bikes canada climbing general trip reports

ice-capades on a frozen lake

Looking through the guidebook for an ice climb to do on a windy day with high avalanche risk, we struck upon the climbs down by the edge of Lake Minnewanke.

The guidebook told us that the first ascent team had used iceskates to get to the climbs – but for later in the season recommended bikes. “Ok”, we thought, “bikes it is, that sounds like a great idea”.


Walking the bikes across Lake Minnewanke


Arriving at the lake we had to hunt around for a while to find a good place to get onto the ice – neither of us were keen on heading out across the middle of the lake, but along the southern shore all the ice was buckled creating huge impassable water trenches. So we cycled along the the half-way parking spot, and followed some fishermen out onto the lake. “It’ll be fine”, they reassured us, “at least six inches of ice as far as you can see”.


Ice heaving at the edge of Lake Minnewanke


So we set out across the lake with our bikes – initially there was too much snow to ride. Then suddenly there was no snow at all, and the glossy smooth ice threw had us walking immediately. “That’s ok”, we said, “it looks like it’ll be more rideable near the shore”. So we headed off towards the southern shoreline… and walked … and walked… and shuffled… and it got no closer. The ice was clear, and the water beneath was dark and deep. Huge cracks were running everywhere – deep lake-crossing cracks that looked to be nearly 3 feet deep, and tiny 5cm cat cracks, and everything in-between. The cracks were unsettling but the smooth patches between the cracks were worse, as there was nothing to convince your brain you weren’t just walking on water.

At this point we still didn’t have our crampons on, and so were shuffling across and trying not to fall over. This makes no sense of course, but we didn’t want to anger the lake monsters, and the ice was just so pretty! Our crampons would damage the perfect surface. So the bikes were being caught by the wind, and we’d be blown along bike and all, sliding along the ice.

By the time we reach the shoreline we’d both fallen over at least once and were well and truly over any worries about damaging the ice. Stashing the bikes, we decided to put crampons on, the headed off down lake again.


Reflection in the frozen lake


All the time walking up the lake we had a tailwind behind us – ice skates would have been scary, but maybe a sled with a sail? After walking for an hour, it still felt like we hadn’t covered much distance. That lake really is enormous. There was a stop for lunch, and then we finally reached the ice climb (which I haven’t included a photo of, as it wasn’t particularly exciting).


Sitting on water – Amy adjusts her crampons


Post ice climb we stuffed ourselves with some more food, then trudged off into the headwind. It was about as fun as could be expected. I developed a wind rating system:

Gale Force 1 – Necessitates modification of walking style, although progress can continue.
Gale Force 2 – Must stop walking and brace yourself into wind.
Gale Force 3 – Must stop and crouch to provide smaller surface area to wind.
Gale Force 4 – Must turn around and crouch with back to wind.
Gale Force 5 – Even crouching with your back to the wind you get blown over. Best option is to sit with your back to the wind and lift your crampons – you will get blown along the lake.

We experienced all of those. The only consolation was that it was a sunny day, the mountains were beautiful, and the frozen lake was still pretty amazing. And as we picked up our bikes again and headed for the car, the sun was setting.


Sunset across Lake Minnwanke


canada climbing general

perhaps my ice climbing trips are jinxed this season?

Unfortunately this time the jinx did not take itself out on me, but my hapless climbing partner. We drove to Haffner Creek, changed into boots, loaded ourselves up with climbing gear, hiked in to the climbs, picked a likely looking first climb, climbing partner racked up and started leading.

The ice was quite hard, the climb was very vertical, and climbing partner started to get pumped and shaky, attempting to place an ice screw that just wouldn’t bite. Front bail of one of climbing partner’s crampons popped off, and climbing partner rapidly went from being a few metres up on the ice to being on the ground.

Luckily he was falling onto snow and his legs were fine, but unluckily he nicked himself in the face with his tool on the way down. Meanwhile the other tool was still up in the ice. And a lot of blood.


Kind man bouldering up to retrieve the tool


After the lone tool was rescued we packed up and drove home. A hospital visit and two stitches later and he was as good as new again.


Post-hospital with a couple of stitches under the left eye


So we dashed off to the Junkyards for a couple of hours of laps on a toprope – and ended up getting some climbing in after all.

canada general

all things considered, this day gets a D-

Pro I got to have a sleep-in, because I was doing the Yamnuska Leading on Ice course today.
Con Our Jeep still isn’t working, so I had to leave the house early to cycle to the Yamnuska Office.
Pro Riding around town is always fun, and it was fairly warm this morning.
Con I arrived at the offices at 8am (as it instructed on the email I got) and everyone else had apparently been there since 7.30, and they’d been having a pre-course briefing.
Pro I got to carpool with a nice Japanese girl.
Con The other car which held the other three people doing the course, and the guide, quickly disappeared. So much for a convey – oh well, at least he told us where we were going, and we can hopefully remember how to get there.
Con We realised after we pass Dead Man’s Flats that the car would not have enough fuel to get to King Creek and back.
Con Exshaw petrol station doesn’t open til 10am on Sunday.
Con When I phone the guide to let him know we’ll be late, it goes straight to voicemail. Damn.
Con We end up driving back to Canmore again just for fuel, as it’s now the closest place that will be open.
Con The car will now not go into gear, and is not going anywhere any time soon.
Pro At least we’re stuck in Canmore, rather than anywhere further afield.
Con Get voicemail again when try phoning guide again. Leave message. Get voicemail at Yamnuska too.
Con Where we want to go is too far for any of the cab companies.
Con The rental car places are closed on Sunday.
Con Cannot find anyone with a car I could borrow.
Pro Having walked back to the Yamnuska offices, they are toasty and warm. I wander round inside and yell to see if anyone is there.
Con There is noone there.
Pro If I was a thief I could steal lots of good things.
Con I am not a thief.
Pro It is snowing pretty fat flakes, and I decide to ride to the Canmore Junkyards – it is Sunday, maybe there will be people I know there.
Pro I look around and take photos at the Junkyards.
Con I do not climb at the Junkyards.
Pro Cycling in the snow is fun!
Con I go back along the powerlines, where there is ice underneath the snow. The ice is less fun, and on a downhill section I lose the back end of my bike and land knee first on the ice.
Con My knee hurts rather a lot.
Con I have trouble walking now, and cannot bend my knee to ride.
Pro Nice men from the power company give me a lift in their truck.
Con My knee has an increasingly large bloody lump on it.
Pro The snow is pretty to watch outside the window, and is handy for putting inside a bag to ice my knee with. And I have brownies.

(Grade subject to revision depending on how this knee injury turns out… and I would love some studded tyres to help with the ice problems, but they weren’t really in the budget… hmm.)

bikes canada climbing general trip reports

the silliest adventure in some time

It was 8 o’clock in the morning and we had thrown on our backpacks (heavily laden with mountaineering boots, crampons, rope and axes) and leaped on our trusty bicycles. The bicycles had been rescued from the fence outside our house just a few days earlier, after sitting in the snow and ice all winter. It took a while to cut through the locks, but in the end we were rewarded with bikes of … well, dubious quality, but at least they went. After meeting Jody in town and we confirmed all bikes were in working order (although in an attempt to fix up my saddle angle I made some rusted bolts unhappy and nearly lost my seat altogether, resigning myself afterwards to just put up with it the way it was). Then we were off, out of town and onto the Trans Canada highway.

The ride was interesting. None of us had ridden a bike for about six months. It was cold – gloves just weren’t enough to protect poor fingers from the wind chill of all the cycling wind they had to deal with. We were all in sneakers and carrying our boots in our packs – and as a result our poor toes were getting really really cold. Screaming barfies cold in my case. At least the scenery was good.


Seven kilometres later we’d made it off the Trans Canada and onto the Bow Valley Parkway. A lot quieter and more peaceful, although still freezing cold, we were making regular stops to warm up our extremities and rest our poor buttocks (which were in shock at the abominable treatment they were receiving by this stage). Several small hills reminded us how hideously unfit we were

Then finally, 25km later, we made it into the Johnston Canyon parking lot. Tour groups and tourists shuffled in and out of cars and buses. We tied up our trusty steeds and changed from Cycling Superhero outfits to Intrepid Ice Climbers Approaching Their Route outfits. The path in was difficult: the ground was often slippery and covered with ice and snow, and the handrail was quite cold if you had to hang onto it. But we were committed to the cause, and 45 minutes of easily graded concrete path later, we arrived at our final destination: Johnston Canyon Upper Falls. Thoroughly frozen, although a bit degraded by sun.


The first difficulty was working out how to get to the climb. We didn’t have enough ice screws or rope for leading, so it was to be an extreme top-rope setup. Unfortunately the creek had started to thaw out, so I could no longer merrily traipse across the top of it. I scoped out a few options, and then ran back and forth on our side of the creek going “It’s impossible! I’ll have to remove my boots and wade through the icy water. It’s either that or we’ll have to rig up some sort of swing.” Fortunately Alex is not terrified of 6 inches of cold flowing water, and demonstrated that one could easily step across the creek in at least one place. I followed his example, without falling to my doom, and went on to set up an amazing top-rope above a section of frozen water stuff (that was about WI3).

After some messing around and apparent miscommunication regarding about what I meant by the “ground” when I asked if the ropes were touching it (surprisingly enough, I really did mean the ground, not the other “ground”, that ledge 10 metres up that everyone would have to climb to get to) , we all climbed some ice (again without any falling to our dooms).


Once the ice had been successfully conquered, we headed back along the slippery concrete path. One of the tour guides marveled at our madness as we got out of our Intrepid Ice Climber outfits and switched back to Cycling Superhero gear. Our buttocks protested mightily as we tried to sit on our bike saddles. At least it was a lot warmer on the cycle home – with a lot more downhill than I remember there being uphill (maybe that would explain why I was having so much trouble cycling along the ‘flat’ on the way there). We kept an eye out for bears and cougars as we hurried to get off the Parkway, which is closed for traffic after 6pm, to let the wildlife roam. A friendly man stopped by us in his 4WD and told us he’d seen a grizzly bear ‘just there’ on his way past the other day. We thanked him, and started cycling even faster. Then finally, the Trans Canada, much shorter in this direction, and we were home in Banff. And ravenously hungry. Then we ate a bear (it was tasty).

canada climbing general

evan thomas creek

A snapshot of our day at Even Thomas Creek, K-Country.