Recent cold snap a welcome opportunity for local ice climbers

Ice-climbing provides year-round opportunities for Revelstoke’s increasingly popular climbing scene

Jon Witchett tackles an ice fall on Highway 23 North during Revelstoke’s early 2019 cold snap. Photo: Vincent Schnabl

This article first appeared in print in the March issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

Revelstoke’s recent cold snap was a welcome opportunity for local ice climbers keen on tackling some of the areas world-class spots. The sport, generally reserved for experienced climbers, involves using crampons and ice axes to ascend frozen waterfalls or ice-covered rock slabs and cliffs. Local ice-climber Jon Wichett explained that with ice climbing, your ice axes are your hand holds and the spikes on your crampons are your footholds. Ice climbers protect themselves by using sharp, hollow, ice screws they turn into the ice by hand.

“All your skill comes down to being able to read the ice and get a feeling for how to approach it,” said Wichett. “It is an incredible feeling when you begin to trust your ice tools on good ice with only a few millimetres of a spike holding you to the wall, though this feeling can be a rarity and often you are only too aware of how delicate the formation you are climbing is.”

While it may be an extreme sport that isn’t exactly for the feint of heart, with Revelstoke’s penchant for everything outdoors it’s hardly surprising to find out there’s a growing interest in ice climbing. There’s even a small guide available online, although it’s purposely vague to maintain a sense of adventure, and because ice conditions tend to change rather quickly.

Ice climbing does come with a unique set of dangers, which is why it’s generally reserved for more experienced climbers. Some of those dangers include falling ice, avalanche paths, and the potential for falling with sharp tools (crampons and axes). Despite this, the sport’s popularity is continuing to grow with unique opportunities for easy access ice climbing.

In fact, the overall climbing scene has been growing steadily over the past few years. The addition of ice climbing only helps to secure Revelstoke as a year-round outdoor climbing destination. The local Revelstoke Climbers Access Society has sought to manage the increasing popularity of climbing by installing toilets at Begbie Bluffs and Shaketown, doing trail maintenance and bolt inspections. The announcement of Revelstoke section by the Alpine Club of Canada is also welcome news, as it provides an opportunity for aspiring climbers to get involved and learn from mentors. There will be opportunities for beginners to try ice-climbing spots around Revelstoke next winter, once the ACC is established and there are axes and crampons available for lending.

Wichett told the Mountaineer he expects to see an increase in inspiring alpine, ice and rock climbers over the coming years.

“The rock quality is much better here than in the Rockies, the access is much shorter, you aren’t fighting off the crowds, and we have spots that stay cool [and] shaded all summer. Plus, we are within close proximity to the Rocky Mountains, Bugaboos, Valhalla and the Okanagan,” said Wichett.