Cirrus Mountain’s claim to fame is serving as home to several of the most coveted ice climbing routes/areas in the Canadian Rockies, Polar Circus, V, WI 5 and the Weeping Wall, WI 3-6. Polar Circus is called the “showpiece of the Canadian Rockies and a must for all climbers” by Joe Josephson in his reknowned guide book “Waterfall Ice, Climbs in the Canadian Rockies”. It is one of the most sought after routes anywhere in the world. Featuring 2300’+/- gain with over 1600’ of waterfall ice spread out over 9+/- pitches, Polar Circus is a classic to say the least. Charlie Porter is credited for naming the route while on first ascent when complaining about setting up a station on one of the steep pitches, referring to his situation as nothing more than a “Polish Circus”. Polish became Polar in the translation. Within Polar Circus is a feature named the Pencil which rarely forms to the ground, but when it does it is one of the finer WI 6 pillars anywhere.
Weeping Wall is comprised of a minimum of 22 published waterfall ice and mixed climbing routes. Joe Josephson’s “Waterfall Ice, Climbs in the Canadian Rockies” is an excellent guide book featuring photos and topos relative to these 22 routes.
Cirrus Mountain is located off of the Columbia Icefield Parkway 27kms north of the Saskatchewan River crossing in Banff National Park, one of four connecting national parks making up the central Canadian Rockies. Cirrus Mountain was officially named in 1935 after the cloud formation that forms at high altitude. Previous to that it was known as Mount Huntington. Cirrus Mountain was first ascended by the Sisson brothers in 1939. Cirrus Mountain wraps around the Huntington Glacier that lies to the southeast of the highest peak. There are subsidiary peaks to the south and to the east-northeast. A glacier flows from a cirque on the northwest side of the mountain as well.
The Trans-Canada Highway runs from Calgary through Banff and Yoho National Parks on its way to Vancouver. As you pass through Lake Louise heading westbound, you want to exit onto the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) towards Jasper National Park. Pull off at a small parking area with a maintained winter outhouse on the left hand side 10 miles north of the Rampart Creek Hostel. Weeping Wall is directly across the parkway. A trail leading to Polar Circus is less than a kilometer back south. This is a several hour drive from Canmore.
You 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 requirements to climb in Banff or Yoho National Parks, 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 and Yoho National Park headquarters is located in Field, BC. You will drive through the manned national park kiosks as you enter Banff National Park on the Trans-Canada. You will drive through a kiosk area again as you gain the Icefield Parkway. However, it is normally not manned in the winter.
When to Climb
I climbed on Weeping Wall in December and Polar Circus in March. You can obviously climb all winter and the avalanche danger is comparatively low above the routes at Weeping Wall and relatively high on Polar Circus. There are four published accident reports related to Weeping Wall, none of which involved avalanches and several published accounts of death and injury on Polar Circus induced by avalanche.
There used to be a cook hut nearby Weeping Wall and a camping area below Polar Circus, but both have been removed by the Parks. The Rampart Creek Hostel is 10 miles south on the Icefield Parkway and serves as a good base for these climbs. Rates for dorm style were $23-$27 in 2006. It has 24 beds and reservations are recommended. They were having problems with water and power in 2007 and were closed periodically as a result. It would be advised to call ahead, (866) 762-4122.
""You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.""