Evan-Thomas Creek provides a variety of ice climbs, and a recently a few bolted mixed routes, close to Calgary and Canmore with an easy approach and lots of options for climbing. Evan-Thomas Creek is a wide and pleasant foothills valley that is very typical of the terrain, vegetation and eco system of the Kananaskis foothills. Much of the Kananaskis region is officially designated as “multiple use area” by the provincial government and the range of activities that take place in Evan-Thomas Creek mirror this description. Historically, Evan-Thomas Creek has seen a lot of industrial uses like mining and logging, but now the summer typically sees a lot of equestrian use and in winter the main activity is ice climbing.
The parking area and a short distance along the approach trail are within the Evan-Thomas Provincial Recreation Area, but all the ice climbs are within the Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park. The creek drains a significant area and is one of primary contributors to the Kananaskis River from the southern drainage area. The high quality habitat, relative lack of human development, low elevation and connection to the Elbow River drainage, provides an important wildlife corridor for many species.
The ice climbing in the creek is along a short valley wall and there is no avalanche danger with any of the climbs. Being low elevation climbs, they tend to freeze and melt in the early season and fall apart early in the spring. The main climbing area, Moonlight, has an eastern exposure, and with very poor rock quality, can be subject to rock and ice fall with the strong late winter and spring sun.
From Calgary or Canmore, access Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail), from Highway 1 (Trans Canada Highway). Drive south along Highway 40. 16 kilometres south of the Barrier Lake Visitor Centre park at the Evan-Thomas Creek parking lot.
Approach to the main climbing area (Moonlight wall) is straight forward and well travelled with an obvious trail set in the snow from the fall to the spring. From the parking area follow the trail, up the obvious wide trail for about 1.0 kilometre, at the first intersection and take the right hand trail which drops sharply down hill to the creek. At the bridge the ice climb access trail is usually on the left bank of the creek (looking upstream). Usually by mid December a donkey trail aims straight up the frozen creek. Hike the creek upstream to the climbs, about 1 to 1.5 hours to reach the Moonlight wall.
The approach to upper Evan-Thomas Creek is not as well travelled or as straight forward. At the climb, Combo Falls, the creek takes a sharp turn to the east, soon the creek narrows into a tight canyon. When I first visited this section of the creek valley in 1995, we stayed along the steep wall, (left wall looking up stream) immediately adjacent to the creek, not recommended. When I returned in 2006, we found an excellent game trail on the south bank, right side looking upstream. This trail travelled up and over the tight canyon, just where the terrain flattens out, a light bush bash reaches a broad slope, upstream of the canyon, allowing access to the creek bed.
At some point, perhaps in the summer of 2013, this trail was upgraded substantially, including guardrails to protect the drop off into the creek canyon. In January of 2014, a newly cleared trail continued from this canyon edge, higher up hill than the usually light tree bash, through the forest and re-entering the creek bed between the climbs WD40 and Slurpee.
This recently upgraded trail is less direct, but the most apparent approach. A more direct access that is quite quick is possible in the tight canyon, well above the creek bed. Where the creek narrows past Combo Falls, scramble up left high, first on solid ledges with mild exposure to where a vertical wall blocks your progress, here a dirty loose ramp is reached, this section is sketchy, but soon exits onto a solid, but very exposed ledge system. When snowy, this ledge system is usually easier to travel, traverse up stream on exposed ledges, soon the cliff lessens and easy access is made to the creek bed, just downstream of the climb B2.
Overall map for the route locations, and a topo map for the Rehab Wall and Green Monster wall, is below.
The third edition of Waterfall Ice: Climbs in the Canadian Rockies (Joe Josephson, 1994) lists six routes in Evan-Thomas Creek. Starting with Chantilly Falls, then 2 Low 4 Zero, Snowline, and Moonlight; upstream two minor climbs are listed; Combo Falls and Good H’evans Thomas. This edition also mentions a fun little gully across the creek from Combo Falls (referred to as “Exit Combo”) that leads to the summer trail, east and above the creek bed.
The waterfall climbs in Evan-Thomas Creek, those specifically mentioned in Joe Josephson’s “Waterfall Ice, Climbs in the Canadian Rockies” and more recent ice and mixed routes are listed in order as you approach them. An overview map of all the climbs in the creek, and a topo map for the Green Monster/Rehab Wall area, is provided in the Approach section.
• Chantilly Falls 100 m II, WI 2
Follow the creek upstream for about 2.5 km from the car to the climb on the right side in a small cleft (82 J/14 328373), about one hour. The falls are named for the often lacy appearance of the ice. This route is an easy climb with a ledge about halfway up, the upper half is much steeper than the lower ice ramp. A good beginner’s route or a solo spin en route to Moonlight. Rappel from trees and downclimb (one rope adequate to reach low angle ice ramp). FA: John Calvert, Trudy Kamphuis. 1978.
Continue past Chantilly Falls upstream for about 1 km and then hike up 100m uphill on the right (82 J/14 330369). Three routes are located just 10m apart. Most often three individual and thin routes form, and rarely, one huge curtain forms. Moonlight is the most left hand line, Snowline is in the middle and 2 Low 4 Zero the right hand line.
• 2 Low 4 Zero 90 m III, WI 3 (original grade included "R", but has been retro bolted)
Usually 2 Low 4 Zero is an iced-up rock route, but in occasionally forms up fat. It is often incomplete on the bottom and can offer some cool climbing. Climb two full pitches. When in lean condition, knife blades may be useful, but the rock quality is quite poor. FA: Rusy Ballie, Iain Stewart-Patterson. Nov. 1984.
This route was retro-bolted in 2012 and is bolt protected for one rope length, about 45 metres.
• Snowline 100 m III, WI 4
Snowline is the central climb of the three primary routes. The route can form very thin, especially the lower half. When fat, it is a steal at WI4. Similar to Moonlight, start with a steepening slab (a bolt may be visible about 10 m up) and continue to shallow corner where a protected belay is hard to engineer. Continue up a steeper pitch to a ledge followed by a short step to the top. Rappel off a tree to second tree on the left side of the climb just above an overhanging section (slings). A long 50m rappel and a tiny bit of downclimbing brings you to ground. Beware of the security of rappel trees, in the past trees have failed. FA: Barry Blanchard, Iain Stewart-Patterson. Feb. 1983.
In very fat seasons, a difficult narrow icicle forms over the steep wall just right of Snowline. The Pipeline variation (WI5) gives exciting technical climbing. FRA: Daren Dunbar, Joe Josephson. Jan. 1994.
• Moonlight 110m III, WI 4
Moonlight is the most interesting and most challenging climb in Evan-Thomas Creek and one of the best routes in this section of Kananaskis country. Expect crowds at the Moonlight wall. The upper pitch can provide vertical and featured ice, especially early in the season. When in tough conditions the upper pitch can be 4+.
The first pitch climbs a long, often thin ice hose to a sometimes sheltered belay behind the crux curtain. Launch up the steep pillar 10m to easier ice. Another short wall leads to the top. Rappel off trees and ice anchors (when ice depth is sufficient). In thin ice conditions a rappel down trees on Snowline may be required. (82 J/14 330368). FA: Al Dunham, Phil Oltman. Feb. 1979.
• Cry of the Snow Lion 55m III, M5, WI 5
Rare to form, and when it does it is usually only a short section of ice at the top of the wall, 25m left of Moonlight. Often the ice ends halfway up the rock band. 55 m of engaging climbing on trad gear which has an alpine quality to it, not new school mixed. First ascent used 6 pins, 6 cams, couple of nuts, 2 stubbies. Fixed two pin rap anchor at the top. FA: Sean Easton, Eamonn Walsh. Feb. 2005.
• Combo Falls 50 m II, WI 2
Combo Falls is situated 0.5 km upstream from Moonlight and up the southeast slope at the first side drainage to the right, just before the main creek bends sharply to the east. (82 J/14 332364). On the opposite side of Evan-Thomas Creek from Combo Falls, a small canyon, with a short entry pillar, leads up easy ice and snow to the summer trail. The largest ice flow of “Exit Combo” can be found 200m up the canyon (82 J/14 334367). Rappel off the trees or walk out summer trail. FA: Wayne Jones, Richard Summer. Nov. 1992.
In fat seasons a short pillar can form above Combo Falls, above the broad flow up and to the right in a narrow gully. Also in fat seasons, the north facing valley wall just east of Combo Falls can sport several small pillars and hanging dangers, potential for new mixed routes? Too bad the rock quality is poor, more like vertical dirt.
Upper Evan Thomas Creek ice and mixed routes
• B2 30m II, WI 3
B2 is situated 0.5 km upstream from Combo Falls. From Combo Falls head upstream and follow great game trail on right bank of creek (looking u/s). This trail bypasses the tight canyon. After rounding cliff below dropped back to creek. B2 is short distance downstream of WD40. Grey, but plastic ice with a variety of lines, easy 3 on left or grade 2 on right. Walk off to descent trail or rappel from trees. (82 J/14 336364) FA: Kevin Barton, Tony Barton. March 1995.
• WD40 60m II, WI 4
Can form blue and fat, but on first lead ascent route was thin and had a fragile crux pillar about 20m off the deck. Above delicate pillar ice is steep and thin for 10m then the route thickens to the top. Walk off to descent trail or rappel from trees. (82 J/14 336364) FA: Kevin Barton, Jason Wilcox. January 5, 2008.
• Slurpee 35m II, WI 4
25 metres of approach ice (WI1+) leads into a small canyon bowl. A soaking wet vertical pillar with a thick layer of wet, unconsolidated ice rises above. Climb pillar and work for good picks and feet. Pillar is 20 metres of poor wet ice, then 15 metres of easy ice leads to trees. Rappel from trees. (82 J/14 337362) FA: Kevin Barton, Jason Wilcox. January 5, 2008.
Seven routes, both mixed and ice routes.
• Aromatherapy 35m II, WI 3+ R
Climb the thin curtain to a small ledge. (bolt) Climb thin ribbon to trees. FA: Brandon Pullan, Will Mienen and Danny O'Farrell. Jan. 2008.
• Fun and Fitness 45m II, WI 4 R
Many options to start. Climb great ice to upper steep wall. FA: Brandon Pullan, Will Mienen and Danny O'Farrell. Jan. 2008.
• Supermodel 33m, M7
Thin, often looked at and a little difficult. 11 bolts and 50m right of Physiotherapy. FA: Rob Fulton and Brad Power. Jan. 2016.
• Physio-Therapy 50m III, M7, WI 5
Climb the amazing featured rock using a variety of tricks. Past one roof, some ice then another bulge and some ice into thin ribbon, up the ribbon behind the hanging curtain and then through the steep roof. Exposed and demanding. Gear: Physio-therapy has 15 bolts, ice screws required for ice sections, 20 quick draws with some runners, two 60m ropes to rap, stubbies for most of the ice. FA: Brandon Pullan, Will Mienen and Danny O'Farrell. Jan. 2008.
• Acupuncture 20m II, M4, WI4
One bolt , then up thin runout ice (spectre) to a ledge. Descent with V thread or traverse left on loose ledge for 15m to anchor of Yoga Monster. FA: Brandon Pullan, Will Mienen and Danny O'Farrell. Jan. 2008.
The Following 2 climbs can be combined in a few different ways.
• The Treatment 35m II, M5, WI 4
Climb right of largest drip up thin ledges onto ice and up to ledge, climb the upper smear above ledge and traverse left past bolt off of ledge (crux). FA: Brandon Pullan, Will Mienen and Danny O'Farrell. Jan. 2008.
• Yoga Monster 25m II, M5, WI 4
Climb past 4 bolts up good rock between drips and finish on left hand ice, bolted anchor. FA: Brandon Pullan, Will Mienen and Danny O'Farrell. Jan. 2008.
It is possible to walk off all Rehab Wall routes to climber’s right towards WD40, or rappel from trees.
• Green Monster 30m II, WI 4+
Thick, wide and green this curtain provides several lines from 4- to 4+. First ascent took toughest line up the middle. Climb near vertical hero ice to trees. Rappel from trees. (82 J/14 339360). FA: Kevin Barton, Jason Wilcox. January 5, 2008.
• Good H’evans Thomas 40m II, WI 3
This climb is about 1.8 km beyond Moonlight and 0.8 km upstream of the tight canyon, the approach trail to WD40 bypasses the open water. Climb the wide flow with several shorter steps. Downclimb or rappel from trees. (82 J/14 341358). FA: Pat Paul, Vaclav Vaclavik (both solo). March 1982.
There are no permit requirements to enter, climb and/or park in Alberta’s Provincial Parks. Cougars and Grizzlies can be common place in Evan-Thomas Creek due to its location on the front range and connections to other drainage basins. Take bear spray during non-hibernation months. The frequent Chinooks keep snow levels typically manageable.
There are no winter camping facilities in the Kananaskis River valley.
Waterfall ice climbing is typically a winter sport; the Moonlight area can be climbable in October, but November is more typical for early season. Often the first weeks of March will produce significant rock and ice dagger fall danger on the Moonlight climbing area. The Rehab Wall/Green Monster area is well sheltered from the sun and can last into April.
The 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 the Ghost or surrounding area.
Outside of the parks web sites, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly for winter travel.