New ice climbing routes get national attention

Trent Ernst, Editor


On December 21, Craig Waters and Jesse Coonce made the first ascent of Physical Graffiti, an ice climb found on an unnamed waterfall on an unnamed creek near Quality Creek.

The heart of the climb is a 45 meter WI4 pitch. WI4 means the ice has long (10 m) sections of near vertical ice that involve mostly sustained climbing.

Waters says he named the climb after the Led Zepplin album of the same name. “With the 45 metre main pitch, the climb felt pretty physical,” he says. “’Physical Graffiti’ makes me think of tattoos or scars, and ice climbers seem to have more than their fair share of the latter, particularly on the face.”

A week later, Waters and Coonce were joined by Tyler Doeleman to make the first ascent of Quantum Mechanics. The climb is similarly difficult (WI4) but about twice as high as the earlier climb, at 90 metres. It is a three-pitch route. The first and last pitch are slightly easier than the middle pitch, graded WI3.

Waters says there’s at least two other lines on this falls, which features an undercut wall for part of the route, meaning the pitch is freestanding. “We found the climb quite wet with a fair amount of hollow, partially unconsolidated ice, either fresh fragile ice or very plastic wet ice,” wrote Waters, describing the climb. “Protection was a little tricky but good screws were definitely there looking hard enough.”

Waters says these two new climbs are just scratching the surface. “There’s quite a lot of ice that hasn’t been climbed,” he says. “I did a helicopter tour trying to spot new climbs and spotted 75 new climbs. I’ve probably done five. There are tonnes out there; it’s just a matter of access of time. South of Tumbler Ridge is untapped. There are probably some big seeps back in there, they’re just impossible to get to.”

Waters is one of the most active climbers in the area, but he’s not the only one. He says his mission is to document and develop Tumbler Ridge’s ice climbing potential. “We’re trying to find these new bigger lines right now. That’s where it’s at. That’s where it gets interesting. There isn’t a whole lot of multi-pitch ice that’s known around Tumbler Ridge. There’s Cowmoose and Bergeron; those are the two multi-pitch climbs that are known. We’ve now done two more. There’s more out there.”

Where? Waters isn’t saying quite yet, but he has at least three big climbs that he’s hoping to do this season. That will bring his list of first accents to ten or so. Waters isn’t the first ice climber around Tumbler Ridge. Back in the 80s and 90s, Al Tattersall was famous for exploring the region’s ice climbing potential. “Most of the easy climbs Al has done,” says Waters. But he’s figuring out access into some of the more remote climbs. Recently developed exploration roads help, as does this year’s low snow.

His work on promoting Tumbler Ridge as an ice climbing area seems to be working. Recently, Above Tumbler Ridge’s Brandon Braam went out to video the ascent of Quantum Mechanics. The video was picked up by Gripped Magazine, a national climbing publication. “This is the first time one of these climbs has got noticed,” says Waters. “Some people know about ice climbing around here, but it’s not that well known. I’ve taken it upon myself to improve access and promote ice climbing in the area. It’s all about figuring out access and creating trails. Climbers don’t need the same type of trails as hikers do, but you need to be able to get at them. A lot of the attention is due to Brandon. We’ve been doing first ascents for a number of years, but Brandon brings it to life and brings it to people’s attention. Ice climbing is so much about ascetics. When you’re out climbing you’re often out with just the one other person and you’re responsible for their safety so you can’t stop and take photos.” Waters says having someone there to document the climb leaves himself and his fellow climbers free to concentrate on climbing.

With his most recent conquest getting such publicity, Waters is raring to get out there and open up even more routes. “It’s a huge motivator. As soon as I found out Gripped had picked up the story about the climb, I thought ‘when can I go and do it again?’ The [local ice climbing community] is always out there and trying to keep the ball rolling and let people from out of town know what the ice is like.”

Waters tries to get out as much as he can in the winter. “I go out anytime. -30 is about my cutoff, but as long as it’s below zero, or even +4. The ideal climbing zone is between -7 to -15 C. But it’s ice. It’s never really ideal. It’s an ever changing medium, and that’s what makes it so interesting. When you go back and climb a route, it’s a completely different climb. There are routes I’ve climbed that haven’t reformed in five or six years. It all depends on what the weather.”