Canyoning, climbing and caving in Maligne Canyon (Canadian Rockies)

Party: Felix Ossig-Bonanno, Jono Yui, Deena Clkins, Ingmar Wein, Hanna Kropp (photos: Jono Yui / video: Ingmar Wein)

Jono had the day off work and was keen for some adventure. We decided to visit Maligne Canyon as Jono hadn’t been there yet and I was keen to get in some more climbing.

In the morning, Deena decided to join us, so popping up a third seat in my car we were soon on our way. After stopping to get some groceries and collect my skins from the post office we parked and made our way along the top of the canyon. We split up, travelling on opposite sides of the canyon rim, as I wanted to set up my top rope and rappel in while the others walked around.

I was hoping to do one of the easier climbs, but there were already several groups set up, so settled on the Queen.

Picking two trees as anchors I formed a tension-less hitch around one and used an existing anchor around the other, setting it so my static rope reached just over the lip. I then used my new dynamic rope (the first I’ve ever owned!) for the climb.

I abseiled down the static rope then made a bit of a mess switching over to the other rope. Cold hands didn’t help. Eventually I made it down to the others who it felt like had been waiting for some time.

The Queen’s Wall
Abseiling into the canyon

I had planned to top rope solo the climb (using my Croll and Microtraxion), but was more comfortable with someone belaying me. Jono agreed, so I helped him into the spare helmet and harness I’d brought and gave him a quick lesson on belaying. Some practice catches and I was on my way up the Queen!

The ice was much harder and more brittle than when I’d climbed a couple weeks ago, probably due to the colder temperatures we’d had over the week (below -25C and even -30C for the most part).

My arms were getting pretty pumped at times and I was constantly looking for convenient spots to rest. I was also knocking quite a bit of ice down.

Just before topping out I decided to head back down. The ice was separated from the rock and I wasn’t 100 per cent sure it would hold. There were also a lot of icicles that were ready to fall off.

Jono lowered me down and we decided to wonder up the canyon to meet up with Deena.

Dena had borrowed a pair of my crampons while Jono had borrowed some micro spikes, which weren’t the greatest for some of the small climbs we needed to do to get through the canyon. It turned out the crampons I’d lent Deena also weren’t ideal as the linking bar was fixed and they were a little too large for her shoes.

We headed to the icefall at the end of the lower constriction. I was surprised how much the canyon had changed since my last visit. There was a lot less water and in places that had previously been water it was now frozen over.

I headed back to the climbing area where I ran into Ingmar and Hanna.

I asked Nick and his friend — who were climbing next to me — if they could give me a catch. They were about to go but agreed to belay me for a climb.

Despite this route being steeper I found it an easier climb because there were so many placements for my tools that I didn’t really need to swing to get purchase but could instead just hook the holes, saving quite a bit of energy.

Again, I stopped just before the top. I could feel my A2 pulley starting to stiffen up again, and didn’t want to push it.

Jono got some cool photos of me climbing.

Deena, Jono and I decided to wonder down the canyon a little way and quickly pop into Party Cave. We’d meet up with Ingmar and Hanna on the way back (they still had to explore the main canyon).

Check out this cool edit Ingamr put together from the canyon!:

I was surprised how keen Jono was to get into the cave. As he wriggled though the entrance on his belly, past the small rounded ice stalagmites, Deena’s reaction was probably closer to the norm: I’m not going in there!

It isn’t a long cave and we reached the terminal breakdown quite quickly and headed back out.

Looking out from the entrance of Party Cave. Cool hoar frost forms as the warmer air hits the cooler air outside

Deena decided to call it a day and headed back with Ingmar and Hanna. Jono and I went back to the car for some lunch before heading further up the road and making our way back down to the river.

It was tiring hiking up the snow covered river, so we tried to walk on the old ski tracks so we wouldn’t sink in quite as far. Taking turns breaking trail, the scenery soon became repetitive.

We became somewhat dehydrated, as I’d already run out of water at the car and now sharing what Jono had left it wasn’t long before we were empty. Jono kept checking his phone to see how far we’d gone. (We’d also dropped a pair of gloves — Deena’s — and weren’t looking forward to retrieving them.)

It was quite some time before we got into the upper canyon. We quickly found Spider Cave, which was easily identified by its two skylights. In summer you would normally rappel though the larger hole to gain access to the cave.

At the back of the cave, we found clusters of harvestmen, making the connection to the name of the cave (although they are not actually true spiders).

It was getting late and noticeably darker.

Crawling around some swift moving black water we continued up the canyon. Jono had forgotten his crampon straps in the car, but we just managed to get up the snow covered climb around the corner.

Continuing up the snow pillows, we exited the canyon via a narrow ledge, following some snow shoe tracks back to the road.

In the dark we hailed a couple of cars with our thumbs in the hopes of getting a lift back to our own car, but both vehicles that stopped were already full: just our luck!

The groceries Jono had waiting in the car kept us going, and after a quick break I headed down to look for the gloves. I was happy to find them down at the river, where I had taken a photo of Jono.

What a fun day! Hopefully we can have some more adventures again soon.

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