Canada Ice Memories – great days and basic gear?

The Terror and the gully axe

The Terror and the gully axe

The ice axe above on the left is the famous Hamish Mc Innes Terrordactyl known as the “Terror” by a generation of winter climbers. The other was a cut down Gully axe that climbed many famous routes. The Terror was a a great invention and it was nowhere used more proficiently than in Canada where Bugs Mc Keith used them to the their full potential on vertical ice, using them for direct aid, very brave! This was the late 70’s

He writes “On two previous occasions faced by pillars of vertical ice and lacking the guts to front-point up them. I had attached old slings to my the shafts and found I could relax even on vertical ice and spend as much time as I wished clearing the rotten ice and placing each axe alternately to my complete satisfaction.”


I went to Canada in 1982 one of the first trips ever by Scottish climbers. It was a trip into the unknown and there were less than 100 winter climbs at that time in the area.  We took some other axes with us and used the Chounaird Zeros a wonderful axe and hammer see below. The “hummingbird was another it was awful and nearly wiped me out on Guinness Stout! I left my axes at the top of Guinness gully the local guide brought them back to the Alpine Club when he found them, what a great guy. The picture below is a pair of bamboo shafted Zeros, worth a few pounds now, the thud and the judder of them on good ice was so reassuring. Nowadays they look so primitive and when I climbed with a pair with a pal a few years ago a young gun asked if I had made them myself!

The Classic Zeros !

The Classic Zeros !

Nowadays you hire a 4×4 we had a normal car not much room with 6 of us. It took 2 trips from Calgary to Canmore to get us all to the Alpine Club hut where we stayed. I said it was long walk back from climbing each day, we all climbed in different areas to get as many routes as possible, it was wonderful. We climbed in very cold temperatures and the locals could not believe it as after minus 30 few ventured out. Not only was it very cold but the ice became so brittle, we just climbed. Protection was basic and as we had little cash we used old screw in and drive in ice screws, not the state of the art “snargs” ice screws of the day! Getting them in and out was wild! Six plus kit in that car!

Pete Kay looking at Mt Kid Falls - Binos are great in looking at the routes.

Pete Kay looking at Mt Kid Falls – Binos are great in looking at the routes. That car held 6 of us!!!

Pete Kay looking at the route big avalanche bowl above Mount Kidd Falls, care needed.

Mount Kidd Falls - look at the break below Mark the belyer.

Mount Kidd Falls – look at the break below Mark the belyer.

We abseiled off most routes from bent aluminium tubing, bought locally. I was sent first as the lightest,no chance now, there were few abseil points set up, now its all there bolts etc.  We had some parties with the top men, Bill March Rusty Bale, Guy Lacelle and Chic Scott who is still a great friend today. Bill and Guy are no longer with us, nor is Mark or Big Al. Guy used to solo beside me putting in my gear, he thought all  Scots were great ice climbers till he met me! He enjoyed the wildness of us all, looked after me and the parties we had at the weekends were legend at the time!

We also had our Bear story but that better be saved for the book!


Plastic boots  and quick release crampons made a huge difference and I spent my limited money on them a huge investment them. Boots – They 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.

Crampons –  Footfangs

Footfangs - A stable platform for waterfall ice climbing,

Footfangs – A stable platform for waterfall ice climbing,

Some Routes Climbed by our wee trip. : Professor Falls, Cascade,

Whiteman Falls, Mt Kidd Falls, A bridge to Far,  Bow Falls, Grotto Falls, Silk Tassle,  Massey,s, Bourgeau

Lousie Falls, Guiness Gully, Pilsners Piller,   Weeping Wall – Left/ Central/ Right, Polar Circus, Sacre Blue. Not bad plus another 15 routes.

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Enviroment, Equipment, Expeditions - Alaska - Himalayas etc, Ice climbing Canada, Mountaineering, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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