Photograph by Paul Zizka, Aurora
Read Caption

Climbers traverse the Athabasca Glacier under the stars in the Canadian Rockies.

Photograph by Paul Zizka, Aurora

Ice Climb in the Canadian Rockies

Ascend British Columbia's frozen waterfalls for a monumental challenge.

Recommended By: Tim Emmett, Ice Climber

"Ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies is about as good as ice climbing gets," Emmett says. The reason is a perfect convergence of factors: In British Columbia and Alberta, there’s a preponderance of watercourses, steep faces, and long, cold winters that nurture gigantic ice falls.

Emmett’s favorite is the monumentally challenging Helmcken Falls, a frozen waterfall in British Columbia's Wells Gray Provincial Park. Almost 500 feet high, the cascade never fully freezes. Instead, it sprays the surrounding walls with a blanket of ice perfect for crampons and axes.

"Climbing Helmcken felt as adventurous as climbing a new route in the Himalayas, but much harder," says Emmett. "The cave overhangs by about 500 feet, so every pitch we climbed felt more like we were on the underside of the moon."

If there is a world of new ice-climbing routes in the Rockies for pros, there is a universe of options for newbies and moderate climbers. One of the best places to start is Canmore, Alberta, a center of adventure with some 1,200 ice climbs within an hour radius. The Junkyards is one classic collection of easily accessible WI2 and WI3 climbs. Or, for experienced climbers, the Sorcerer, a steep WI5 in the Ghost River area, is a test piece with reliably good ice and gorgeous, dizzy-making exposure at the top.

Plan This Trip: Yamnuska Mountain Adventures offers guided ice climbing and beginner classes based out of Canmore.

British ice and rock climber Tim Emmett has put up first ascents across the globe, including Cuba, Sri Lanka, and Mongolia. One of his most nervy feats to date was a 2012 ice climb up British Columbia’s Helmcken Falls, widely thought to be the most difficult ice climb in the world. Emmett doesn’t restrict himself to simply going up, however. He also BASE jumps, flies wingsuits, skis, snowboards, and surfs.