INVITING ICE  The Gibraltar Wall near Canal Flats is one of the most sought-after multi-pitch ice climbs in the Columbia Valley. Photo submitted

INVITING ICE The Gibraltar Wall near Canal Flats is one of the most sought-after multi-pitch ice climbs in the Columbia Valley. Photo submitted

By Greg Amos, Pioneer Staff

A vertical world of frozen adventure is lurking in the Columbia Valley, ready to be unlocked by the swing of an axe and the kick of a crampon.

For the few dedicated ice climbers in the valley, winter is a time that means waterfalls become routes, and weeping rock walls morph into amazing

opportunities to ascend frozen seeps.

Ice climbing is fantastic because of the surreal environments that you find yourself in: frozen waterfalls and chandeliered ice caves in remote wintery landscapes, explained Tim McAllister, an experienced internationally certified mountain guide with the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG). With enjoyable and challenging climbing of these features, it adds up to an exciting day.

The valleys cold winter temperatures and steep walls of Rocky Mountain limestone combine to form a great canvas for the ice to form on, and guides like Mr. McAllister are keen to introduce newcomers to the sport.

Ice climbing can be strange at the beginning because of the new equipment required, explained Mr. McAllister, who calls Invermere home. Crampons and ice axes appeal to the gladiator in most of us, and its very satisfying to stab the picks into the ice. With coaching, a safe location and proper equipment, ice climbing can be an enjoyable way to experience spectacular and remote locations in the Columbia Valley.

From Spillimacheen to Canal Flats, the valley offers plenty of exciting ice climbing areas. For those new to the sport, Cedared Creek near Spillimacheen offers some moderately steep grades, measured in the Canadian Rockies waterfall ice grading system as waterfall ice 2 (WI2) and WI3. (The grading system indicates the difficulty of a climb, but not how long a climb is.)

The Gibraltar Wall in Canal Flats is a tall, four-pitch climb (about 150 metres in height) which boasts up to five parallel vertical lines that can be climbed. It also offers a southern exposure, keeping climbers on the route in warm sunshine for most of the day.

East from Radium Hot Springs in the east end of Kootenay National Park lies the Stanley Glacier, which boasts three very hard ice climbs: though with names like Suffer Machine, Nemesis and French Reality, that might already be obvious. These multiple pitch WI6+ routes attract top-level climbers from around the world, and the park is home to many other less-intimidating climbs.

First-time ice climbers will usually learn on a top-rope setup: a rope thats fed through an anchor set into the ice at the top of a single vertical pitch (30 metres or less) of ice. That allows a belayer to take in rope as the ice climber proceeds upwards, and should they fall, theyll be held from above by the rope, without having to fall any significant distance before being caught.

To try out the exciting sport under expert guidance, Mr. McAllister can be reached at 250-688-0570.