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 …