Vancouver Island Ice

Vancouver Island Ice

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Ice Climbing


It has been said that, owing to the mild climate and relatively warm winter temperatures, there is no ice climbing on Vancouver Island. This is not entirely true. There are actually many areas on the Island that have the magic three ingredients 1) Elevation, 2) Water source, and 3) Access. Within these areas are located some stellar ice climbs more in the style of the Scottish Gullies than say...Professor Falls. And the past two seasons (2013 & 2014) while there has been little snow for skiing, low early winter temperatures have brought some excellent ice conditions.

Places of note for water ice are: Mt Arrowsmith, Mt Becher (Boston Falls), Tennent Lake and Landslide Lake. As well, Island mountains with significant North faces really come into their own in the winter:

Mt Colonel Foster has 3 climbs on the East Face: Grand Central Coulouir AI5, Directissima AI5 and Into the Groove AI3
Big Den Mountain has The Great Escape AI3 and Mia Couloir AI3/4. 
Rugged Mountain is home to The Chuck AI3 and Lee-Hinkkala Route AI3 (TD-).
Victoria Peak has one of the Island's most outstanding couloirs The Sceptre is an excellent climb in summer and winter.

Getting There

Look for low elevation ice only in the coldest of years, and recently especially in early season late November through December. Higher elevation Alpine style routes form up annually and are generally "in" from December to March. Mid elevation cragging style climbs need prolonged low freezing levels and don't form consistently. However, they will form up eventually.
Besides the need for cold (read elevation) access issues are generally all that bar attempts. Aside from some moderates and the occasional hard climb, there is no roadside ice. Actually there is very little ice within 1 hr from the road Mt Arrowsmith and the Cokely Walls are the rare exception. If you are willing to put in the effort and suffer the dreaded Island bush, you will be rewarded with uparralled views and stellar climbing. It is worth it.

Eccentricities of Island Ice

Especially if coming form the Rockies, or other areas with significant ice buildup each year, remember to take along a healthy selection of small rock gear, pins, your "north wall hammer" and a couple of pickets. The conditions here tend to be rather thin compared to other locations. Keeping this in mind, Vancouver Island ice climbing is an excellent experience. Timing is critical and when the conditions are "in" take the day off work or whatever is required and get in the alpine. Climbing steep delicate ice above an island-wide cloud deck in the sunlight with good company is a cerebral yet sublime experience to be missed by none willing to make the effort. Trust me...there won't be any line-ups!

Guidebooks & Other Links

Local guidebook Island Alpine Select.

Avalanche Conditions: Island Avalanche Bulletin A great section on Boston falls with a downloadable guide. Includes a section on Vancouver Island Ice conditions as updated by users.

NavCanada Freezing Levels information A bit tricky to decipher but an asset for weekend planning.

Red Tape

Not much in the way of regulatory trouble with Island Ice. Most backcountry access is through logging roads. These will, from time to time, be closed to the public . During weekdays, and sometimes on weekends, there will be logging activity. Keep your headlights on while driving and yield the right of way to the really big truck that is driving very quickly directly at you.


No open fires are permitted in the Strathcona Park backcountry, and ensure that you observe any restriction imposed by the rangers. As always practice low impact...keep to this one and don't wreck it for the next fellow.


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