Maligne Canyon (Canadian Rockies)

Party: Felix Ossig-Bonanno, Jono Yiu
Photos: Mostly Jono Yiu, with a couple by Felix Ossig-Bonanno

I skied past Jono at work… something about a cycling trip after work? It was a nice day and it made sense to use the extra daylight we now had. I didn’t run into him to organise things and decided I’d go ice climbing. But while I was getting ready, Jono popped in – he’d cycled over. I didn’t have a bike now… he ummed and ahhed about joining me. I suggested we drop through the canyon – ice permitting – and it wasn’t long before we were both on our way.

We parked at the tea house and weighed down by lots of rope – we didn’t know exactly how much we’d need – walked down to the second bridge. Peering into the depths below, we inspected the ice. It looked okay. A little bit of open water, but it looked solid. We headed back up canyon, looked down from the first bridge and continued to the top of the canyon.

Donning our crampons we negotiated a couple of DCs and then scrambled down a ramp of ice. Along the wall ice shawls┬╣ were growing, but were slowly breaking off as temperatures were increasing, and on the canyon floor some of their broken remnants could be found. The sounds of the dripping water echoed around as we continued down, avoiding the shallow stream that was flowing over the ice.

Soon we reached the top of the largest pitch. Peering down, we figured that our longest rope would make it. We reused one of the existing V-threads, backed it up with an ice screw and were soon ready to descend the icefall.

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The icefall was quite hooked out from all the climbers ascending the canyon. I remember that earlier in the season, this climb had looked quite intimidating, but now it didn’t look that bad!

Just around the corner was another small pitch (this was as far as I got on a previous trip ascending the canyon). It was overhung and a little awkward.

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Soon we reached the water we’d seen from above… as we’d assumed it was only surface water – pools collecting on top of the solid ice. Soon the canyon will be impassable as the ice thins. Walking on it would mean falling into the river beneath.

My double boots kept my feet dry, but Jono wasn’t so lucky…

The light was fading now and whilst not yet exactly needed I’d turn my light on now and then for affect. I particularly like how this turned out beneath one of the log jams. Jono described walking in the dark beneath it, like walking through a swamp.

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The canyon then opened up, and we knew there was one more pitch into the second constriction. If needed, we could exit here. Instead of making a V-thread, we found a log frozen into the canyon wall and managed to get some tape/webbing threaded.

We decided not to pull the rope as we could simply drop in and pull it up on our hike back to the car park (/parking lot). The second constriction is more dramatic than upper. Jono also informed me that it was what photographers call the Blue Hour. The photos he got are certainly impressive!

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Behind Damsel in Distress (?) a small waterfall plunged down into the ice several metres. I was temped to climb down and see if I could get below the ice, but I was still in my work jacket…

It was pretty much dark now. What a great afternoon adventure! It was a clear night and it would have been nice to stay longer watch the stars come out, but it would already be 10pm by the time we got back… so we exited the canyon, and headed back to the car, pulling up our rope on the way.

┬╣ this speleothem is called a curtain in Nth America (shawl in Australia) – I’ve adopted the word for the similar forming ice formation

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