Learn to Ice Climb in the Canadian Rockies
The best ice climbing in North America is in the Canadian Rockies, on the border of British Columbia and Alberta. In the “golden triangle” between the small towns of Golden, Jasper, and Canmore, you’ll find the highest concentration of world-class ice climbing locations on earth. Consequently, you’ll also find the residences of some of the world’s best ice climbers, including Will Gadd, who made the first known ascent of frozen Niagara Falls in 2015.
“I don’t want to say that we have more ice climbing here than in the rest of the world put together, but, well, there’s a lot,” says Gadd. “And there’s a tremendous variety of climbs that are easily accessible, from the roadside attraction of the Weeping Wall to some of the biggest waterfall ice routes in the world — some of these things are pushing upwards of 3,000 feet.”
Thanks to the quantity and quality of the routes, along with a long and reliable ice climbing season that spans from October to May, the golden triangle also hosts the highest concentration of ice climbing guides. Gadd is a specialist, taking out individuals or very small groups looking to hone their technique or to accomplish specific climbs. For more novice climbers, he recommends Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, or Yam, as the locals call it.
Start with Yam’s Beginner Experiential Ice Climbing session, either a half-day or full-day endeavor. You’ll drive to the Grassi Lakes recreation area and then hike 20 minutes to “The Junkyards,” a popular training spot for ice climbers with ample 50- to 60-foot single-pitch routes perfect for beginners. You’ll learn about ice climbing gear including ice axes and crampons, and how to use ice tools to efficiently scale the slabs of frozen water.
For a bigger commitment, take the two-day course called Climbing Level 1 – Basic Ice ($325), offered on weekends through the end of March. Besides basic ice climbing skills, the course teaches technique and introduces more advanced skills including ice screw placement and anchor construction. Plus, you’ll hit some of the most classic single-pitch hotspots in the area, like The Junkyards, King Creek, and Johnston Canyon. Afterward, there’s an option for a full-day add-on ($265)—a semi-private session with your guide to tackle your first multi-pitch ice climb.
[Beginner Experiential Ice Climbing from $155 half-day or $180 full-day. Includes technical gear: boots, crampons, climbing harness, climbing helmet, ice tools, belay device, carbineers, slings, ropes. Bring a 30-liter daypack with 1–2 liters of water, snacks, and lunch.]
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