Check out our growing collection of stories, tips & tricks, reviews, and other useful information for ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta & British Columbia, Canada.  

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Early Season Ice Routes

Every Autumn, a ritual takes place which is of great importance to the collective psyche of the ice climbing community. It usually starts with getting snowed on while rock climbing sometime in September, this fosters the initial feeling that summer is over. Soon, snow begins to stick to streaks of wet rock high on the North faces, and almost fools us into thinking it’s ice. By early October, ice tools (axes, not climbers!) begin touring the Rockies in cars & backpacks but rarely get the chance to unleash their pent up energy. This phase tends to involve excessive amounts of coffee, beer, whining, and walking. And then suddenly it all begins, someone goes online & posts pictures of a barely formed route in K-country, and the next morning the parking lot overflows with overzealous ice bashers. At this point it is usually safe to say there will be another month until “taking the gear for a walk” season ends, but at least a few routes will be climbable.

So, for those new to this tradition, here are some of the places you can go look for ice every October & early November. Just be sure to report back on what you find!

Early season ice on Mt. Murchison
Early season ice dribbles in the Canadian Rockies. Some unformed routes can make good mixed climbs!

For more info on specific routes, see Joe Josephson’s excellent “Waterfall Ice Climbs in the Canadian Rockies”, 4th edition, published by Rocky Mountain Books. (currently out of print)

Bow Valley

  • Twisted Sister
  • Southern Wind
  • Hurly Bird
  • Little Bobby On-Sight
  • Shut Up & Walk
  • The Tease


  • R & D, Chalice & The Blade, Lone Ranger
  • Trick or Treat
  • Moyen Monster
  • Amadeaus
  • French Creek routes
  • Marshal Arts
  • First Blood

Radium Highway

  • Ice Cannibal
  • Gentlemans Day Out
  • Sinus Gully
  • Nemesis (a bit later)

Field area to Golden

  • Ross Lake

Icefields Parkway South & North

David Thompson Highway

  • C’est La Vie
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Keep Your Hands Warm Ice Climbing

Screaming Barfies: “When your hands hurt so much that you want to scream & barf at the same time”

The Screaming Barfies are something that nearly every ice climber has experienced at some point or another. It is actually called reperfusion, and causes the pain experienced when the blood flows back into your hands after freezing them while climbing. If you are not sure whether or not you have experienced the Barfies, then you most definitely have NOT! Although it can be amusing to watch your hardcore tough-guy partner trying not to cry like a 6 year old watching The Hostel, it’s not so funny when it happens to you. Fortunately, as you do more ice climbing, you will not only learn ways to avoid the Barfies, but indeed how to avoid freezing your hands in the first place.

Here are some ways to help keep your hands warm ice climbing:

1. Climb Leashless – This is a great way to help keep your hands warm while ice climbing. Not only do most leashes cut off the circulation to a certain degree, but just as importantly, they inhibit your ability to “shake out” like you would while rock climbing. If you are not comfortable leading without leashes (your call on that one!), at least give it a try while following or top-roping pitches.

2. Shake Out – Now that your leashes are off, keep the blood flowing by shaking out frequently. Don’t wait until your hands turn to frozen blocks of wood, but rather drop your hands and shake out every move or two right from the beginning. This also has the advantage of preventing your hand & forearm muscles from tiring as much as they would without shaking.

3. Relax Your Grip – Everybody squeezes to hard, period. The harder you are squeezing, the less your blood can flow through your hands. With modern leashless tools, you should be able to relax your grip to the point that your weight is mostly held by your pinky resting on the hook, or “fang”, at the bottom. Even top climbers could probably relax their hands another couple percent most of the time.

4. Glove Selection

a. Thickness – One of the most common mistakes is to assume that thicker gloves equals warmer hands. A proper pair of ice climbing gloves will have fairly thin material on the palms, no matter how much insulation is on the backside. The thin palms will allow you to hold the ice tool much easier, without having to squeeze too hard (see above). This of course reduces the strength required as well, and also makes it substantially easier to aim your swings. Many experienced climbers actually find that their hands stay warmer with a nice dextrous pair of thin gloves.
b. Fit – This is a tough one since a loose fitting pair makes it harder to hold on, but too tight a pair makes your hands much much colder. One strategy is to buy gloves with a snug fit, but only use them on warm days until they break-in and the insulation packs out. It’s worth noting that a major cause of frostbite is having glove (or boots) that are too tight.

5. Multiple Pairs of Gloves – Carry a warmer pair of gloves/mitts for belaying and keep your climbing pair inside your jacket to keep them warm. Not only does this keep your hands warmer while belaying, but it can also keep your climbing gloves dryer. Also, carry a second pair of climbing gloves in case your first pair gets wet. Finally, consider using yet another pair for the approach so that you don’t sweat inside your climbing pairs.

6. Freeze on the 1st Pitch – Nothing keeps your hands warm for the day like freezing them good at the beginning. Most people find that their hands do better & better as the day goes on.

7. Get Scared – OK this might not be a good tip in general, but there is no doubt that a bit of fear keeps the blood pumping! Just don’t forget to shake out and relax your grip too.

8. Practice – Be happy to know that your hands will stay warmer as you gain more experience. This is partly because you will get better at all the above tips, but it also seems that your body does adapt somewhat to keeping your hands warm. One possible explanation is that the more time you spend in the cold, the more your body realizes you aren’t going to die, and therefore stops sucking all the blood to your core instead of your extremities.

9. Eat & Drink – It can be hard to do on a cold day, but if you get dehydrated or short on energy you will be alot colder in the long run.

10. Zen the Cold Away – well, it’s worth a shot…

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Climbs with no avalanche hazard.

Avalanches are one of the biggest threats to ice climbers in the Canadian Rockies.  Although most routes can be safely climbed during specific conditions, please educate yourself, research conditions, and be conservative about heading into avalanche terrain.  See the links section for some helpful resources.

Here’s a growing list of ice climbs in the Canadian Rockies that are not in avalanche terrain. There are of course many other routes that have only have minor or occasional hazard, but they are not included in the list. More routes will be added over time, please feel free to leave a comment with suggestions for more avalanche free routes.  For more info on specific routes, see Joe Josephson’s excellent “Waterfall Ice Climbs in the Canadian Rockies”, 4th edition, published by Rocky Mountain Books.  (currently out of print)  Also, check out Park Canada’s Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale for more routes & info. 

Bow Valley

  • Grotto Canyon
  • Heart Creek smears
  • Irish Mist
  • Canmore Junkyards
  • Bear Spirit
  • Johnston Canyon


  • Wedge Smear
  • Evan Thomas Creek (Snowline, Moonlight, Chantilly Falls, etc.)

Radium Highway

  • Haffner Creek
  • Marble Canyon

Icefields Parkway South & North

  • Balfour Wall
  • Tangle Falls

David Thompson Highway

  • Owen Creek
  • SAR’s on Ice
  • 570
  • Two O Clock Falls
  • Cline River Gallery
  • Nightmare on Elm Street
  • Gallstones
  • Issac’s Wet Dream


  • Maligne Canyon 
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