Thursday, December 22, 2016

Cal-Cheak Ice Climbing

We arrived in Whistler after 15 hours of bad road conditions, semi trucks in the ditch and slow traffic. Kyle and I were exhausted and opted to take a rest day at my parents house and do some Christmas prep. We had a week and a half ahead of us to ski and spend time with my family and it was nice to have a bit of downtime. By about noon, Kyle was already bored of sitting around and started doing some reading about ice climbing in the area. We had brought all our ice gear in hopes that Shannon Falls would be frozen after all the cold weather that the coast had been getting. Unfortunately it was not in climbing shape. What Kyle did find however, was a flow close to the house that had been successfully climbed in the last few days.

Angela was eager to try ice climbing and was very excited to come along. After driving all of 10 minutes from home to the Cal-Cheak turn-off (7 mins south of Function Junction), we stopped at Whistler Bungee to ask if they knew where the ice was. We could see a route down in the canyon but it looked difficult to access and the staff at the Bungee place seemed skeptical that it was climbable. They also seemed to think that we were a bit nuts to be going ice climbing in the first place. We drove back along the Cal-Cheak road to where we had seen a car parked on our way in. When we arrived, the owners of the vehicle were getting a boost and were able to tell us how to access the climbing. There was a trail entering the forest beside a flat-deck trailer and a mini van that were parked off the side of the road (very buried in snow). The trail made its way up into steeper terrain on the opposite side of the road as the river. We followed the trail for less than 10 minutes before we came across ice. This was the shortest approach ever!
Kyle starts up the Cal-Cheak flow
What we found was a ~20 metre flow of ice with a few different lines in the WI 3-4 range. Kyle lead the most obvious line and set up a top rope. The top out was a bit sketchy so instead of topping out at the trees, we used a v-thread for our anchor backed up with an ice screw. Once the rope was up, Angela got to give ice climbing a try. After a few minutes of working out the technique, she was climbing really well! I was really impressed with how quickly she picked it up. She was ecstatic after her first ice route and eager for more.
The Cal-Cheak ice
Angela is very excited to climb
Angela's first time ice climbing
Angela makes it look easy her first time on ice
Making my way up the first route at dusk
By the time it was my turn to climb, our late start came back to haunt us on one of the shortest days of the year. The sun was setting as I topped out, but Kyle still wanted to climb another pitch. I cleaned the screws and repositioned the top rope so he could head up the WI 3+/WI 4 section of the wall. Once he was down, we convinced Angela to go for another climb and got her set up with a headlamp in the fading light.
Getting ready to start in the dark
The ice was perfect and the temperature was -3. It was a very enjoyable afternoon on our "rest day". Once Angela finished her second pitch, I climbed up to clean the route. It was very dark by the time I was climbing but it was only 5:30. We cleaned up our gear and hiked out 5 mins down the hill to the truck to be back home in time for dinner at 6:15. It was surreal.
Heading up to clean the route in the dark
When I was living in North Van and Whistler, ice climbing wasn't even on my radar. Now that I have been out in Calgary for a few years, it seemed natural to try out some of the coastal ice when we had the opportunity. I loved how short the approach was, being warm and getting to enjoy a great crag all to ourselves. After our ice climbing day, the snow began to fall and our minds turned to powder, but I am very glad that Kyle took the initiative to give ice climbing in Whistler a chance.

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