[A short note on the Canadian Icefalls course by Vernon Gayle]
Astonishingly, I came back with nine long ice routes in the Canadian Rockies in the bag. The guiding was superb and maintained high standards of safety whilst preserving a real spirit of adventure. The guiding style made you feel like you were climbing with a mate.
This was my first ice climbing trip to Canada and I guarantee that as a newcomer the scope for ice climbing in the Rockies will knock you out. The scale of the routes and the quality of the ice will make your jaw drop. My own ice climbing progression had begun with forays in Scotland. For the last seven years I’ve made annual winter trips to the western Alps visiting places popular with Brits such as La Grave, Cham, Cogne and Arolla. Making the transition to the Canadian Rockies left me with similar feelings of awe and wonder as would the English hill walker’s initial trip to Scotland.
The first week started well. I had been shopping in Banff for some new kit and could genuinely say that I looked a thousand dollars! I was only aware of two routes in all of Canada, Guinness Gully (II WI 4) and Weeping Wall II WI 5. By the third day I’d done both of them and we’d slotted in Guinness Stout (III WI 4+) as well. Pictures of Weeping Wall are impressive. In reality it is like driving through Glen Coe and suddenly noticing that an area equivalent to three football pitches of ice had been plastered onto the Buachaille. Early starts meant that, with a single exception, we were first on every route. The testament to the scale of the Rockies is that on at least half of the routes we were the only party climbing.
One of the high points of the trip was climbing on Spray River Falls (IV WI 5). This is a fantastic route with an indisputable sense of remoteness. If being close to the highway offends your Scottish sensibilities then the one hour walk-in means that this is a route for you. Another high point was leading on The Professor Falls (III WI 4); and thankfully this Senior Lecturer didn’t! This is an atmospheric route in an incredible location that has provided me with what will undoubtedly be a lasting memory.
With high points also come low points. On this trip there were decidedly few with three notable exceptions. First, I was asked by an onlooker if it was my first time ice climbing. Second, I was informed by an Italian tourist that they had taken some good video of my Guide but not any of me because ‘my technique was poor’. I would like to put this down to a linguistic error but sadly I am sure he meant what he said. There was one final smear and I fear it is a slur on our nation’s habits. I got chatting to a female ice climber who informed me that she was a dental hygienist. She then asked ‘do you have those in Scotland?’ I guess that Austin Powers has a lot to answer for!