Getting Ready for Ice Season
Winter is coming, and so is the ice. It’s early November, and climbers are already climbing frozen waterfalls and mixed pitches in the Rockies and in the alpine areas around BC. Realistically, waterfall ice climbing season around the Fraser Valley is shorter than the season in the Rockies – we seem to get about two good weeks per year – but between trips to Lillooet, Canmore, and Ouray, and climbing locally, it’s possible to get lots of climbing in over the average winter. Here are some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your ice climbing season. If you’re wanting to try and find new trails and routes, have look around for different climbing companies and guides such as these guides that offer Colorado ice climbing guide packages in the Rockies for anyone from a beginner to an experienced climber.
1) Prepare your gear. When temperatures in Chilliwack drop to -10 and the waterfalls freeze, you want to be ready to go. So take some time in rainy November to put the ice clippers on your harness, sharpen your tools and crampon points, touch up any burrs on your ice screws, or even go through your screws, assign the old beat-up ones to glacier duty and buy some new ones to keep your leads relatively fast and your arms relatively unpumped.
2) Go over your clothing system. Pay particular attention to gloves and boots. Some wax-based leather waterproofing on the palms of your gloves will improve the grip and keep your hands drier. Touch up the waterproofing on your boots too. If you use different crampons for mountaineering and ice climbing, make sure your climbing crampons are sized to your boots, and check your rand wear to make sure that the crampons aren’t going to slop off the boots on your first lead of the year.
3) Getting down is just as important as going up. Check out your Abalakov hook and make sure it’s sharp and the bend is still strong. Replenish your supplies of anchor cord or webbing and hit up the hardware store or climbing store for a couple of quick links to leave on anchors. Lay out your ice climbing ropes, sort the kinks out, and check for crampon damage and soft spots. Maybe even wash them if they are really dirty. Ensure that the middle mark is still visible and that it’s actually in the middle of your rope. If it’s not, you can add one to the sheath with dental floss and a sewing needle, or a permanent marker, but make sure you use a marker whose solvent blend won’t damage the rope – lots of good info online on this.
4) There are lots of obscure ice routes in the Fraser Valley. If there’s one you particularly want to climb, it can be worthwhile to check out the approach before the climb actually forms up. Hike up to the drainage it’s in and find your way to where the climb should be. Maybe even add a couple of flags or cairns to help with a tricky approach. Time saved because you know where the log to get across the river is might make the difference between climbing to the top and bailing off from halfway up on a short winter day.
5) Freezes don’t always coincide with weekends. If you can get flextime at work, maybe work some longer hours or a weekend shift now so that you can take time off when everything freezes on a Tuesday in January. The ice might not stick around until the next Saturday you have off.
6) Wax your boards – if it snows a lot and rains down low, you can always go skiing instead of climbing ice, and let’s not forget that Manning and Baker hold reliable, ski-accessed ice climbs.
7) Finally, check your headlamp batteries. On short days of ice climbing in winter, often both the approach and descent take place in the dark. You don’t want to be stumbling around with a burned out headlamp. If you apply all these tricks and tips, you should be able to get out successfully for some local days of ice. Here’s a list of some of the Fraser Valley’s most reliable ice pitches:
The Mousetrap, 300 m, WI3. This route takes the unmistakeable cascades of Flood Falls near Hope. Pitch after pitch of easy climbing snake up an aesthetic granite canyon, with comfortable ledge belays. Beware of thinly iced pools. Rappel the route.
Cruel Pools, 300 m, WI3. Similar in nature to The Mousetrap, but less visible and less well-known, this route is found in the first gully on the right where the pavement ends, 2 km down the Silver-Skagit Road south of Hope. The last pitch is the hardest. Walk and scramble down on the right.
Bridal Falls, 150 m, WI3. Right off the highway and in your face at Popkum, this beautiful wide waterfall rarely freezes up completely and can have severe icefall hazard, so it’s not the best choice for beginners, but it does make an aesthetic climb on the rare occasions it does form. Three pitches, steep to start and then rambly with a short pillar to finish. Exit left at the top and walk the logging road back down to your car. In the event Bridal Veil is not in, several one to two pitch WI4 pillars to the left offer consolation prizes.
Grim Reaper, WI4/5, 150m. The first, the most reliable and one of the best routes in Box Canyon off the Coquihalla Highway, on the left side and facing north about a km in. Two pitches of WI3 and WI3+ on the lower wall lead to a steep headwall pitch that’s usually wildly cauliflowered. Rappel descent.
Medusa, WI3+/4, 100m. The most reliable low-elevation climb around Hope, this beauty usually comes in for a week or so every winter. Located between Hunter Creek and Flood Falls, it’s easy to see driving west, or from across the river on Highway 7. Park in a gravel pipeline pullout about 1 km west of Flood Falls and hike up a diagonal gully for two hours to the ice. Two solid pitches with a sheltered cave belay halfway up, and beautiful windswept ice formations to climb around. Rappel descent.
Nepopekum Falls, WI4, 50 m. Forms early and has a long season, this climb can be seen from the Blue Chair at Gibson Pass in Manning. Can be snowy or spewing water so check conditions carefully. From the ski area, snowshoe down Three Falls Trail for about an hour, drop down to cross the creek, and follow a side drainage to the base of the route. A single big pitch that usually forms as a shield of ice leading to either one or two side-by-side vertical pillars. A steal if both pillars are in and you can chimney between them! Rappel descent. Has minor avalanche hazard if there’s lots of fresh snow.
Information on these and other climbs can be found in the West Coast Ice guidebook from High Col Publishing. Download the free PDF update from westcoastice.com and check back frequently for regular conditions updates.
– Drew Brayshaw, Ice Climbing Ambassador