I sit awaiting another operation missing the mountains and my patience is running out.I miss the mountains so much and climbing this a small bit about an incredible trip to Canada in 1983. Canada Ice – the dream ice climbing venue. Koflacks boots and basic ice screws.
I have so many wonderful memories of Canada and the Rockies from my early trip in 1983 when there were under 100 ice climbs in the only guide available. My great friends Mark Cheeky Sinclair and Tom MacDonald had read Bugs MacKeith’s articles about ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies. It was in the SMC Journal and Bugs an expatriate Scottish climber who was living in Canada had written such an article we had to go. He told tales of huge ice falls many unclimbed, few climbers and of adventures on the ice. We were hooked and I spent 5 weeks on the best trip of my life in Canada in late February and March 1983.
It was a group of six of us that went some top guys like Tom , Cheeky and Pete Kay a bear of a man from down South in North Wales, Mark Ritchford a young gun and a baby pilot from New Zealand at RAF Valley , Malcolm Taylor what a crew. None of us had ever been to Canada and a winter trip was a very serious event. The flight over was exciting we wore everything as we had so much gear, we took the same as we climbed in Scotland. We hired a car nothing like the hire car nowadays as cash was tight. It was through “Rent a Wreck” real name and could not take 6 of us and gear in one go.
It was all we could afford but did the job just. Three headed to Canmore our base near Banff in the Rockies about 2 hours away and three of us went and shopped for food and then hit the city Calagary but that is another story! We had no clue it was a 5 hour return journey in mid- winter. Eventually we all arrived at the Alpine Club Hut at Canmore where we based ourselves for the first week. This was the ideal place to be and it became our Base for the whole trip as we moved about the key areas, rarely seeing anyone. We had the only guide a simple guide-book with a few routes in it and were lucky as staying in the hut was a young climber Guy Lacelle and Chic Scott little did we know how well-known and how incredible people we had met.
As I said before there was little known about ice climbing and only a few climbers about Guy and Chic gave us so much information in these early days there were few fixed belays. There was a lovely place nearby called Grotto Falls and we started a shakedown there. Tom and Cheeky had climbed some of the hardest winter climbs in Scotland a good few grade 5 climbs. I was a far more modest climber enjoying grade 3 and struggling on the harder grades. We were astonished at the steepness of the ice and the lack of protection we had in the way of ice gear.
Next day we drove to Banff for Rogan’s Gully and Cascade Falls is a beautiful 300 metre grade 3 ice climb that probably sees the most ascents of any climb in the Rockies (when it’s in shape). It was a great introduction to ice climbing and the dangers of climbing in the Rockies, where the fear of avalanches is extremely serious. . Both routes were an interesting day and we were learning all the time. Descent is by abseiled points and abseils were off trees or ice screws, or ice bollards it made one think and after two days climbing we had to have a rethink as we were running out of abseil tat ! We bought some hollow tubing that was recommended to abseil off later and had some scares watching it bend as we abseiled off, I was first to go as at that time was the lightest!!!!
We felt we were now ready to climb some harder routes and after some advice from Chic Scott and Guy Lacelle we headed to Louise Falls a classic grade 4 climb near the magnificent Château at Lake Louise, this was the first of the steeper lines we climbed and gear was very simple then.
We climbed with Chouinard Zero axes and humming-bird and a couple of Chacals and even a what a great noise they made on sticky ice. We also used “Terrors” and carried a spare axe in case one broke in the cold, we climbed in some very low temperatures -20 to – 35 . We only had a few ice screws about 4 per pair and they were hard work on the steep ice, nowadays you have possibly 12 screws per pair and they are so easy to use.
On our feet we had the Classic Salewa Crampons, the Chouinard crampons and Tom had a pair of the new Footfangs crampons. It was a huge learning curb but what a place to learn! We had also invested in the new plastic boots Koflacks and they saved the day on a few occasions in the extreme cold. They were in the early days a white moulded plastic boots with felt inners an incredible improvement on all previous boots.
Plastic boots came upon the mountaineering world like a rash in the late 1970’s and within a couple of years just about everybody had a pair. Scottish bog trotters said it was the first time they’d had dry feet for a hundred years, Himalayan climbers didn’t get frostbite and boot polish dried up in the tin – redundant. Unfortunately, there was a down side – condensation made your feet look like wrinkled prunes with blisters popping up on each wrinkle! Blisters appeared round the ankle where the boot top rubbed and if water did get in, it couldn’t get out. Some folk loved them, others hated them, but as if by magic, they almost totally disappeared from the scene sometime in the late 1990’s.
Koflach were one of the main producers back in the 70’s, using technology gleaned from making ski boots and we’ve got a prime example of their ‘Ultras’ here in the collection. They were probably the most prolific boot on the market at the time.
That was only the first few days!