Jan. 30, 2013 - Issue #902: Come cry with Daniel Romano
Slamming ice tools and crampons into a frozen waterfall
Darrah, aware of my fear of heights and lack of climbing experience, has set up a photographer's perch for me, knowing the opportunity for photos will lure me up Tangle Falls—a 30-metre waterfall about 100 kilometres south of Jasper on the Icefields Parkway.
From above, he coaxes me higher and higher until I reach a large bulge that reminds me of Santa Claus's belly, but 20 times the size. I look up at Darrah, only a few metres away, and ask, "Now what?" With a mocking grin, he tells me I can take the easier route to my left, avoiding the bulge all together, or I can conquer it by setting my sights straight ahead. Never one let peer pressure go wasted, I release the ice tool in my right hand, wield it over my head, and, with a thunk, secure it to the ice above me. Then, with both of my ice tools—which resemble miniature Grim Reaper scythes—in place, I walk my left foot up, kick it into place, move my right foot up and do the same, straighten my right arm and stand upright, smack dab in the middle of St Nick's tummy. I'm about two maneuvers away from my safe little perch and I'm already exhausted from the constant shaking in my knees and pounding in my chest. I lay my helmeted-head against the ice, let out a sigh and start the process again.
Moments later, I'm standing with my back against the waterfall, catching my breath and calming my nerves.
From my "patio," as Darrah dubs it because of the uncommon -1 C temperatures, I watch as the rest of my group ascends the various runs, some with ledges that allow for a rest and others that go straight up without a place to catch your breath.
To my right is Jenna Peltier, who moved to Jasper from Ontario earlier this month. Despite her fear of heights, I watch as she powers to the top of her first 30-metre run without a single fall or misstep. And, by the end of the day, she makes it to the top of a second run and halfway up three others before her arms turn to jelly.
To my left is Reece Cooper of Australia, who says at first it was difficult swinging his ice tools with both hands. "I'm a carpenter by trade, so I'm used to swinging my hammer with my right. So, I found it kind of weird swinging with my left."
Despite that initial learning curve and a pair of uncomfortable boots, Cooper, an avid rock climber, makes it up the waterfall numerous times throughout the day.
By the time both Peltier and Cooper reach the top and rappel down from their first ascent, it's lunch time and Darrah is patiently waiting for me to pump myself up for my first descent.
It turns out, getting down is a heck of a lot scarier than getting up, so this process isn't quick.
While shaking my head at my own fear, Darrah laughs and tells me he won't let me down until I lean back with my hands in the air. Although rationally I'm well aware that holding onto my belay rope is a false sense of security, I take my time inching my way to the edge of my safe little patio.
Then, finally, I make the dreaded lean and, while staring Darrah straight in the eyes, I let go of the rope.
That turns out to be the hardest part of my day and before I know it I'm slowly walking my way down the waterfall toward my turkey sandwich.
Ice climbing is a popular pastime in Jasper. Aside from Tangle Falls, there are numerous other spots to go, like Maligne Canyon, Edge of the World, Kirkeslin Falls, Meltout and Shades of Beauty. The climbing season can begin as early as November and carry on through to April.
On warm days, it's important to pick climbs with little to no avalanche danger. Those include Tangle Falls, Maligne Canyon, Panther Falls and Weeping Wall.
And if you've never climbed before or your experience is limited, it's smart to go with a guide, who can properly set up belay ropes and anchors to keep you and your group safe.
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