Ya Ha Tinda Valley for ice climbing between Sundre and Banff National Park.
Ice is fickle. Where you find great ice one year, you may find none the next.
At 35 degrees C below zero, ice is brittle. It shatters on impact with the ice axe. Large chunks of ice exploding from the surface often create an interesting environment for the belayer standing at the bottom.
At +10 degrees C, ice is like soft plastic. The thrust on the axe must be weighed more carefully. If the strike is too hard, it may be a lengthy challenge to get the axe back out of the ice. Too shallow a blow may be insufficient to support body weight.
The belayer, who is always treated with maximum respect, is keeping the climber safe. Communication is high. A little experience goes a long way towards finding the right approach in this fascinating sport.
A contingency plan or two for the day is always to compensate for fluctuations in the condition of ice. If the first choice does not meet or exceed expectations, then you have another location nearby as an alternative. Local climbers will update climb status so current information is often available on the Gravsports Ice website. Detailed research can be the difference between a great day and a bust.
Access time to the ice must be short for two reasons. The first reason is that winter daylight, this far north, is short and, the second reason is conservation of energy for the climb instead of expending it on the hike in and back. Ice climbing can provide a thrilling full body workout combined with spectacular scenery and a robust supply of fresh, cool air.
There will be comical moments, memories to last a lifetime and exciting stories to share.
The four-wheel drive leaves from Airdrie, north of Calgary, to winter parking at the Ya Ha Tinda Valley west of Sundre, Alberta. Highway 584, along the Red Deer River is as good as can be expected at this time of the year and the sun is rising on mountains in Banff National Park to the west of Ya Ha Tinda. From the truck, ice climbing boots equipped with crampons provide safe passage over the frozen surface of Big Horn Creek into the canyon, past the partially formed-up ice on Big Horn Falls, for further, easy access to an excellent 50 meter single-pitch of WI-3, waterfall ice.
Ice screws are set for top roping above the fall. The belayer will always be tethered to an ice screw at the bottom as a safety precaution.
An outstanding physical day of ice climbing provides an excellent day of exercise surrounded by incredible scenery in crisp cool air. A few photos follow for this outstanding day