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  • Writer's pictureLiam Pyott

Canada ice trip 2023 Recap

Canada, what a trip! Steep ice, some cold weather, some not so cold weather…. but most importantly, heaps of climbing. The focus for the crew was to learn to climb steep ice (not something easy to do in New Zealand) and to get comfortable leading steep terrane with a pack on. This is a crucial skill when climbing icy and snowy mountains back home and on overseas expeditions. Climbing water ice seems to be one of those things that comes with practice and technique development rather than physical training and strength. This means big breakthroughs quickly and is why a trip like this is necessary for those serious about pushing steeper lines on remote winter faces.

The trip started with some top rope sessions at Haffner. A good way to start the trip. Everyone was rusty and this proved to be a safe way of getting into the groove of things. Haffner for us this day consisted of mostly picked-out easy ice and mixed climbs such as the main ice wall and Californication. After this, a crew went to run top rope laps on Tolkem Pole, A steep 30 meter pillar that wasn't quite touching down. While another group went and climbed the classic, Louise Falls.

On the third day people were starting to warm back into ice climbing. With tricky avalanche conditions and some access issues it was decided the lower Weeping wall was the place to be. An early start was decided as we would have three parties on the wall climbing right side, centre and left side. This was the first day of steep multi-pitch ice climbing for the team. Following this another day at Haffner creek, then back to Canmore for some beers at the Grizzly Paw and bagels at the Canmore Bagel co.

After the quick rest day, it was getting cold, really really cold. It's an essential skill in climbing, learning how to manage yourself in cold weather. This means taking the right layers, keeping blood flow to your extremities and ultimately bailing if you start losing hands or feet. Cold damage can be a serious problem when climbing in winter and isn't something to take lightly. With a forecast down to minus 33 there was much discussion about safety and tactics to manage ourselves. The first day wasn't as cold as expected(about -15). This meant a team climbing a moderate route called moonlight and the rest of the group going to Rehab Wall to lead some steeper mixed and short 30m ice climbs on the Little Green Monster. The following day was exactly the same with one difference. It was minus 33. Owen, Mason and Lionel did the first pitch of Moonlight before deciding it was too cold and bailing while the rest of the crew went to the Rehab Wall for single-pitch activities. Some went climbing, some wore all their jackets and drank hot tea. Everyone learnt something about managing themselves in the cold that day.

With us well into the swing of things, there were multiple trips back to the Weeping Wall. This turned into a significant training ground for us throughout the trip. It's a perfect venue for getting lots of mileage on grade 4 and 5 Ice. During this block, Sophie and Jono went and climbed Ice 9, an aesthetic free-standing pillar. Alistair and Owen went to try mixed master but ultimately bailed due to a lack of ice. They still managed to get a climb in however and went to Bridal Veil Falls.

Following this Al, Owen and Sophie went out for a monster mission and climbed Curtain Call. a grade 6 that was in tricky conditions. Al took the crux pitch finding a line through overhanging ice and running it out on a monster lead. This had to be one of the more significant ascents of the trip at the time.

With avalanche conditions being tricky there were plenty of crag days at places like Haffner, Johnston Canyon, and more laps on the Weeping Wall throughout the trip following weeks. Thrown in was an awesome climb where Maddy lead all of Professor Falls. A massive breakthrough mentally and technically for her climbing. A few ascents of Spray Falls, an awesome grade 5. As well as ascents of ice 9, Carlsberg Column, Whiteman Falls, Malignant Mushroom and Wicked Wanda. Huge improvements had been made by all of the team members and it was great to see.

Coming into the final week of the trip everyone was itching to get onto something big. This ended up with Mason, Lionel and myself hoping to get on the Stanly Headwall. However, it was never to be due to avalanche conditions and we ended up spending most of our time craging at Haffner Creek. Sophie Al and Henry however had a great last week of climbing with an ascent of Weeping Pillar. An outstanding grade 6 pillar above the lower Weeping Wall. This meant speedy Al leading all of the lower wall before handing the sharp end over to Henry and Sophie where they both ended up leading their hardest pitches of the trip.

All in all climbing in Canada was amazing and everyone achieved the overall aim of the trip. Massive improvements were made and lots of climbing was done. The endless amount of ice in Canada meant that although the Conditions were not ideal the training trip was a success. All of the mentees are psyched about their new skills and are ready to apply them in the alpine here in New Zealand. Bring on a hopefully cold winter New Zealand!!

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