The sharp crampons on my feet bite into the ice with a loud crunch. Hoisting myself up, I feel the triumph of heading skyward. With ice climbing, you put in the sweat equity and rise above your nerves. The rewards include bragging rights and being part of a growing winter subculture.
Alberta is one of the top destinations in the world for ice climbing. My introduction to the sport begins in Nordegg, 174 km (108 mi) west of Red Deer in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. You’ll find classic ice climbing routes along with introductory venues. A novice climber with a bit of experience can even get up famed climbs like The Weeping Wall, about 35 km (22 mi) north of the Saskatchewan River Crossing, with the assistance of a guide. It’s a great bucket list adventure that I hope to try on my next visit.
I’m learning to climb on a two-day beginner’s course with Custom Outdoor Experience (C.O.E.). This is a sport that welcomes persistence and requires a comfort with heights. After my first day of instruction, I’m more than ready to tackle the frozen tower of snow and ice.
C.O.E. offers a variety of courses for both novice and intermediate climbers, all of which are led by professional guides and include accommodation at Sheiling Mountain Lodge. Soaking in the lodge’s outdoor hot tub, surrounded by pristine wilderness was heavenly after a day of climbing. Refuelling with delicious chef-prepared meals has been pretty spectacular as well.
Accessible Climbing Routes
Alberta is very accessible for ice climbing, given the concentration of routes that are easily available from the road. The province draws ice climbers from around the world, including newbies like me, because the Canadian Rockies lend themselves to steep, wide climbs in relatively small areas that feature a lot of different routes. You’ll find that you’re spoiled for choice, with more than 100 ice climbing routes in the Jasper and Banff national parks alone. Kananaskis Country, a 50-minute drive west of Calgary, is also prime territory for ice climbing.
To try the sport or improve your skills, check out C.O.E., the Calgary Outdoor Centre and Yamnuska Mountain Adventures in Canmore. If you’re looking to join a club, try the Calgary Mountain Club or the Alpine Club of Canada.