Back of the Lake at Lake Louise is one of the most accessible and thus one of the more popular sport and trad rock as well as waterfall ice climbing locations in Banff National Park, one of four connecting national parks making up the central Canadian Rockies. The rock climbing varies from the tame Louise Falls area to some of the most challenging steep quartzite face, crack and arête climbing in our area via the Blob Rock and/or Air Voyage Wall. The ice climbing routes trend all the way back into the Victoria Glacier. But you can start with a WI 4-5 at Louise Falls. Basically you can climb the same rock you do in the summer on ice in the winter at Louise Falls.
In 1882, Tom Wilson, a Canadian Pacific Railroad worker, became the first non-native to see what is now called Lake Louise. He heard some ice fall off of Mount Victoria and went to explore it. Although he originally named it Emerald Lake, in 1884, it was renamed Lake Louise in honor of a daughter of Queen Victoria. Lake Louise was actually created when a natural dam of glacial debris (the current site of the Chateau) caused the water to back up behind it. It is approximately 85 meters (280 ft) deep, and 2.4 km (1.5 miles) long.
Supposedly Lake Louise attracts 1.5 million visitors each year. Therefore, in the summer this area becomes a heavily congested tourist haven. They enjoy observing the climbers as much as they do the wildlife. In the winter, the Fairmont runs a horse driven sleigh from the Chateau down to Louise Falls to watch you climb ice. They even brag about watching climbers on their website. So if you have any inhibitions (this is for you Peter) about performing for an audience, this might not be the place for you.
Waterfall Ice Routes
Louise Falls 110 m II, WI 4-5; Thelma Falls 30 m II, WI 5X; Cable Gullies 15 m III, WI 2; Linda Ice Nine 310 m III, WI 4; Brewsters 200 m III, WI 4; Oasis 50 m III, WI 3
Trad and Sport Rock Routes
Goblin Wall 5.9-5.11c; Rockfall Fall 5.10a-5.12a; Kaleidoscope Pinnacle 5.7-5.10b; Fraggle (msp) Rock 5.8-5.10a; Hydrotherapy Wall 5.10b-5.11b; Hanging Gardens 5.9-5.12a; Duckland 5.9-5.12c; Blob Rock 5.4-5.13b; Pond Area 5.3-5.12b; Liquid Sky Wall 5.6-5.12c; Amphitheatre (aptly named) 5.5-5.11a; Air Voyage 5.8-5.13a; Outhouse 5.3-5.12c; Wicked Gravity 5.6-5.12b; Trailside 5.6-5.12a; Louise Falls 5.4-5.11dR
Getting ThereThe Trans-Canada dissects Banff National Park east to west as you come in from Calgary. Travel to the Lake Louise exit and turn left through town and follow this road 5kms to its end at the Lake Louise parking area. The trailhead parking lot is to the left and is free of charge. There are restrooms at this location. Head west for the lake and follow it to its right. Eventually this will turn into a wide trail and leave the hotel complex behind. I found a couple of ice climbers once crossing the lake down its middle. Although well frozen at the time, you don’t need to do this nor is it advised.
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter the park. 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 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 town campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included above. Park headquarters are located in Banff and you will drive through the manned kiosks as you enter the park. This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your person during non-hibernation months. I advise checking with Parks Canada for any area and/or trail closures, however, the trail to the back of the lake if rarely if ever closed.
The closest camp site would be back in town at the Lake Louise Campground. You can go on line at Banff National Park to pick a camp site and obtain your camping permit. You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously if you plan on camping at a backcountry site. The Lake Louise Alpine Center Hostel is a great place to eat and has been recently renovated, but is more expensive than your average hostel. Of course those with the big bucks can camp out at the Chateau itself.
When to Climb
Waterfall ice climbing is typically a winter sport of course. I have climbed Louise Falls in February and March and it was in stellar condition both months. The sun can go down early on these rock routes in the summer due to the steep terrain around you and the cold air drainage from the nearby glaciers don’t help matters much. Most of the cliffs in the main area face south or east which is a plus. July and August are no doubt the prime months. June and September can be a tad chilly on the fingers.
Accident Reports for Canadian Rockies
Avalanche Conditions This is critical beta for any of the ice climbs beyond Louise Falls.