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Ice Explored in Canadian Rockies Niche

From left, Undertow (WI6), Can’t Touch This (WI5+ M6) and Boobquake (WI4+ M5), Tangle Ridge, Alberta, Canadian Rockies. These ice routes–each ca. 600m and visible from Icefields Parkway–were established in April and May 2010 by J. Mills, Steve Holeczi, Mike Verway, Raphael Slawinski, Eamonn Walsh and Simon Parsons. Because of its visibility from the road, the area had been scoped for at least the past decade; when conditions were prime this spring, locals made the four-hour trek to the rare ice. [Photo] Raphael Slawinski

Climbers established three new ice routes on Tangle Ridge near the Columbia Icefield in Alberta this spring after waiting as many as 10 winters for the falls to form. Visible from the famed Icefields Parkway, the potential lines–each about 600 meters in height and at least 10 pitches long–had been under the careful watch of local climbers. When conditions finally came in thick last month, they introduced Undertow (WI6), Can’t Touch This (WI5+ M6) and Boobquake (WI4+ M5) to the gamut of significant climbs in the Canadian Rockies.

In mid-April, J. Mills, Steve Holeczi and Mike Verway spent four hours approaching to the base of the spotted climbs. The trek involved climbing Shades of Beauty (WI4, 120m) and hiking to a campsite, where they rested up for the next day’s push. Undertow proved to be the longest continuous ice climb the team had ever encountered, featuring numerous pitches of WI4 and WI5, with a crux pitch of WI6. After skirting around seracs, the team climbed lower-grade glacial ice to the summit to take in breathtaking views of Mt. Alberta (11,873′).

Raphael Slawinski leads the crux of Can’t Touch This (WI5+ M6), Tangle Ridge, Alberta. [Photo] Eamonn Walsh

About a week later, Dana Ruddy and Ian Welsted repeated Undertow while their partners, Raphael Slawinski and Eamonn Walsh, took a stab at another line. At first they considered a flow up the middle of the face. An imposing dagger halfway up convinced them to climb further right, through ice and rock. After making a quick descent down the back of the ridge to the highway in little over an hour, they named the route Boobquake. Slawinski called it “a fun and consistent line up a big face,” on his blog, adding that “the position on the hanging ramp on the sixth pitch was outstanding.”

On May 1, Slawinski and Walsh returned with Simon Parsons to check out the middle line. After a few pitches of moderate climbing, Slawinski studied the dagger and deemed it too fragile to climb on. An overhanging rock traverse aided by a pin placement provided an alternate way up. At this point, however, the weather took a turn for the worse. Nevertheless, the team continued upward, eventually topping out in a whiteout to finish Can’t Touch This. Even without attempting the ice dagger, this line was the most treacherous of the three new routes; accumulating snow caused a series of small avalanches at regular intervals.

Slawinski said the new routes on Tangle Ridge are spectacular, but not because of their length or technical difficulty. They take you to the top of a 3000-meter summit and offer a great view before an amazingly quick descent back to the highway, he said. “In the Rockies, it’s also not common to find new climbs you can see from the road… It’s got to be one of the coolest places to climb ice in the Rockies.” On May 7, Slawinski and Walsh returned to climb Undertow to complete their “Tangle(d) trilogy.”

Sources: Raphael Slawinski,,

As part of the four-hour approach to Undertow (WI6), Eamonn Walsh makes the long traverse from the top of Shades of Beauty (WI4). [Photo] Raphael Slawinski