The Canadian Rockies are widely acknowledged as the centre of the ice-climbing universe, due to the exceptional volume of easily accessible top-quality ice. So is it any wonder that Tumbler Ridge, situated as it is on the eastern flanks of the Rockies, as well as being the Waterfall Capital of the North, is gaining fame as an ice-climber’s paradise?
With dozens of seeps and falls, ranging from short, easy climbs perfect for beginners to some difficult technical ascents, our abundance of BC waterfalls offers a variety of ice-climbing choices to keep the most avid climber happy.
Some Notable Destinations:
Awe-inspiring Bergeron Falls is one of the highest known waterfalls in Northern British Columbia and spills into a massive horseshoe-shaped bowl of vertical to overhanging walls in soft sedimentary rock.
Until recently it was largely unknown, and has been climbed only once – this is the one that climbers in Tumbler Ridge work their way up to. At 100 m (328 ft), it can probably be done in two pitches with a hanging belay. It was done in three, with a ledge belay 19 m (60 ft) from the top and just below the tough part, which hangs free of the face and tends to fragility, ropey icicle twists and unexpected hollows.
Tumbler Ridge Directions / Map: Hwy. 29 toward Chetwynd for 5 km (3 mi), turn right on a gravel road to the end (8 km/5 mi), then 70-minute snowshoe in.
Among the most challenging, Bullmoose is 45 m (149 ft) of absolutely sheer, rock-solid vertical ice, described as having “evil truck-sized gargoyles, brittle chandeliers, buttery blue slab and frosted cauliflowers”. Conditions vary, depending on the day, and can be a “vertical cakewalk” or “unstable, uninsurable and climbed by pure levitation”. Caution is advised, but it comes with major bragging rights.
Access: Hwy. 29 toward Chetwynd for 24 km. Ten minutes flat ski or snowshoe in
Cowmoose Step Falls
If you’re looking for a step-falls climbing adventure, this is the place! About 70 m (231 ft) tall, the Steps are usually climbed in three pitches, though you can make it in two. You won't find this quality of ice this close to the road anywhere else in the region.
These picturesque cascades are a fun series of short vertical pitches with numerous shelves for rest and reflection. Lots of contour, with plenty of options. Topping out is above a 15 m (50 ft) pillar that may be vertical. There are great views of sun-soaked cliffs on Bullmoose Mountain on the other side of the valley, often with mountain goats warming themselves.
Tumbler Ridge Directions / Map: Hwy. 29 toward Chetwynd for 25 km (16 mi), turn off at the road to the old Bullmoose Mine site. At 3.1 km (2 mi), hike 100 m (330 ft.) uphill. No skis necessary.
What can you say about a 60 m (197 ft) icicle that has the full force of the Murray River still flowing through it? Easily the most recognizable feature around Tumbler Ridge, Kinuseo Falls, on the Murray River in Monkman Provincial Park, is a breathtaking, not-to-be-missed sight.
This ascent is not as intimidating for experienced climbers as, say, Bullmoose, because it’s pretty straightforward and not quite vertical. Pick a line close to river left – good solid ice, steep and sustained. A hanging belay is required temptingly close to the top. Sprinkle major doses of common sense on this piece and escape with an outstanding memory.
Tumbler Ridge Directions / Map: South of Tumbler Ridge 63 km (39 mi) on the Murray River Forest Service Road, then a 1 km snowshoe hike. Check to see if the road is plowed before departure.
Nesbitt's Knee Falls
This lovely grotto, where Waterfall Creek plunges into twin 30 m (99 ft) chutes, is a local favourite. Named after legendary resident Don Nesbitt, it has two columns and an adjoining low angle slab that challenge everyone but the most experienced climbers.
Nesbitt's Knee, on the right, is 55- to 70-degree waterfall ice that forms out into a distinctive knee. Negotiate vertical and overhanging gargoyles, or contour up between the folds, and top out on clear snow.
On the left is the Grinch, a seep. Sixty-degree incline steepens to vertical on the pillar, while a free-standing curtain forms the Grinch's Cave. This connects the pillar to vertical mixed ice and rock above, with a top out in trees. Depending on the year, this one ranges from merely challenging to a dry-tooling thrash.
Tumbler Ridge Directions / Map: Murray River Forest Service Road, 35 km (22 mi) south of Tumbler Ridge. Ten minutes flat ski or snowshoe in.
First-timers may find this a great place to test their mettle – nine metres of 65-degree creek spillway ice. There's a big flat spot below the falls for spectators. Downstream 100 m (330 ft) there’s a shorter, steeper waterfall with overhanging gargoyles just off the deck. When you rappel down you're committed to the climb or to a longer slog out.
Tumbler Ridge Directions / Map: Hwy. 29 toward Chetwynd for 66 km (41 mi), then a five-minute downhill hike.
There are many more routes, some of which have still not been climbed – you could be the first! A potential ice-climbing bonanza may be the Cascades on Monkman Creek. As far as anyone knows, none of the eight falls has been conquered in winter.
The Tumbler Ridge Community Centre maintains an ice-climbing log book, and climbers are asked to sign in and write up their route.
For more information on ice climbing in Tumbler Ridge, contact the Visitor Centre and the WNMS.
Check out the new Northern BC Ice Climbing website.