My introduction to this unique canyon down Opal creek was quite the unexpected adventure. Dealing with a bad kidney I was looking for a relaxing day on some WI 4 ice routes along Evan Thomas Creek known as Moonlight and Snowline. As we pulled into the parking lot for a late start we ran into other regular partners of ours, the four of us probably making up the entire contingent of ice climbers on this cold mid week day back in Kananaskis. They wanted to climb Whiteman Falls but were looking for encouragement. The next thing I knew good judgment was thrown out the window and the four of us took off on a late start, 10:00am, down the closed section of Hwy 40. Of course my partner and I were without skis or snowshoes as we had not planned for such a long approach.
After post holing for several hours, we reached the base of some short WI 3 ice that led up to the incredibly scenic canyon containing Whiteman Falls and Redman Soars. The approach itself is rated 5 stars. We passed a skull that one of my partners said was a fresh carcass the last time she was back in here, meaning of course it was a mountain lion kill during this time of year. Remote is a good description of these two routes.
Kananaskis Country is a maze of provincial parks encompassing over 4,000 square kilometers of foothills and mountains bordering Banff National Park to the east and south in the central Canadian Rockies. Opal Creek is south of Opal Ridge and the Opal Range (a front range of the Canadian Rockies). A geological survey team found quartz crystals coated with Opal while prospecting nearby, thus, the unofficial name.
- Whiteman Falls, IV, WI 6/ 95 meters
This is a two pitch route at the end of the canyon. The first pitch is blessed with incredible mushrooms, which make the route easier than WI 6, but present interesting climbing issues of their own. The second pitch is full on sustained WI 6. We took the route up the right side which placed us on a hanging belay, not good if you have kidney issues. According to Joe Josephson’s “Waterfall Ice, Climbs in the Canadian Rockies”, you can find a comfortable cave for your mid pitch belay if you take the left line. The left line looks to be an easier line to climb as well regarding both pitches. We climbed both pitches to the right moving towards the center at the top of the second pitch.
- Red Man Soars, IV, WI 4+, 5.10/ 55 meters
In January of 2007, this “play on names” route Barry (Blanchard) put up looked to be pretty sparse, particularly when compared to a photo in Joe Josephson’s book. However, one of my partners had been up the route in such conditions before and said it was plausible. I have provided one photo of the route.
Take the Kananaskis Trail (Highway 40) exit off of the Trans-Canada Highway between Calgary and Canmore. Drive 54kms to the end of Kananaskis Highway (Hwy 40). This section of Kananaskis Highway is closed from December 1 through June 15, and I do mean with a gate. The closure is at Kings Creek (Canyon). Park at the closed gates and proceed on skis or snowshoes for 5kms to Valley View Road on your left. This is a gated road as well. Proceed through deeper snow up this road for approximately 200m to a short bridge and creek. Park the skis here and follow the creek left as it ascends ever slightly up into a steep rock canyon to the base of two short WI 2-3 steps. Climb this ice solo or roped, there are two fixed stations at the top. Use the left station for belay and the right station for rappel to keep your ropes as dry as possible.
There are no permit requirements to enter, climb and/or park in Kananaskis Provincial Park. This can be avalanche terrain during the winter. Therefore it would be prudent to check recent notices posted on the Canadian Avalanche Association’s website regarding that issue. Kananaskis waterfall ice routes are more susceptible to avalanche risk than most any other. Tony Devonshire was killed in an avalanche on a Kananaskis ice route at the start of the 2006-2007 season.
The closest winter overnight accommodation I am aware of is the Delta Lodge back north off of Highway 40, but I am sure there are other options despite most campgrounds being closed. You cannot camp outside of the marked specific camping areas in Kananaskis. Refer to the Kananaskis Provincial Park website for more information regarding camping and/or lodging.
When to ClimbWaterfall ice climbing is typically a winter sport and I suspect the two main routes in Opal Creek need until late December to fully form.
Climbing ConditionsThe Kananaskis Provincial Park website is a very thorough park website, including trail conditions or closures, wildlife notices, weather conditions, avalanche conditions, camping permits, whitewater conditions, etc. It is an excellent source if you are going to spend any time in Kananaskis. Outside of the parks web sites, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly for winter travel. Canadian Alpine Accident Reports are also extremely useful.