Mixed Master*

This Saturday I joined the Alpine Club of Canada for a girls ice & mixed climbing day at Haffner Creek, which is a quick 20 min walk from the parking lot on the 93 south of Louise.  Interestingly, as we drove in you could see avalanche debris and splintered trees pushed to the sides of the road which had been closed two weeks ago due to an avalanche.  I’d never seen that kind of debris up close.  On a not-so-interesting note, this was the third weekend in a row of bad road/avalanche conditions. Next year I need to remember not to overdo it with the pre-season powder dance!

By the time I geared up and was ready to go it was still really cold out.  On all of my previous ice climbs (which is not many given that I can count them!), it’s been relatively warm making the ice soft. I think this allowed me to get away with lot less technique when climbing.  This time the ice felt like rock and no matter how hard I swung or kicked, few of my tool or crampon placements felt really secure.  I had a great chat with our guide, Sarah Hueniken, about it and she gave me some good pointers on technique.  I’ve read a bit about it online but it was so helpful to have someone explain in person how to move so you can be more efficient.

There are three different lines up the ice and one mixed route on the left side that starts in the cave.

Having tried a low-angle mixed climb a few weeks ago, I wanted to try the very vertical mixed climbs at Haffner.  The first line had a rock & ice start leading up to a ledge, followed by a longer rock section, then onto overhanging ice above.

Un, I'm supposed to go up this?

Trying to move up onto the ice

Almost on the ice

The second climb started on rock then transitioned up and around the edge of an ice curtain.

There was ~8ft of rock up to the base of the hanging ice. At the bolt in the centre of the picture you move right, onto the ice

Maybe because I knew what to expect this time, I really enjoyed the climbing.  Scratch that, I loved the climbing!  I loved searching the rock for tool placements.  Foot placements were even trickier as you had to navigate one point of your crampon onto unreasonably small edges.  The climbing was delicate and technical but also very physical albeit in a different way from ice climbing.  You don’t need the power to swing your tools, but you need the upper body strength to pull up on them.  My favourite part of both climbs was the rock sections, perhaps because it’s the most similar to rock climbing.  It’s unbelievable the features you can weight your tool on.  The only thing you have to be careful of is how you pull on your tools once you place them.  Unless they’re in a crack, you need to pull directly down as they pop off very easily if you pull at an angle.  I may not have done either of the climbs in what amounts to any “style” but as a total beginner I think it’s pretty awesome that I made it to the top of an M7- and enjoyed myself.

Aside from the climbing, one of the highlights of my day was when I asked Sarah (the guide) if she could explain the best way to dress for ice climbing.  This question has been driving me nuts for I have yet to find a system that works well.  Also, I’m a bit of a type-A personality and really wanted to know in very specific detail what to wear.  Suffice to say, I now have a very clear picture of what I’ll be trying out next.  As soon as I perfect my system I’ll share (in detail!) what works for me.

*in case anyone is wondering, the “Mixed Master” in the title is (unfortunately) not in reference to my climbing skills.  It’s a mixed climb on the Icefields Parkway and I just liked the name.  Something to do with the alliteration …

Leave a comment


  1. Great report, and nice work on the climbing. Keep us posted on the ‘ultimate ice climbing clothing system’, I’m always looking for opportunities to purchase more gear ;)

  2. Nice work! I’ve not really gotten into the mixed stuff too much yet. Before I can dress myself in the morning for anything I must know exactly what we’re doing ice climbing/skiing/ rock climbing/etc so I can put together my layers.

    I have come up with a rather good system- but my butt is always cold. Too much tissue I think.

    • Sorry about the delay getting your comment up – darned wordpress didn’t let me know about it!

      The layering system is so hard to get right! I find the more clothing I accumulate the easier it is to mix and match.

      If you like rock climbing you might like mixed more than pure WI. I thought it was more similar to the moves/muscles you use on rock.

  3. andronowski

     /  February 11, 2011

    Nice write-up! Haffner is a great place to get an upper-body workout. :-)

    I’ve been thinking a lot about my clothing systems lately, but it’ll take me a while to write up anything cohesive so in the meantime maybe this will help (sorry I’m not being type-A specific right now, I don’t remember what everything is!):

    Upper body, base layer: between +5 and -5, lightweight Icebreaker merino wool zip. if -5 to -20, either Arcteryx Rho LTW zip or heavier-weight Icebreaker merino wool zip.
    Upper body, insulation: -10 to -20, Arcteryx Gamma SV vest. if -20 or less for whole day, Arcteryx Fission LT jacket. usually don’t need this layer.
    Upper body, outer: either an Arcteryx Gamma MX or Venta SV softshell (depending how I feel, I think they both perform much the same)
    Upper body, belay: some OR insulated jacket (the name’s skipping me right now!) or if it’s really, really cold an Arcteryx Fission SV jacket

    Lower, base: if below -10, either Icebreaker merino wool or MEC polypro long johns. if above -10, no base. Polypro underwear.
    Lower, insulation: none
    Lower, outer: Patagonia Alpine Guide pants

    Socks: merino wool liners, thick alpaca wool socks if long day out (12hrs+), any random merino socks otherwise (I have Icebreaker, Bridgedale, Smartwool, Patagonia and a couple others I think)

    Head: depending on current conditions, activity level, etc., I swap between several hats: Icebreaker merino wool liner, Ambler synthetic liner, Patagonia wool/synthetic tuque, OR balaclava
    Neck: Arcteryx neck gaiter if really cold or raining / snowing down my neck

    Gloves: current favourite for -5 to -20 is the BD Punisher. Anything light above -5. BD Specialist if cold. BD Mercury Mitts if expecting long and cold belays.

    Hope this helps you out a bit, in addition to the info you already have. I’ll get all the specific names, conditions and other type-A stuff when I do a proper write-up.

    For some more ideas (on everything climbing), check out this blog: http://www.coldthistle.blogspot.com/

    See you out there!

    • Oh my gosh, I think that was pretty type-A specific! Thanks so much for sharing your system! It’s so helpful to hear what is working for other people. Let me know if you do a write-up on this as I’d love to read it. Once I perfect my system I’ll share it in detail as well. I’d actually been looking into getting the Patagonia Alpine Guide pants so it’s good to hear that they work for ice climbing.

      Glad you enjoyed the post, I had a blast at Haffner & am looking forward to getting out again!

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