dark outskirts of Canmore towards Banff and then take the Icefield Highway 93 towards Jasper, simply called “BJ”(Banff-Jasper Highway). The streets are covered with a solid snow- ice mixture. The long, seemingly never ending road leads us along the Bow Lake river through thick fir forests. We pass the frozen Hector Lake and the Bow lake and come to follow the Mistaya River. On our left the sharp contours of the Waputik Range stretch their snow laden shoulders and ridges towards a black night sky covered with the last, fading light of stars.

Although i enjoy the incredible beauty of this northern landscapes i catch myself drifting away in sleepiness. I make myself some Coffee and provide the abstinent driver with tea. The Waterfowl Lake appears and dawn slowly sets in. The mighty shapes of Mt Murchison arise in the twilight and we park the car on the roadside. The clock shows 7.50. Two cars are already there, so we decide to change plans and go for the “Cosmic Messenger” instead of “Murchison falls”. A long walk along a frozen riverbed awaits us. After 1.50 hours we finally reach the fall with seemingly quality ice. It is cold, approximately -15 C. We get ready and Matthias starts to climb. The sound of the ice is not comforting. Mat links the two pitches fast in one length. Nevertheless, when i come up my fingers are frozen cold and it takes minutes of pain until they are warm again. Not many climbers travel here, cause of the long approach, but this fall rests a “jewel”, as Joe Josephson commented later, glad, that it is still not forgotten. It had been his first first ascend in the Rockies. 


Next day strong winds where blowing around Canmore. Therefore temperatures were easily under -18C. Although not the nicest conditions for sporty movements, we decide to check on the “Playground”, a good equipped Drytooling area, strongly recommended by my sister, who had spent a lot of time in Canmore the past years. 50 minutes again of walking distance. At the Playground we meet Sean Isaac providing a clinic for a group of motivated climbers. My feeds and hands are damned cold and won´t get warm, even when i start to climb on the M9-. Definitely too cold for having real fun! In order to avoid too much acid lactic in the system, we limit out todays training to 3 bzw. 4 routes and then walk our way back together with Sean and his group. 


On Thuesday the 13th we finally approach the Murchinson Falls. A long walk of 1hours 10 minutes through a dense forest is needed to approach the fall. Just nine days ago a Grizzly was spotted here plodding nervously around, but after this constantly cold temperatures, i am pretty relaxed about that issue. It has been too cold for days now for any troublemaker rejecting a cosy den! Only freaky ice climbers are around now.

Murchisons is a great fall with windblown, treachery ice and many possible ways to climb up. The climbing is interesting and long and we had fun climbing it. The last pitch  provides quite detached ice with water flowing strongly behind. We reach the plateau and enjoy the view around.Then we rappel in three pitches.

Another 45 minutes and we reach the car with the incoming darkness. Another 1.30 hours drive until we finally reach home and warm meal.


On Friday, the 16th is the day we decide to go for “Virtual Reality”, the fall just next to Murchion Fall and a very committing undertaking. Both of us had their share of fine climbing. Below you can read some of the sensations and thoughts written by Matthias:


Virtual Reality  


“Reality is a very flexible substance…”, 

those are the reflections running trough my mind, while I am approaching the ice lines on Mt. Murchison. We had been here just two days before - and had climbed Murchison Falls. The line had been a great climb, filled with wild and partly chaotic formations but the difficulties had still stayed at a moderate technical and physical level. Nevertheless, it had been a good day out, and in addition to that  it had taught us a lot about the ice quality in the area.


“Reality” is very stretchable term and we found the crazy shapes of the Murchison Falls evidently outclassed by it´s direct neighbor "Virtual Reality". 


And exactly this was the line we were heeding for today. The fall looked quite chaotic in the upper part. Hard to deem, if it could be climbed or not so early in the season. The imminent question arises, how the fragile looking ice is connected to the rock. From our experience on Murchison we estimate, that it should be ok, but you never know- till you are on it.


We solo up the little steps to the climb. Tanja takes the first big pitch with very changeable ice quality. I join her on a good belay in a little cave. Now the pretty unknown awaits. I start to climb up - there are some tracks from a party seemingly climbing the day before. The ice has a lot of tension and is cracking beneath me. After 15 m of climbing I have the option to climb left or stay right on a fragile looking curtain. I am going for the curtain. With some steps in the rock I overcome the very thin and brittle start of it. With two swift strokes of my tools I am over the first meduses and quickly reach the second curtain. Now it starts to becomes really interesting - no more tracks of other climbers above me - just a v-thread and an abandoned screw....

The ice is of an extremely glassy consistence. Every movement I put forth is responded with a cracking moan. I am scratching and cutting my tools with highest caution into sketchy thin icicles. My last screw is placed 10 m below me in the best ice I could find, which is, here, quite relative.

But I feel good. I have found my inner peace and with very calm moves I am approaching the overhanging meduses above me. From the picture we had studied before, I know that there might appear a possibility for a belay above this overhang on the right. I have only 15 m of rope left, so I am in an urgent need to find something. In a glassy ice flute I place a screw to protect the hard moves over the meduses. The curtain is reverberating menacingly under my feet and I try to balance my weight as much as I can. Luckily the ice above the meduses is responding with a reassuring sound. The ice is now better connected to the rock than below. Behind a big icicle I find a cave and, Yes!, there is a wonderful crack going up the rock. Two cams and a kniveblade build a very mind calming belay. Tanja is coming up and I watch her placing the tools like scalpels - the sound of this fragile structures demands the highest caution...




The name of the line might be "Virtual Reality" but the climbing is real, even if the ice, formed in utmost fragile and bizarre shapes might appear quite "unreal" ....


I am attacking the next pitch. The ice has a better sound, the whole structure a better connection to the rock, but still it is formed by countless little icicles making the climbing  very delicate. After 20 m the appearance of the ice changes dramatically: big finger like tentacles of spray ice are covering the rock. The ice is just some centimeters thick but luckily the angle decreases and over fantastic and beautiful molded ice I gain the plateau above the climb. On a solid rock I can place a sling and Tanja is coming up. What a great place - what an extraordinary climb !