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Ice Climbing with Yamnuska - Johnston Canyon- 02.24.15

climb0.jpg This post is part of our special NOTCOT Alberta Great Escape series thanks to our friends at Travel Alberta. In Part I, we roadtripped up from LA for a fall adventure. In Part II, we are experiencing all that Alberta Winter has to offer! Follow the series to see what inspires us along the way!

Ice Climbing! As far as our itinerary for this adventure, I knew that the intro to ice climbing with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures would be the most ambitious new experience on the list. Based in Canmore, they are over 30 years old, and have an impressive (intimidating?) team of incredibly qualified guides. In fact, as i research to write this post, i’m still floored by the background of our ice climbing instructor, Barry Blanchard, who has been with Yamnuska since the beginning! A quick internet search, shows he’s pretty much a legend in the alpine world… and as Shawn and I know, he’s also one of the nicest, most patient, passionate, intelligent teachers we’ve experienced! I don’t even know where to start - so take a peek at his wikipedia entry for the highlights, he’s also one of Patagonia’s first ambassadors, just published his memoir, and is a go to by Hollywood for alpine related films.

But all that aside, before we got to know Barry, we knew little about ice climbing at all. We met with him, learned the gear basics, put our crampons on, and hiked into Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park to the upper falls. Once there, he walked us through the basics, and got us climbing! The experience was AMAZING - also made me realize how much i need to get into shape so we can get even further next time! Take a peek on the next page for the experience, and the breathtaking icy falls of Johnston Canyon.

Before we even started our Ice Climbing lesson - when driving past the Weeping Wall, we had to pull over and watch the ice climber part way up. He (or she) looked like the tiniest dot, but with the naked eye you could actually see it was person as soon as arms were swinging! CLIMBweepingwall.jpg

The map of Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park climb1.jpg

First things on - crampons and climbing boots! With the extremely icy trails, these metal spikes made the walk far easier as people were sliding around on the paths. climb2.jpg

Ice climbing aside, it’s a beautiful hike! climb3.jpg

… stunning catwalks have you hanging on the mountain sides peering down at the semi frozen streams. climb4.jpg

The water is running quickly beneath the ice shelves. climb5.jpg


Then you see it… the falls! That glowing frozen blue is spectacular. climb7.jpg

… climbing over the railing to get to the falls. climb8.jpg

First, Barry teaches us how to use our crampons to climb the ice - angle your toes up to your knees and drive the tips in! Then we learned about how to swing our ice tools into the ice to hold ourselves up. Bit by bit, we learned as we traversed the lower section, until he thought we were ready for more!

At that point, we took a break to take some pictures, as he speedily climbed up to set the ice screws and climbing rope. climb9.jpg

The design and functionality of ice screws are fascinating. You simply press them in and start screwing them in and the ice is forced out of the core. climb10.jpg

Looking around - the falls are unbelievable. While we saw some frozen falls on our icewalk in Maligne Canyon - this was another level. Look at the scale! And the patterns! climb11.jpg

Here’s the view straight up. climb12.jpg

The lighting was everything - at certain angles the ice would glow a bright, stunning blue! climb13.jpg

For scale - here’s Shawn watching Barry setting up the rope - it was an incredibly warm winter day! climb14.jpg

Getting ready - crampons, boots, gloves, and ice tools! climb15.jpg

Starting the climb… climb16.jpg

… working his way up… climb17.jpg

… nearly there! climb18.jpg

Here I am working my way up! climb19.jpg

And a few more pics in action… climb20.jpg


While Shawn was repelling down, a little chipmunk popped out of the forest to see what we were up to. iceclimb3.jpg

As we packed up, sore and giddy from our new skills - i couldn’t help but look around in awe of the scene around us. climb23.jpg

The walk back, was a sunny one. It is incredible how quickly the sun was warming up the ice, even as we finished our climb, the icicles were melting and dripping loudly, and some even started breaking off. The walk was definitely softer and slushier on the return journey and the walk definitely felt faster going back, though it may have been in part to the giddiness we felt from our first time ice climbing! climb25.jpg

So - first ice climbing experience… awesome! If you ever had the chance, try it. While Shawn and i had both done a little rock climbing as teenagers, ice climbing was both similar, and wildly different. There’s something fascinating about being at the mercy of your crampons and ice tools and the ice’s strength (to hold you) and weakness (to melt or break off). Learn more about ice climbing options at Yamnuska Mountain Adventures!

And as for Barry Blanchard, it was inspiring learning to ice climbing from him, and i’m intrigued enough by his story, that i just Amazon’d his book, The Calling: A Life Rocked by Mountains to meet me at home!


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