BIG Moun­tain Ad­ven­ture

Lo­cal pros sug­gest mild to wild out­door ex­cur­sions

Where Canadian Rockies - - FRONT PAGE - By Afton Aikens

For pro­fes­sional climber, paraglider and kayaker Will Gadd, grow­ing up here shaped his iden­tity and sparked a life­time of leg­endary ex­ploits.

In Jan­uary 2015, Gadd be­came the first to ice climb Ni­a­gara Falls, on the heels of be­ing named a Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Ad­ven­turer of the Year (with fel­low paraglider Gavin McClurg) for their five-week, 640-km flight over the Cana­dian Rock­ies. The Rock­ies Tra­verse, a film based on the ex­pe­di­tion, pre­miered at the Novem­ber 2015 Banff Moun­tain Film and Book Fes­ti­val.

“From an early age I camped, hiked, skied and climbed with my par­ents,” Gadd says. “This gave me a 20-year head start as an ath­lete. I was hard-wired for ex­pe­di­tions.” Learn­ing to build snow caves as a kid has served him well while bivouack­ing high on moun­tain faces. “The Rock­ies are a tough range, and my par­ents tak­ing me into the wilds helped toughen me up.”

Gadd, who’s based in Can­more, says the drive from Cal­gary into the moun­tains and the first sight of Mount Yam­nuska’s sheer rock face (the first moun­tain on the north side of the Tran­sCanada Hwy) al­ways makes him smile.

He’s been for­tu­nate to travel the world, is cur­rently in­volved in a TV se­ries about van­ish­ing places, and keeps busy as a moun­tain guide and in­ter­na­tional speaker. Many of his ex­ploits are chron­i­cled on will­


There are count­less op­tions for un­for­get­table, thrilling ad­ven­ture in the Cana­dian Rock­ies.

“You could spend a life­time do­ing dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties here and still find new ones. I lit­er­ally have,” Gadd says. Some of his favourite ex­cur­sions that can be done in a day in­clude the pop­u­lar Weep­ing Wall (Map 1, 5K) ice climb on the Ice­fields Park­way, the glacier-adorned high­way con­nect­ing Banff and Jasper na­tional parks.

“I climbed this for the first time with my dad when I was 16, and most win­ters I climb it again. It’s 180 me­tres of ice—very beau­ti­ful.”

The Weep­ing Wall is favoured for its 10-minute ac­cess from the park­ing area, sunny ex­po­sure and prox­im­ity to Ram­part Creek Hos­tel (1-778328-2220) where many climbers stay.

Far­ther south, Haffner Creek (Map 1, 6J) in Koote­nay Na­tional Park is a 30-minute ski into a canyon across from the Mar­ble Canyon park­ing lot on Hwy 93S. This is “the best col­lec­tion of easy-ac­cess and mixed routes in Canada,”

Gadd says. (Mixed climb­ing in­volves as­cend­ing rock and ice us­ing cram­pons and ice tools).

“It’s a ton of fun whether it’s your first time ice climb­ing or you’re train­ing for the World Cup. Low avalanche haz­ard, too,” he adds.

For those who’d rather glide through pow­der than climb frozen falls, Gadd sug­gests back­coun­try de­scents at Bow Sum­mit (Map 1, 6K), the high­est point on the Ice­fields Park­way. This is ar­guably Banff’s favourite area for yo-yo ski­ing, for its open slopes, con­sis­tent fall-line and 1-km ski from the Peyto Lake park­ing lot.

“This is one of the first places to get good snow in the fall, and last to hold snow in the spring,” Gadd notes. Skiers of­ten take the short de­tour to the Peyto Lake view­point for a stun­ning view.

Gadd’s fel­low Can­morite, Olympian Shona Rubens, also has rec­om­men­da­tions for back­coun­try ad­ven­ture. She sug­gests a ski tour to Tryst Lake (Map 1, 7H) in Kananaskis Country for its re­ward­ing views and quick ap­proach, a 2.5-km ski from Spray Lakes Road or 3-km ski from the Mount Shark Road park­ing lot. “Make it a short day if you just want to go to the lake. Or do mul­ti­ple yo-yo runs—there are lots of chutes to ski when con­di­tions are good.”

Rubens grew up in Cal­gary and started ski­ing as a kid. She re­tired from Canada’s Alpine Ski Team with the 2006 and 2010 Olympic Win­ter Games un­der her belt, and re­cently com­pleted an en­vi­ron­men­tal sciences de­gree. She coaches ski rac­ing; the sport is still a big part of her life.

“Most of (my fam­ily) va­ca­tions were spent out­doors,” Rubens says. “Be­ing sur­rounded by peo­ple who loved the out­doors, and the abil­ity to be in the moun­tains at the drop of a hat, turned me into the per­son I am to­day.” Rubens still skis with her fam­ily ev­ery Christ­mas.

“(The sport) is amaz­ing, be­cause it’s in­di­vid­ual in that when you’re ski­ing you’re on your own, but you do it in a so­cial en­vi­ron­ment. You can en­joy it back­coun­try, cross-country and down­hill. The places it takes you are spec­tac­u­lar.”

Also in Kananaskis, the 20-km French-HaigRobert­son Tra­verse is a favourite one-day ex­pe­di­tion of ad­ven­ture pho­tog­ra­pher Ryan Creary.

The cir­cuit—a re­mote ski tour for ex­pe­ri­enced back­coun­try skiers—re­quires knowl­edge of man­ag­ing avalanche ter­rain, glacier travel, crevasse res­cue and dif­fi­cult nav­i­ga­tion. “There are great off­shoot trips and fun couloirs. You don’t have to do the whole cir­cuit,” Creary says.

Now based in Revel­stoke, BC, Creary lived in Can­more for 10 years and says that’s “where it all started” for him pro­fes­sion­ally.

“The sports I shoot (ski­ing, snow­board­ing, bik­ing, pad­dling, climb­ing) have al­ways been my pas­sion, so I com­bined work and life­style. I packed my cam­era when I went to do stuff with friends; that led to images get­ting pub­lished, then big as­sign­ments,” he says. The cover of this mag­a­zine fea­tures a Ryan Creary photo.

Although Creary now plays in the Selkirk and Monashee moun­tains, he says he’ll al­ways feel a pull to the Rock­ies. “There are so many amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.” One man who has truly lived a life­time of ad­ven­ture is pho­tog­ra­pher and cer­ti­fied Cana­dian moun­tain guide Pierre Lemire, win­ner of the 2015 Sum­mit of Ex­cel­lence Award pre­sented by the Banff Moun­tain Film and Book Fes­ti­val.

Since 1987, this award has rec­og­nized “an in­di­vid­ual who has made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to moun­tain life in the Cana­dian Rock­ies.”

Lemire, who lives in Field, BC, cer­tainly fits the bill. He moved to Al­berta in 1965 at age 18, and from 1972 to 2011 was a guide with Cana­dian Moun­tain Hol­i­days. In the 1980s, he worked as an ex­am­iner for the As­so­ci­a­tion of Cana­dian Moun­tain Guides (ACMG).

Lemire’s pho­tog­ra­phy has ap­peared in Cana­dian Sum­mits, Equinox, and the Faces of Canada and Hills of Nepal ex­hibits—the lat­ter at the Whyte Mu­seum of the Cana­dian Rock­ies (p 41). As much as he’s con­trib­uted to the Cana­dian Rock­ies, the moun­tains have con­trib­uted to his life.

“In guid­ing, peo­ple want to climb or ski tour, but that’s just one di­men­sion of the whole process,” Lemire says. “Be­cause I en­joy tak­ing pic­tures, I would stop and say, ‘Let’s spend some time here,’ to ob­serve the light on the peaks.”

Lemire re­calls one of his most mem­o­rable ad­ven­tures. “Within a week, I climbed two iconic sum­mits.” Af­ter guid­ing a man up Mount Assini­boine (3,618 m, the high­est peak in the south­ern Cana­dian Rock­ies), a friend asked if Lemire wanted to climb Mount Rob­son (3,954 m, the high­est peak in the Cana­dian Rock­ies).

“I said, ‘Sure,’” Lemire says with a laugh. “Both moun­tains of­ten take many at­tempts due to the weather. But the con­di­tions were per­fect! The chances of it hap­pen­ing like that were very low.”

Lemire’s ad­vice for ad­ven­tur­ers? “Get up early!” He says, “As the years pass, I re­al­ize how priv­i­leged I was to be in th­ese moun­tains. Things change, but there’s still magic to dis­cover.”


“Ev­ery sin­gle week­end, thou­sands of peo­ple are out in the moun­tains, but we only hear about the ones who get into trou­ble. So get out and have fun first of all,” Gadd ad­vises. “Sec­ond, use the re­sources avail­able if you want to travel in avalanche ar­eas, and un­der­stand the ter­rain.”

Avalanche Canada pro­vides on­line avalanche fore­casts, ter­rain haz­ard rat­ings and maps at Yam­nuska Moun­tain Ad­ven­tures (p 55) and the Alpine Club of Canada (403678-3200) run avalanche safety cour­ses in Can­more. In Jasper, cour­ses are of­fered by Rock­a­boo Moun­tain Ad­ven­tures (p 106).

Or, im­prove your skills by hir­ing a guide. Gadd takes clients ice climb­ing, and Yam­nuska and Rock­a­boo of­fer ice climb­ing and ski tour­ing.

Don’t have the gear for a back­coun­try foray? Lo­cal shops (p 65, 93, 113) rent ski tour­ing, ice climb­ing and avalanche safety equip­ment.





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