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Winter Ice Climbs in the Canadian Rockies

Winter Ice Climbs in the Canadian Rockies

Peter Zvengrowski, Calgary Mountain Club

THE winter of 1973-74 proved to be a very active one for climbing new waterfalls in the Canadian Rockies. The standards of free climbing were pushed farther than in the preceding years, while new techniques in aid climbing made possible the ascents of a number of large and continuously steep routes in reasonable amounts of time.

The most impressive of the new climbs were perhaps the “left Bourgeau Falls,” Takakkaw Falls, and “Nemesis” on Mount Stanley. These routes, all involving large amounts of aid climbing, the use of fixed ropes, and multi-day climbing, were rated Grade 6’s (Scottish rating system) and are probably among the first ice climbs to achieve this degree of difficulty. Other fine routes were put up on the Weeping Wall and elsewhere.

The author had the good fortune to be involved in climbing and photographing two new Grade 5 waterfalls, which will now be described. A number of spectacular looking lines around Field, B.C., had attracted attention early in the season and had turned back several attempts, due in large part to rotten ice. In late February Jack Firth, Eckhard Grassmann, and I drove to Field to try the “Carlsberg Column,” the right hand falls on Mount Dennis, but a heavy snowstorm there with accompanying avalanche conditions forced us to give up the idea. Instead, we decided to fill in the day with what we thought would be an easy afternoon on an unclimbed waterfall at the far end of Lake Louise. The waterfall proved to be both larger and more difficult than anyone had suspected. By five P.M. Jack was still hard at work in the middle of the third pitch, which involved stepping out of a comfortable ice cave under a large roof 40 feet above, to climb a vertical 40-foot column of friable ice. We decided to quit for the day, left the first two pitches fixed, and skiied back across the lake to “bivouac” at Wapta Lodge. The next day, reinforced with Tony Mould, we jümared up to the ice cave and Jack went back to work, armed with three pterodactyls and special home-made tubular pitons. It still took another two hours to complete the third pitch, but Jack had led it free! The fourth and final pitch had a few delicate moves but was relatively routine after the lower part.

In the beginning of April, Jack, Eckhard, John Lauchlan and I arrived in Field to try the “Pilsner Pillar,” the left of the two major falls on Mount Dennis. John and Jack had done the right one the previous week. The first pitch of the Pilsner Pillar is a 150-foot-high free-standing column of ice, about 20 feet wide, 6 feet thick, and separated from the rock at its base by some 10 feet. John led it in less than four hours, in spite of some rotten ice, using an aid technique where the étriers are clipped into the pterodactyls. The rest of us jümared up. The remainder of the climb, about five or six more pitches on superb ice, all went free and surprisingly easily except for an 80° section on the third pitch, so it was possible to complete the ascent the same day.