Ice climbing in Ya Ha Tinda Valley northwest of Sundre, Alberta, Canada.
The drive from Calgary to Airdrie begins in the early morning darkness of a bitterly cold winter day. A vehicle swap into the four-wheel drive Jeep begins the drive north and west from Calgary, to Sundre, Alberta, Canada, then further west into the middle of nowhere at Ya Ha Tinda Valley where the four-wheel capability is tested close to the east border of Banff National Park. Road conditions are poor and the weather is brutally cold.
Travel time is 3 hours in a Jeep whose heating system cannot keep up with cold weather at -35 degrees C (-31 degrees F). Parking at a very beautiful place begins the process of gearing up and beginning reconnaissance of ice conditions for climbing on the next day.
There is a goldmine of ice climbing opportunity in this area and a short hike begins nearby on snow-covered river ice, with water gurgling underneath our feet, into a magnificent canyon with a series of spectacular, frozen waterfalls. Careful listening for the hissing of 'breathing' holes in the river ice is important to avoid hiking near, or into them. Several ice climbing opportunities are identified prior to the return drive through Sundre to Airdrie and Calgary.
The next day begins very early. Excited anticipation about the day's potential ice climbing adventure encourages driving the previous day's route before sunrise. This time, better road conditions reduces the trip time between Airdrie and the Ya Ha Tinda Valley to about 2 ¾ hours. Weather conditions change to sunny but the temperature still remains brutally cold at –30 degrees C. Approach begins in crampons at 11 AM along the frozen river hike about 1 KM (0.63 miles) along Big Horn Creek to a fork in the deep canyon. Big Horn Falls is on the left.
Transition to ice climbing gear is completed as rapidly as possible in the bitter cold before the short jaunt on a right fork where the next four hours are energetically enjoyed climbing a series of progressively more demanding ice falls. The cold is less noticeable while focused on relatively intense and strategic physical endeavor. The digital camera refuses to function at these temperatures.
Down climbs are carefully executed and towards the top of the route there is a challenging and mixed ice, rock scramble, both up and down through a tube in the canyon wall. Scrambling on rock with ice climbing crampons is very interesting. Foot placements are executed differently.
Back to parking at the trail-head by mid-afternoon, there is time to enjoy a quick, hot lunch in the Jeep before heading home.
Arrival in Airdrie occurs as darkness settles in on a short winter day. Lasagna, moose tracks ice cream and excellent homemade cake preclude watching an ice climbing video and ending the day with the exchange of good conversation, great stories and more memories.