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 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. You cannot fall. Your belayer, whom you always treat with maximum respect, is keeping you airborne. Communication is high. A little experience goes a long way towards finding the right approach.
It is always wise to have a contingency plan or two for the day 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 available on a 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 you need to conserve energy for the climb instead of expending it on the hike in and back. Ice climbing will give you 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. Think about it.
Dave , his Dad, his Uncle and I four-wheel from Airdrie, north of Calgary, to the Ya Ha Tinda Valley west of Sundre, Alberta. Highway 584, along the Red Deer River is as good as could 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 deliver us safely 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 metre single-pitch of WI-3, waterfall ice. I belay Dave while he leads to set ice screws for top roping above the fall. The belayer should always be tethered to an ice screw at the bottom as a safety precaution. We enjoy a wonderful, physical day of ice climbing in breathtakingly beautiful terrain. A few photos follow.