Joe Josephson’s “Waterfall Ice, Climbs in the Canadian Rockies” references the second pitch of Whiteman Falls as “one of the hardest pure ice pitches anywhere sporting over thirty meters of rotten, overhanging ice.”
However in January of 2007 this second pitch was in fantastic shape and was actually easier than the second pitch of Rainbow Serpent
which we had just completed a week earlier. What was killer was the approach along the closed section of Highway 40 (Kananaskis Highway). It was not a pleasant journey for us as we had not set out to do this route this day and thus did not have skis or snowshoes. Post holing the five+ kilometers up and down this road was not amusing, particularly if you have a sore kidney bouncing up and down. I recommend cross country skis and carry your climbing boots, but snowshoes would be another option if you did not want to pack your boots. Of course some are outfitted with backcountry bindings that take your ice climbing boots. Kudos to you lucky few, that is just more gear than I have room for.
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. Once you top out, follow the narrow canyon as it bends sharp left and then back right as it ascends to a dead end below Whiteman Falls.
The route goes easier to the left and that is the recommended variation in the guide book. Of course we took the right side which is right next to Red Man Soars, IV, WI 4+, 5.10. The main difference is ease of the first pitch and the comfort of the belay station between pitches. The left side offers some sort of cave and/or platform between pitches. The right side puts you on a hanging belay.
The first pitch starts directly over the small flat staging area next to the wall that is Red Man Soars. It offers a variety of mushroom formations, the most interesting of which (photos) offered us a cool problem. The ladies seemed to take a split stance before pulling the roof. I did a full on heel hook which is very colorful by my standards. In any regard, it is quite obvious where the second pitch begins. We snared a slight hanging belay spot at the lower right corner of the top pillar. Move out left and climb the straight vertical 2nd pitch to the top.
You will have two raps to get back to the base of the route and then another rap to descend that short WI 2-3 ice that exits below the narrow portion of the canyon. Use the skiers left rappel station versus the belay station on the right. You might have to dig it out of the snow and be careful as you traverse left through deep snow on ice to attain it. You can lead out from the belay station on the wall (skiers right) to reach the rappel station. This rap station saves your ropes from falling into running water pools below in between the two ice steps.
Return via Opal Creek back to Valley View Road and thus Highway 40.
Two Ice Tools, Double 60 meter Ropes, 12-14 Ice Screws and draws (screamers), Crampons, Helmet, Warm Clothes, Full Shank Boots, skis or snowshowes, poles.
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