This is a 3000’+/- ascent day. Murchison Falls is a classic route along the Icefields Parkway due mostly to its aesthetics and length. As WI 4 and 5’s go, I have been on better routes. Murchison is a popular route however and gravitates towards the top of most tick lists. It is a four pitch route that can be done in three pitches if you solo the first step of ice. The three remaining pitches are quite long and 70m ropes are highly advised if you have them available. Murchison Falls is one of 18 routes located among three cirques on the western flank of Mount Murchison.
Drive 10.3kms past the Waterfowl Campground on the Icefields Parkway heading north and park at an obvious drainage. In the winter, you are basically looking for a snow trail on the right side of the road. There are no pullouts nearby, you simply pull over as far as the snow bank lets you. The approach trail covers over 2000’ in elevation gain, meandering up the right side of the drainage via a decent trail, if broken, across a few downed trees here and there. Skis are not recommended. Eventually you break through tree line and Murchison Falls comes into full view to the upper right and above the drainage.
Route DescriptionCover the steep snow slope up to the left side of the first ice step. There is a small flat spot below the rocks where you can gear up. You have several options to ascend this first ice. You can go up snow/ice immediately to your right which is the first ice on the left of the first step next to the rock. This short vertical section is somewhat thin ice on rock. There is a rappel/belay station right above this section and to the left out of sight. Another option is to traverse over right and low and gain the good ice and scramble easy WI 2 to the base of the first real wall bypassing the first rappel/belay station.
Second Pitch, 50m-The first real climbing pitch has several lines to choose from. There is a rappel/belay station to the far left in sort of a rock/ice cave. We chose a center start but ended up traversing back left and built a station on a short flat area on the left side. This is a meandering sustained WI 3 line.
Third Pitch, 60m- Taking the left side of the falls straight up and slightly back right to the base of the crux and final pitch is an enjoyable WI 4 lead. It features short steep curtains broken up with easier ground and finishing on a snow slope below the final pitch at a rock station to the right corner.
Fourth Pitch, 65m- Joe Josephson’s guide book notes calls this a full pitch. I was on lead, so can’t exactly say what was going on for sure, but my partner claimed he had to simul climb 5 meters for me to reach the station. All I know is that I was pulling on him for about 5 meters in a precarious spot of rotten ice and rock ledges. This pitch was quite wet in March and is somewhat notorious for published accident reports. Taking the center line, the fall was raining for the first 15m. You get a break at about 35m on a tiny step. Above this step the ice can be quite chandeliery. I saw evidence of at least one bail here (v-thread). To find drier ice, I traversed right over a bulge and was rewarded with somewhat improved ice conditions. This entire pitch is sustained and can be run out if your screws are digging air. Continue straight up and it finally eases just slightly towards the top. Place a short directional in before you traverse right to a rock ledge and bolted station. The left side of Murchison Falls was heavily corniced in March, 2007 and can create quite a bit of spindrift.
DescentRap the top pitch over rock and ice directly back to the rock station at its base, a full 60m rap. Watch for iced up ropes if the pitch was wet. Also be aware that ropes have gotten stuck on the rocks on this rappel. Rappel down another full 60m back to the left side (climbers left) and look for a wet rock/ice cave with a bolted station. Rappel from this station about 40m to the snow slope below. Walk back to the first step’s left top corner and do a short rappel from a slung bolder.
Essential GearTwo Ice Tools, Double 60 meter Ropes (route goes much better with 70’s), 12-14 Ice Screws and draws (screamers), Crampons, Helmet, Warm Clothes (can be quite wet and much colder than the temps lower down on the Parkway), Headlamp (long day), Full Shank Boots, Poles for the approach and descent of the approach (icy steps) are quite helpful and recommended.
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