Beep! Beep! Beep! It's 5:00am, pitch dark outside, and I feel like I just went to sleep. Normally, I would be angry about having to get up so early numerous days in a row, but as I am in Canada to ice climb, I spring out of bed, get dressed, and head downstairs for some coffee.
I spent the past week up in Canmore, Alberta for one of Sarah Hueniken's ice climbing camps. We had originally planned to winter camp in the Ghost, but with many of the ice climbs in the area not fully forming this year, we decided to use the Alpine Club of Canada in Canmore as our base.
On the agenda was four full days of climbing, heading out to a different spot each day depending on the weather, conditions, and our various objectives. We were spoiled by base camp manager Sonja's cooking, including an early morning breakfast of quiche or quinoa, sandwiches for the day, then arriving back home to snacks, followed by a delicious dinner and dessert (carrot and chocolate cake to die for!). I was amazed at Sonja's energy to climb all day and look after us at the same time- thanks Sonja!
Day 1: We traveled as a group to Haffner Creek, a popular cragging spot not far from Canmore. A 20 minute hike brings you to a beautiful theatre of short, steep ice as well as a variety of mixed climbs. We did numerous laps, so Sarah could get a feel for how well we were climbing, and practiced our leading skills. As a surprise for Sarah, we decided to dress up for the day to add a little fun. Who wouldn't want to climb in a tutu?!
Day 2: Splitting in three different teams, we hit the Icefields Parkway and drove to the infamous Weeping Wall (WI4–5+, 160m). When you pull up alongside the wall, you can not help but gape in awe at the sheer amount of ice. My climbing partner Kate and I had the fortune to be teamed up with Will Gadd for the day.
Somewhat unusual for the area, the Weeping Wall was sloughing pretty heavily with the warmer temps and heavy wet snow that day. A well known and extremely experienced ice climber, who was climbing next to our group, was almost ripped off the wall by a rather large slough. One short pitch shy of the top, the wise decision was made to bail, as it was just too risky to continue.
I enjoyed watching Will climb and he gave us tons of pointers, such as how to get comfortable before placing a screw on lead and how to rotate your hand for a better swing. It was great to see the advice that he writes in his book actually put into practice.
Day 3: Kate and I teamed up with Sarah and headed to Field, BC to climb Carlsberg (WI5), one of the Beer Routes on Mount Dennis. With the current avalanche conditions, we were focused on cranking out the climb as fast but safely as we could. I enjoyed watching Sarah style her way up pitch after pitch of fun steep ice, leaving the climb one of my favorites so far in the Canadian Rockies.
We were down back at the car before noon, so headed into Lake Louise Station for a cappuccino at the Trailhead Cafe and a little shopping at Wilson Mountain Sports. As we arrived back in Canmore by early afternoon, we decided to head on over to Grotto Falls (WI3) so I could do my first multi-pitch lead.
In order to reach the climb, you walk along the frozen creek (with the occasional punch through into water) through Grotto Canyon, past the petroglyphs on the Paintings Wall. After climbing Carlsberg that morning, Grotto Falls felt like a fun, easy lead, perfect for my first time on the multi-pitch sharp end. I couldn't have asked for a better experience and climbing team, just a little sad that my long suffering climbing partner and mentor Cheryl wasn't there to witness the lead as well.
Day 4: Kate and I teamed up with John Freeman, enthusiastic guide and car DJ extraordinaire. Our objective for the day was to climb as fast and efficient as we could in order to crank out both Guinness Gully (WI4, 245m) and Guinness Stout (WI4+, 80m). With John on lead, we had climbed the 3-4 pitches of Guinness Gully in just two hours.
A 150m steep uphill snow slog stood between us and Guinness Stout. After 45 minutes hiking uphill, we were rewarded by this huge, vertical, beautiful blue wall of ice that had obviously not been climbed for quite some time. Kate and I knew we were in for some adventurous climbing when John was hooping and hollering his way up the last two pitches.
Tandem climbing up either side of a prominent ice column saw us at the top of Guinness Stout, tired but extremely happy to have had the opportunity to climb such amazing ice. Yet another climb to add to my list of favorties. Many exhausting rappels through waist deep snow later, we arrived back at the car early afternoon.
Following the tradition when climbing any of the Beer Routes, our team drank a Guinness at The Drake in Canmore with the rest of the group. Sarah's "UnGhost Camp" this year was probably one of my favorite climbing trips ever- I loved the guides, the climbs, the friends, and the laughs. Canadian Rockies, I will be back for more!
For any women who want to experience ice, alpine, or rock climbing in the Canadian Rockies, I can not recommend enough one of Sarah Hueniken's camps. Sarah is exceptional at motivating you and empowering you to climb your best, gain self sufficiency, and involving other talented guides who support her vision.