If you love the outdoors there is no shortage of new things to see, and do. This past winter I decided that the new outdoor adventure I was going to try was Ice Climbing.
The last two winters have been especially cold in Southern Ontario, and while this often makes outdoor activity less than inviting it also provides the unique opportunity for activities such as Ice Climbing. The deep freeze we have experienced has provided for ideal conditions for ice climbers to practice their passion, and for the complete novice to try a very unique and special sport. So while I was wondering how to best give this sport a try, I took to Google, and then it happened, all rather spontaneously. Within an hour I had found a provider in ONE AXE Pursuits, a location at Tiffany Falls, and a date being that Saturday (just a few days away).
I called up a few friends and within the hour I had three friends ready and willing to give ice climbing a try. I had the advantage of knowing that ice climbing was possible locally but my friends and many others are surprised that you don’t have to “go far up north, out west, or internationally to ice climb on such amazing ice” says Christa, of ONE AXE Pursuits.
Anyone who knows Hamilton, and its abundance of Greenspace, is likely to know of its waterfalls. Tiffany Falls which is located a short hike from a small parking lot on Wilson Street in Ancaster, is only one example of Hamilton’s beautiful waterfalls. And, in the depths of winter this waterfall serves beauty in the form of adventure, as it freezes providing the platform for ice climbing.
ONE AXE Pursuits offers ice climbing and tutorials to the novice climber, as well as the seasoned veteran. I booked with this company to go ice climbing on Saturday. Tiffany Falls as it turns out is a well-known location in the ice climbing community, according to ONE AXE Pursuits. I must say ONE AXE Pursuits was excellent in providing us newbies with the necessary gear, instruction and oversight not only to introduce us to ice climbing but for us to really enjoy the day!
Planning to go in just a few days left me with little time for research, planning and any necessary shopping; so everything felt a bit rushed even on the day itself. I picked up my three friends and headed to Tiffany Falls Conservation Area. Once we navigated a parking spot and piled out of the Jeep we introduced ourselves to ONE AXE Pursuits staff. We completed our waivers (signing our lives away) and in short order we were assigned our gear which included:
- Climbing Harnesses
- a base layer of thermals and pro-fit long sleeve
- flexible hiking pants and ‘splash pants’ (many wore ski-pants)
- a tee shirt, fleece sweater and a fleece lined shell.
While putting on our helmets and harnesses Fredrick Schuett, Director of ONE AXE Pursuits reviewed Tiffany Falls and the short but scenic hike we would be taking in. The blanket of fresh snow against the Niagara Escarpment backdrop made it feel especially remote; despite being so close to urban and suburban areas.
At the Falls
When we arrived at the face of the falls there were about 10 ropes anchored above the falls and below (to assist belaying). Fredrick went over the gear we would be using to actually scale the frozen wall in front of us which included Ice Tools (hand held spikes) and Crampons (boot mounted pointed metal cleats). These menacing looking tools are essential to dig into the ice and ascend the waterfall; very cool! After a lengthy instruction on how to use the tools safely and effectively we moved onto belaying.
Belaying is the act of assisting a climber to safely climb (ascend) and then to rappel (descend) from the frozen waterfall. Essentially you remove slack from the rope as they ascend (to minimize the distance they can fall); once they have reached the summit you lower them to the ground in a controlled fashion. Sounds pretty easy... and it is; by the days end you have it pretty well figured out. The whole day ONE AXE Pursuits staff is on hand to answer any questions, and lend a hand throughout the day.
It is a weird feeling stepping onto the waterfalls face; ice is normally difficult to walk on never mind climb! Yet despite all of this, here I was. With my feet on the ground and facing the ice I reached to dig into the ice, or to find a place to hook the ice tool into. Once I had a good handle with both ice tools, I began looking for a place to dig my toes into. The front of the crampons have two definitive pointed ‘spikes’ (for lack of a better word). By kicking with your heel down and toe up, your foot quickly becomes secured, although it hardly feels sturdy. Fredrick instructs, “You just have to trust that your foot has a good hold”. At first I thought he’s plain crazy but after a few reps on my first ascent I realized that it wasn’t taking much effort to secure my foot holds. My hesitation quickly escaped to the back of my mind, securing myself became second nature, and up I went!
The climb is not only fun but fulfilling, searching out a hook and route to get to the top is a rush the entire time. You feel as though your life is in your hands, you are the master of your own fate; all while being totally secure. Occasionally you hear a voice from below, “sweet foot work dude!”… “get a good reach up to your right !”.. as ONE AXE Pursuits’ staff enthusiastically help out, encouraging you to continue. The camaraderie that is created between strangers in one day is surprising and awesome.
As the day goes on you push yourself to do more difficult climbs, all the while getting increasingly fatigued. I couldn’t think of anything else I would have rather been doing, it was a perfect way to spend a frigid winter Saturday!
Hamilton has plenty of greenspace, and whether you want to grab a picture of a waterfall, or climb them, hike, run, fish or paddle you can do it here with ease, and all accessible through the Hamilton Conservation Authority’s Conservation Areas.
Find a Conservation Area, find a reason, and get outside. Hamilton’s outdoors are amazing and are waiting to be experienced. In the dead of winter there are still ways to get a rush, and feel alive !
The Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision and Strategy recognizes the unique opportunities that the Dundas Valley area offers to those who live near and visit from afar. Ice Climbing in the Dundas Valley Vision area is an especially unique opportunity usually reserved to the true adventurer, willing to invest high amounts of time and finance in order to experience what we are so lucky to here at home.
If you are an adventure junkie, or simply want to give something new a try, I would recommend Ice Climbing in the Dundas Valley.
Please be sure to respect our natural areas, we will only have them if we take care of them. Ice climbing is only permitted through one of the two providers; ONE AXE Pursuits, and the Alpine Club of Canada.
John Williams is the Project Manager for the Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision and Strategy. You can contact him by email at John.Williams@conservationhamilton.ca or 905-525-2181, ext. 157
Alpine Club of Canada
Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision
Pictures were provided by ONE AXE Pursuits. The Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision is made possible by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.