Banff National Park was Canada’s first National Park and at 2564 sq miles and receiving tons of winter precipitation, offers more waterfall ice climbing objectives than most countries with alpine regions. The climbing located closer to the town site of Banff is considerably warmer than the climbing located further north in the park at Lake Louise and the Icefield Parkway. The town of Banff averages 38cm of snow in January compared to the town of Lake Louise receiving 63cm in January. The average low in January at Lake Louise is -21C compared with -15C in Banff. Those of us who climb in such temperatures can attest to every 1C counting! In the winter the temperature drops approximately 1C for every 200m elevation gain and the average day only yields 8-10 hours of sunlight.. The bottom line is that the ice climbing conditions located near the town of Banff are more mild than the parks northern reaches onto the Icefield Parkway. However, many of the routes are just as spectacular.
The route opportunities vary from very popular and accessible routes like Cascade Falls, III, WI 3 and Johnston Canyon, WI 3-5, to more remote and difficult challenges like the Trophy Wall (Terminator, V, WI 6; Sea of Vapors, V, WI 6) and the Auger Sanction, V, WI 6.
Listing routes with no first hand experience available is not what this page is about. Rather the listing involves first hand accounts only of waterfall ice routes close to the town of Banff. The Icefields Parkway and Lake Louise are also located in Banff Natiional Park but have been listed seperatly as I break down Canadian Rockies Ice for the purpose of trip planning. The routes will be listed and maintained in ascending order of East to West and South to North through the center of Banff National Park highlighting only those routes in the central park area. I can assure you that this listing only scratches the surface of what is available come January through April up and down the central Canadian Rockies. I personally attempt to climb 30 WI routes per winter and still have plenty more to experience.
Professor Falls, III, WI 4 "Professor Falls is one of the famous Canadian classics, and is very popular. The name is a pun that comes from Professor Eckhard Grassman, one of the first ascensionists, who took a fall there in 1974. This route forms early and usually lasts until late into the season. However due to the constant water supply it can be very wet, even in cold temperatures. The climb consists of three steep pitches (WI4), a gentler fourth/fifth (WI3/3+) and a final crux WI4 pitch of ice often in excess of 85 degrees steepness. Due to the stepped nature, it is common to have many parties on the route on weekends, and most consider it reasonably safe. It is best to avoid this unnecessary risk and not climb below others. We did have a visiting US party climb below us on a weekday, showing the popularity of the climb. When there is no snow covering the steps, ice slides over the lower pitches. It's not a question of "if" climbers knock down any ice, but "how much" - so make your own choice on whether you're comfortable with the risk."
Cascade Falls, III, WI 3 "The Cascade waterfall, WI-3, is a classic for the Banff area. It is approximately 1000’ +/- of extremely accessible waterfall ice right off of the Trans-Canada at the first Banff exit as you come from the east. It also has to be one of the most viewed waterfall ice climbs in North America. We had our share of onlookers in February, 2006."
Rogans Gully, III, WI 3 "Rogans Gully is the ugly stepsister to Cascade Falls, the classic Canadian Rockies WI-3 located in Banff National Park. For the most part, Rogans Gully is a WI-2 but the last pitch can be in such condition to be considered WI-3. Unlike Cascade Falls which should be ice from top to bottom, Rogans Gully normally will have a few dry breaks in the line. Even a boulder or two will protrude in places almost giving you a feel for mixed, but not really. This, in my opinion, has to be one of the best beginner multi-pitch ice routes in the Rockies. Unlike Cascade Falls, most of Rogans Gully is hidden from the TransCanada, yet another reason it is not nearly as popular."
Johnston Canyon, WI 3-5 "The best lines are the two just off to the left of the cat walk. The further left is the more precarious ice and does not last as long as the piece to the right. Both are quite vertical and sustained with the left route offering the most technical move in January, 2008, a transfer from the main pillar to an overhanging and fragile curtain above for the finish. The right side route was more sustained and thus physical offering little in the way of breaks. Both were a ton of fun. We both thought they were in the WI 4 range, some call them WI 5’s. Most folks climb the easier angled ice to the right to gain trees above the canyon so they can top rope these two more difficult routes. A 70m rope is needed to top rope both of these longer routes. If you stay climbers left on this approach ice, you will find several sustained WI 3 lines. If you want to just solo up this section or are a beginner, you can keep circumventing to the right to ascend WI 2 ice.”
Bourgeau Right-Hand, IV, WI 4R "The route is subject to high avalanche risk so be sure to check the snow conditions. That said, it is a beautiful long climb with an alpine feel to it, and highly recommended. It presents two steep pitches, followed by steps of easier ice and snow climbing that gets you up high.”
Bourgeau Left-Hand, IV, WI 5 "This is a very high quality, 4 pitch ice route up a beautiful 2-tiered limestone cliff. Apparently the lower two pitches can be thin and partially detached from the rock; this section has been known to fall off during early season warm spells but still reform later. The lower section is generally too exposed to falling ice to accommodate more than one party, but the upper tier is often wide enough for parties to spread out between the left and right sides.”
Red TapeYou will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter Banff National Park coming from the east on the Trans-Canada. This pass is good for all four national parks. If you plan many visits to Canadian National Parks within one year, you should purchase an annual pass. There are no permit requirement to climb in Banff National Park, but all camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the conventional campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below. The huts are managed by the Alpine Club of Canada versus the Parks. The Alpine Club of Canada headquarters is located in Canmore, AB; the Banff National Park headquarters is located in Banff, AB. You will drive through the manned national park kiosks as you enter Banff National Park on the Trans-Canada.
Camping/LodgingThe Alpine Club of Canada’s national office is located in Canmore and also serves as a hostel, a recently renovated one at that. This is by far the most economical heat and roof you will find in Canmore/Banff and is centrally located to climb throughout the Bow Valley as well as the Ghost.
Mountain/Route ConditionsThe Banff National Park website has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc. Outside of the parks websites, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly for winter travel. Canadian Alpine Accident Reports is also extremely relevant.