20130202: Johnston Canyon Ice Clinic (Banff)

I’d been here so many times as a kid, but I never imagined I’d one day I’d be climbing the falls.

Brian, Joad and I signed up for a Yamnuska advanced (1) clinic as part of the MEC Ice Climbing Festival. There were 12 participants in total, some from Edmonton, Colorado, San Francisco and as far away as Australia. The schedule had said we’d be going to Haffner but I was glad to go to Johnston Canyon. I was here last in December to snowshoe. The temperature was -42C that day. For real. We witnessed an entire chunk (on the right side in the photo below) break off and release huge blocks of ice.

(1)    Disclaimer! I am not advanced in ANY sense of the word, but I was assured/ advised the clinic would be suitable for my abilities.


Brent Peters and Nick Sharpe, our guides, are military guys. Canadian and British, respectively. We gather round in the sun for anchor and protection review. Brent emphasizes each statement with intense eye contact.

He looks down, prods the ice a bit with his crampons. “You fall on ice, you’ll break bones. Ice is hard. You absolutely cannot fall. No falling.” He looks up and spends 2 full seconds surveying each of us with large round eyes. “Don’t fall.” When Brent’s looking at you, you can’t help but widen your own eyes back at him.

I dare glance over at Brian. Brian rolls his eyes. I interpret this as less of a sarcastic gesture than one indicating, yeah, kind of obvious eh. Brian’s a Manitoba cop with canine unit. Probably the prospect of ice injury while top-roped is pretty benign compared to being in the line of violent crime day after day.

I then glance over at Joad. He’s a super ski and alpine guy originally from Quebec, and is taking this all in with ferocious attention. My impression of Joad is that of an even-keeled, conservative-risk, intellectual, procedural guy who’s probably a nerd on his days off the mountain. I giggle every once in a while (to myself) remembering him screaming on Shades of Beauty when his belayer built up excessive slack. An uncharacteristic reaction for Joad, he must’ve really been at his limit. It’s still funny. I thought it was more of a yelp than a scream but Brian remembers it being a sound with some serious intent behind it.

First climb of the day Brian chips off some ice and gets caught in the lip. He asked to be lowered which is unusual, and when he was back on the ground I saw his gloves smeared with blood, his teeth were bloody, and his face was splattering the ground. It was one of those things that looks worse than it is, thank goodness but it took him out of commission for a bit. I climbed next and saw blood splattered on the wall, too! A bit of a weirded-out feeling climbing past the blood splatter… no way to describe it. The line was quite fun other than that one spot.


The bloody line is the green one on the left!
Apparently the ice only forms so thick once every five to ten years. Spectacular, monstrous, ghostly, fascinating.

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