Ice climbing was destined to be my true love.
Twelve years ago a friend introduced me to the sport by taking me on a three-day trip up Mount Hood, east of Portland, Oregon.
I returned home to the Yukon, excited about my discovery and talked to anyone who would listen to find partners for my newfound passion. The problem was, I could not do it alone.
One of my verbal gushings was directed at my massage therapist, who told me that he knew someone who was also new to ice climbing and looking for a partner. He brought us together.
My relationship with this new partner was complicated from the first week. Activities included a search and rescue training weekend, a belay practice and, scariest of all, a date. Indication that he wanted to be more than just a climbing buddy appeared in the form of a present at dinner — a small white box with a red bow. Inside was a poem he wrote for me about our apparent future in the wild, a single red rose and a new carabineer for my harness.
I was just out of a 23-year marriage and was freaked out about the idea of a romantic relationship.
I did my best over the next few months to stick to climbing, skiing and hiking, but eventually my resolve wasted away.
Over the next few winters we ice climbed in disparate places like Ouray, Colorado and Valdez, Alaska.
We started our climbing right here in Whitehorse at McIntyre Creek on the Fish Lake Road. That venue is no longer available, but there are many other hidden gems to try.
One of our favourites is an area of ravines on the north side of the Alaska Highway at Toad River, just south of the Liard Hot Springs. You can climb the gentle undulations and short vertical pitches of the ravine overflows during the day and soak in the hot pools by night.
Closer to home, a local entrepreneur Chris Gishler has been building ice climbing towers up to 30.5 metres (100 feet) since 2006. They have found their home at Takhini Hot Springs, along with a zip line and an ice trek.
His company, Equinox Adventures gives newbies a chance to check out the sport safely, with expert instruction. They supply all the equipment, all you need is good outdoor clothing and a warm hat —and no pom-poms allowed, it has to fit under a helmet.
One of Equinox’s instructors is Ryan Agar. He calls himself an evolving climber. He admits he is always looking for a scarier and harder thing and found his way from rock to ice when working with Gishler.
“We try to have one or two activities a month,” he says. This includes one ice trip per month in the winter. Agar has recently published an updated rock-climbing guide for the Yukon.
Alain Dallaire, another avid climber, has published a book documenting ice climbs in the Yukon. He’s been climbing here for more than 20 years and told me his favourite climb is “the one where I am the first one that climbs it.”
When pressed, he names Fungi Phobia on White Mountain, a mixed climb (rock as well as ice) that gains about 300-400 metres (984-1312 feet) in elevation.
You have no excuses if you are looking to add a little spice to your winter adventuring. You don’t have to spend a bunch of money on gear, you don’t have to drive any further than the Takhini Hot Springs and falling in love with a climbing partner is optional — but it worked for me. I love ice climbing and I am in love because of ice climbing.
Luckily, Gishler is having a singles night at the ice tower for Valentine’s Day.
If you want to find out more about ice climbing in the Yukon, check out www.EquinoxYukon.com, pick up a copy of Alain Dallaire’s book, Yukon Ice Climbs or check out the Alpine Club of Canada Yukon page on Facebook.