Two O’Clock Falls is not located in the high mountains or shady canyons. It’s actually in the grasslands of Kootenay Plains! In the lowlands were is a heavy shadded area in the Hills that harbors a huge waterfall with W2-3 ice offering 4 pitches on a variety of lines.  This is where Damien and I ended up after discovering that Melt Out W3 along the Icefield Parkway in Jasper NP was under a wind slab that looked ready to avalanche. We parked by a gate on the side of Hwy 11 labeled 2 O’Clock Creek. We  were a bit confused by the book directions and just parked near where we could see the falls from the rd. We followed a dirt road beyond the gate into a campground and onto the trail. However, after followed the trail through tree and realizing we were not turning toward the falls we decided to just travel cross country. We were looking for a meadow that we were supposed to walk alongside. The area is sacred to the First Nations and it was important that we stayed on the side of this meadow since it was part of their ceremonial grounds. As we wandered the forest looking for the meadow and heading for the falls we came across lots of trees wrapped in cloth. This had something to do with ceremonies. We eventually stumbled across another road and followed it to the meadow we were looked for complete with First Nation structures. We stayed to the right on the road, but turned into the forest and traveled cross country to the falls hoping to find the trail we were supposed to be on. We eventually found it and followed it to the base of the falls.

The ice was pretty wet even in the cold shade. Damien racked up to take the first lead. Like Lousie Falls, the ice was damaged by heat and insecure. With the swing of an axe 2×2 ft sections of ice would go white. Massive dinner plates shattered from the route and it took up to ten swings to get a descent stick. Damien finished the lead. It was W3 what the ice quality made thing very spicy. I tested several areas to lead up pitch 2, but found the ice to be very questionable, possibly more so than the first pitch. When I put in screwed the surrounding ice turned white causing me to question if they would hold at all. In the end i decided to down climb  the pitch and bail after one to many sections of ice went white with swings or tools. we rapped off of two V threads. Nothing too prove. The conditions were just not good.

We followed the trail out and discovered the gate we should have entered into from Hwy 11 was actually unsigned and 1.5 km down the road from where we parked. We know for our return!

Lousie Falls is located in the last place you’d expected to see dirtbag climbers. The approach requires pass a posh resort : Lake Lousie Chateau. It felt kind of odd after wearing the same clothes for 6 days to walk through the wealthy masses observing ice carving and skating the the lake. Who needs laundry!? In any case, approaching the falls in about a 2.4 Km walk around the shoreline of Lake Lousie. The falls can be see though fro the Chateau. Our Plan was to only climb the bottom 1 or 2 pitches. The rest of the route is W4-5. Beyond our current level and it was late the the day anyway. The trail beside the lake leads to the bottom of an open slope about 50-60 meters below the falls. We left he main trail and followed the boot-pack up to the base. It is important to be cautious and wear a helmet as you approach. Climbers from above drop massive ice chunks down from the upper pitches. Staying to the right is crucial to avoid being hit and obtain protection from overhanging rock.

We racked up on the far right side of the falls. The first pitch to the first set of bolted anchors looked straight forward and doable. However, as Damien began to lead he discovered from ice quality issues. The sun and warm temps had damaged the ice quite a bit. It was insecure no matter how many times he kicked into the wall. Getting an ice axe to stick took about ten swings due in insane dinner-plating. And once the axe did stick it was often almost impossible to remove. Damien got up the first tier to a small ledge. The conditions were too dicy for his comfort, so I lowered him and took over the lead. The ice was as bad as he reported. I was able to ascend just under a meter. I had insecure feet but two good ice axe hooks. I’m not sure how since i was pressed down hard the the hooks, but one of my axes popped and I took a lead fall. By other axe held and the umbilical caught me oddly enough. All in all i fell about a meter back onto the ledge. The only damage came from my hammer hitting me in the mouth and slightly chipping my tooth and bruising my lip. I got lucky.

After that we decided to call it a day and packed tings up. I guess I’m truely a climber no since after 5 years I finally took a lead fall. 🙂

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls is just how I remembered it. Spectacular and HUGE! We walked through the canyon before daylight making it feel e3ven more majestic and reached he bottom of the Upper Falls (turn right at the 2nd junction) just as the sun rose. Accessing the ice is a bit tricky. We have to climb over the boardwalk, step down onto on icy boulder and then slide down said boulder to the frozen river. The wall of ice is in great shape thought he pillars have broken in the heat. The ice on the far right is W2 and as you move left the wall steepest and the grade gets more difficult. We opted for a W3 Line in the center. The ice can be climbed in a single pitch and wrapped with a 70 meter rope. But it is easy to use a 60 meter and climb the routes in 2 pitches due to a huge platform about 1/3 of the way up. Damien led the lower pitch which is pretty much W2 for all routes. This was the first pitch of ice I ever led about 3 year ago. I led the second pitch of W3 and set up an anchor from 2 trees. PLEASE always check the cord and webbing left behind by previous parties before using them. There was already an anchor there and I ended up building my own since I could not trust any of the knots.

Damien and I ran some laps on the upper Pitch and the W4/W3+ pitch on the left for the rest of the morning. We rappelled the second pitch with a V thread. Note that this is a big tourist destination so folks will be watching and taking pictures the whole time. I wanted to put out a top jar for the climbers!

 

We were told by two climbers yesterday that Crystal Tears was in and awesome. However, because of the warming trend the climb would probably only be in for one more day. Damien and I headed out from Canmore, Alberta to Grotto Canyon before daylight hoping to get the route first since its narrow in places. We followed the main canyon to His and Hers at the headwall and then took a left turn and continued down the canyon. After about 30 minutes there was a junction on the right. The Climbers from the day before said that they hard marked the turn off on the right with a ribbon. We didn’t see a ribbon and though we ventures a bit further down the canyon we could no find one elsewhere. So we assumed someone had removed the ribbon and turn right. This was obviously a climbers trail. It switchbacked very steeply through the trees  for almost 300 meters before reaching screes. We followed a clear boot path to the left and into a gully were this was a thin melting waterfall.

Damien too the first lead. The ice didn’t look great and when he hit in the sound was hollow. the ice was pretty much detached from the rock and there would be some mixed moves. Damien hooked the top of the ice and ended up taking down about 1 meter of the ice route! We examined mixed climbing options but saw no simple way to gain the upper pitches. We decided to bail. Back at the bottom of the canyon we ended up locating the Ribbon several meters further down the canyon. We followed a set a boot prints we hadn’t noticed in the earlier darkness and discovered that we had climbed the walk down earlier. We also discovered several climbers bailing from the route due to the melted out, ripped off portion. The warm weather definitely has taken this route out, at least for now.

Grotto Falls was in great form and fat this week even with the warm weather. Damien and I ventured into Grotto Canyon for our first ice cimbing venture in Alberta on Tuesday. The canyon walk definitely requires spikes. Some portion of the frozen river a extremely slushy/water though so be prepared to get wet to wear gaitors! The bottom of the route has several good places to put your packs that are dry. The ice was melting on the sides of the falls pretty fervently, but away from the edges things we dryer (as fall as ice goes). However, as the day wore on the ice began to melt pretty much everywhere and things get very wet indeed. The ice had formed in such a way that the route gets steeper and slightly longer the further left you go. Everything is pretty much a W3 on the first pitch though. There are two bolt anchors (one left and one slightly higher on the right) on top of the second Tier of the falls. The Third and final tier is short. It ranges from W3+ on the left to W2 on the right. On top of the 2nd Pitch there are normally bolt anchors but the ice flow had covered them. There are many trees and Damien and I set up a red rap station/anchor on the big tree to the left.

Damien and I spent the day taking turns leading and running some laps. It was my first W3 lead so I was pretty stoked! Today we ended up returning to climb the route several times again after discovering that Crystal Tears of was out. Grotto is definitely getting a lot of action right now and the route is getting a bit picked out.

The second half of our winter adventure vacation was centered around ice climbing. It was all in the same general area so I decided to put it all in one entry even though it was 3 days.

The drive from Bozeman to Hyalite Canyon’s Grotto Falls trail head is about 25 miles and takes about 45-60 minutes. The reason is once you are in Hyalite the speed limit drops to 25mph for 15 miles.

Day 1:

On the first day we arrived just after sunrise. Our first objective was Willow Gully. To get there you approach as you would to get to Genesis 1. Across the street from the Grotto Falls Parking Lot, there is a well packed down trail. Follow this trail through the forest ascending (sometimes steeply) up to the base of Genesis 1. Walk right along the base of these massive waterfalls and follow the beaten trail over a few small and steep hills to the next smaller ice flow. This is Willow Gully W2.

Willow Gully is a great short route for a first lead on Waterfall Ice. Damien had only led alpine ice before so he took this opportunity to try his hand leading W Ice. You can go straight up the middle of the flow or stay right into a chimney-like feature. From the ground it looked easier to go right. However, looks can be deceiving. Damien of course finished his lead, but last upon top-roping the middle variation we discovered that it was much easier that the right!

We didn’t stay at Willow very long as it is a pretty small flow. Instead from the top of Willow we traverse right along the top of the cliff, sometimes belaying each other, to the top of Genesis 1 (or G1). Looking at the massive ice flow form below the left side is rated W3 and progressively gets more difficult (up to W5+ the further right you go). We set up a top-rope on one of the many trees along the top of the cliff on the W3 flow. There are tones of preexisting tree anchors along all of G1. We used the existing slings to back up our own anchor.

We had the wall mostly to ourselves. The only other climber was a rope soloist who spent the day running laps of the W4 & 5 sections. A soloist also ascended the W3 route en-route  to access the upper waterfalls. We were able to do 4 variations of the W3 G1 left wall using redirect ice screws. The wall is 80+ feel and was well picked out. Lots of hooking with tools and stepping on preexisting steps. However, if you weren’t sucked into taking the east way there was untouched ice in-between to get a more technical workout. I did 11 laps that day. Damien did about the same.

Day 2:

One the  second day we once again headed to G1. This time we set up a top-rope by following the trail right from the base of the flow. The trail is well packed down, but steep. There is a hand-line over one the the sketchier spots, but caution should definitely used throughout. I put Damien on belay from one the W5 anchors so he could access the W3 anchor we used the day before. The tree is anchor actually hangs over the side of the ice flow so soloing was not a risk worth taking for us. Once again very few folks passed through. Another rope soloist and a team that climbed W4 at the end of the day. I did 15 laps that day. Damien did a bit less than that. Vitamin I was helpful for sure that night! We also checked out Lower Green Sleeves which is located just beyond Willow Gully. It is rated W3, but many agree that it is only a W2. We also checked out the Amphitheater Corner area which is along the Hyalite Creek Trail from the parking lot. We planned to set up a top-rope on Fat Chance W3 the next day really early in the morning before the Saturday crowds arrived so we wanted to make sure we knew the location.

Day 3:

We were on the trail to Amphitheater Corner Climbs before sunrise on Saturday as planned and arrived at the base just as light was creeping into the sky. There ate two ice flows on the left of this open area. The larger one on the left is called Fat Chance and the thinner, scarier looking one on the right is is called Thin Chance. Both are rated W3. Our guide described that setting up a top-rope was very possible though a bit of a trash by walking up to the left of the flows. This seemed reasonable enough. We geared up and headed on the well traveled trail left of the falls to set up our top-rope. We soon found that this steep trail was not taking us toward the too of the waterfalls, but actually it headed away from them. We went back down and tried a few variations ascending the snow beside the waterfalls, but there was no way to safety get over the short but menacing head-wall near the top. We went back on the trail and followed some boot-prints that diverged right back toward the falls, but they stopped short when the terrain became too dangerous to continue. Total we spent about 2 hours trying to figure out how to get to the top of the falls and even asked passing climbers to no avail. We decided to go back to Genesis, hoping it hadn’t gotten too crowded yet.

It was definitely crowded at Genesis 1 and another team was already on Lower Greensleeves (our other option). However, a team was just about to get off our old W3 line which they were only suing to warm up. We later found out that they were from Seattle too. Small world. We quickly scrambled to the top of the cliff and set up a toprope on our anchor tree. We ended up spending the day once again on the 4 variations. Again I did 15 laps. Damien was pretty spent, but still climbed quite a lot. We also had the opportunity to teach some new climbers some correct technique. Always good to help folks at the wall before something goes terribly wrong.

 

Conditions:

After 41 laps and 24 hours at the ice flows I feel like I can now lead W3. I’m sure Damien would say the same.  If only we had good, reliable Waterfall ice in Washington. It was an awesome ice climbing experience. Our technique had defiantly improved and confidence had built. One note about the ice quality at G1 however. The warm weather had been weakening the ice. On Saturday Jan. 23 massive dinner-plating was occurring all over the wall with football sized (or larger) chunks coming down. We anchored the belayer far away from the wall on a tree for safety. The W4 routes are very hollow and melting out fast. The W3 routes are extremely picked out (others might be as well). Definitely could use a cold snap!

 

Today was the final day of the ice course… a bittersweet experience because it was an awesome climb… but the final climb. We met early (7:00am) today at the Bagel shop. Joining us were two Mountain Guides in training: Mikey and Philip. Eric had a meeting with them regarding avalanche reports and safety. It was decided that beacons were not needed on today’s journey to Rogan’s Gully.

Rogan’s Gully is located in Banff National Park. The arrived just as the sun’s first rays peaked over the horizon revealing a large herd of elk on the Banff Airfield. We shouldered our packs and headed up the climbers trail. We scaled the flanks of Cascade Mountain and traversed several meters above the normal approach to avoid the heavy avalanche debris that had accumulated. The incline was steep, but nothing I’m not accustomed too. We were at the base of the climb in about 45 minutes.

Eric tied into the lead end. Then we tied a figure 8 on a bite with a long loop. I tired into the loop and Jeanelle tied into the end. Thus the two of us would not impact each other if we fell as Eric belayed us up at the same time. Nino set up to lead the Philip and Mikey. The first pitch was probably a WI2. The double follow method worked very well though communication is esencial especially when climbing over a bulge or narrow space. We reached Eric and clipped into the chain anchor and waited for the rest of the group. We didn’t need the rope for the middle section fo the climb. Avalanche debris littered the gully concealing the ice. We simply walked on top of it using one ice tool as an ice ax in case self arrest was needed. The final pitch was a gorgeous WI3 ice flow; steep and long! What a wonderful pitch to top out on! We ate lunch in the shade of the two rocky summits of Cascade Mountain before we began us decent. We competed a double rope rappel off of the long waterfall pitch and then simple walked down roped up glacier style to the first pitch. This was a single rope rappel. Both rappels had chains or webbing.

It was about 3:30 by the time we reached the base. A wonderful mutlipitch day in great company. We met up later for a farewell dinner at the Grizzley Paw Brewing Company. Tomorrow I will board my plane and head back to the Pacific Northwest where ice is scarce and snow is still for want this year.

I would recommend any course offered by Mountain Skills Academy to anyone in search of gaining outdoor skills and a memorable experience.

 

Today we were joined by another American student. Nino is a sponsored climber and personal chef from California looking to possibly do a career move and become a certified Mountain Guide. The four of us drove to the trailhead of Johnston Canyon near Banff. The trail is very popular with tourist and Eric warned us that there would probably be spectators. We hiked for about 1.1 miles (for some reason the trail sign measured in miles and not km) to the upper falls. The trail for the most part was in good condition with some slippery spots. An elevated boardwalk wrapped around the walls of the canyon treating us with splendid views the entire away.

The upper falls was quite a spectacular site. A large frozen waterfall towered to the left with water still flowing beneath it into the partially frozen pool. The flowed the the canyon walls and massive icicles dripped fro the overhangs. Paradise. We climbed over the boardwalk railing and onto the shoreline of the creek to gear up. Then we headed across the frozen creek to the giant ice flow. Eric handed me several Black Diamond Express Ice screws and six screamers. No top rope this morning. I was leading.

Jeanelle put me on belay. I chose a route that looked neither too steep or two low angle. I moved slowly, but very deliberately up the route. It was long and a few times I felt a quick wave of panic, but I thought of Alex Honnald and just slowed my breathing. According to Eric, who met me at the top) I did everything right expect for the fact that I elected to run out the last couple of meters. Typical of me when I get over confident. I tend to do the same on rock. I have gear… so i ought to place it!

After Jeanelle completed the route I led and cleared the screws we spent the rest of the day going over multipitch ice. Mostly the anchor building for hanging belays is like rock… except screws are used. It was also discussed the Personal Anchors are, in Eric’s opinion, not needed. Just a clove hitch will do since the rope is the strongest thing you have and if that goes you’re done for regardless. Also, went belaying from above drape the rope long ends to short if you are swinging leads… but short to long if there is one leader. We also went over making and inspecting V threads and rapping safely. The first climber rappels down with an autoblock and with the rope threaded not only through the V Thread perlon, but also through a carabiner on a screw (22 or 19cm) in case the V Thread fails. If the rapping climber makes it safely the upper climber removes the screw and prepares to rap. The upper climber does not use an autoblock since the lower climber will keep him or her on a fireman belay. If there was an injury to the rapping climber an autoblock with stop them from ever reaching the lower climber. With the fireman belay the lower climber could get their injured partner down safely.

Nino and I paired up and practiced our newly learned skills. We split one pitch of ice into two short pitches and swapped leads in-between. I hope to climb with him sometime in the future. He is very precise and safe… all good things in the alpine. I learned a lot of little trick from him… but by now it was getting very late. The light was dimming and we hadn’t eaten all day! We packed up our gear and headed out of the canyon.

Tonight Jeanelle’s friend from Calgary is coming to visit… and tomorrow is our final ice day.