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 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.
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.
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.