5 Chilling Ice Climbs in the Canadian Rockies

The win­try con­di­tions in the Cana­di­an Rock­ies have made it some­thing of an ice climb­ing mec­ca over the last few decades. In fact, some ice climbers might argue it’s the best spot for the sport in the entire world. Con­sis­tent­ly low tem­per­a­tures and a vast array of frozen water­falls spread across the moun­tains mean there’s no short­age of gnarly climbs to try.

Helm­ck­en Falls
Helm­ck­en Falls is often tout­ed as the most dif­fi­cult mixed rock and ice climb on Earth. The 200-meter ter­ror offers jag­gy over­hangs and some­times too thin lay­ers of ice as you scram­ble toward the top. Get­ting there in itself is a task, as there’s no direct approach to the bot­tom. In fact, you have to hike your way around the back and to the top, then rap­pel down to the bot­tom to even attempt the route. A full-on first ascent requires to you climb through sev­en pitch­es, a feat only a hand­ful have accomplished.

Kananask­is is eas­i­ly one of the most pop­u­lar ice climb­ing des­ti­na­tions in the Rock­ies. With over 4200 square kilo­me­ters to explore, it’s praised for both its ease of access and its incred­i­ble vari­ety of begin­ner and advanced climbs. The region fea­tures sev­er­al alpine sum­mits over 11,000 feet in ele­va­tion, many of which are packed with frozen water­falls wait­ing to be climbed. The area is also famous for its avalanch­es, mak­ing it one of the more dan­ger­ous options on the list. But climbs like White­man Falls and A Bridge Too Far are more than worth the risks.

Bow Val­ley
It’s arguable whether Bow Val­ley resides in the Kananask­is or just along the bor­der, but it con­tains enough excel­lent ice climb­ing that we’re will­ing to con­sid­er it on its own mer­its. Bow Val­ley spans from Cal­gary to Lake Louise along­side the Trans-Cana­da High­way, and boasts some tough climbs like Louise Falls and the Bourgeau Left and Right. Grot­to Canyon also boasts the WI6+ Men­tal Jew­el­ry, along with pop­u­lar options in His and Hers. If ice climb­ing Bow Val­ley has a down­side, it’s only that so many peo­ple are doing it. The area holds so many routes that it’s con­stant­ly inun­dat­ed with new and expe­ri­enced climbers vying for spots.

Yoho Nation­al Park is a short two-hour dri­ve west of Cal­gary and offers some of the finest ice in Cana­da, let alone the Rock­ies. With few­er vis­i­tors than the oth­er parks in the range, you’ll find that ice climb­ing here is a more relax­ing endeav­our. Of course, it still boasts some incred­i­bly jag­gy options like the famed “beer climbs.” Carls­berg Col­umn, Guin­ness Gul­ly and Pil­sner Pil­lar also range between WI4 and WI6 and offer short walk-ins, so you can tack­le all of them in one day. While the climbs in the region might be eas­i­er on aver­age, the region also boasts a lot of snow­fall and high avalanche dan­ger, so come prepared.

Ice­fields Parkway
The apt­ly named Ice­fields Park­way is the crème de la crème of ice climb­ing in the Cana­di­an Rock­ies. The region, a stretch of high­way that runs 320 kilo­me­ters from Lake Louise to Jasper, boasts an impres­sive array of both clas­sic ice lines and near­ly insur­mount­able alpine sum­mits. The ice­fields here, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Colum­bia Ice­field, are enor­mous blocks that feed the sur­round­ing oceans. The Weep­ing Wall area of the Park­way con­tains two of the most prized ice climbs in Cana­da in Polar Cir­cus the Low­er Weep­ing. If you’re look­ing for an easy-to-reach spot to get your feet wet, or expe­ri­ence some tru­ly dif­fi­cult climbs, this is it.