Ya Ha Tinda Valley – Ice Climbing - Hiking Alberta


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.


Ya Ha Tinda Valley - near Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada


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.


Ya Ha Tinda Valley - near Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada


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.


Ya Ha Tinda Valley - near Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Big Horn Falls - Ya Ha Tinda Valley, Alberta, Canada


Ya Ha Tinda Valley - near Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada 


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.


Ya Ha Tinda Valley - near Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada The final blue photo before the camera quits in the bitter cold.








Thx for your comment. Ice climbing is a hoot. Minus 7 to 10 C is ideal. Warmer ice is like plastic, or too wet, and sometimes it is hard to get the axe out. At -35 C, ice is brittle and shatters. The belayer must pay attention to falling debris and often it takes the climber several attempts to get good stick. The tough part in serious cold is getting the crampons on fast enough so the hands do not freeze. The last picture is blue and the camera refused to work after that.

Sounds like quite an adventure! The cold probably would have scared me off...are there any conditions that you DON'T go out in? The part of your post that I most relate to is the Moose Tracks ice cream. That stuff is the best ever. I like the chocolate variety, but they're both good. Hooray for dessert! I'm glad you had such a great time!