My good buddy Tim Emmett, as many of you know is a world renowned ice and mixed climber. Tim has had many first ascent all over the world but none as impressive as his routes in Helmkin Falls, called Spray On and Spray On Top. Helmkin Falls is a very impressive feature that develops an amazing spray ice (ice that forms from the spray from the waterfall) which forms on the walls surrounding the falls.
I have been wanting to try ice climbing for quite a long time but I have never really had the opportunity. Tim and I have done a lot of rock climbing this past year together and who better to teach me how to ice climb, so finally I was going to get my chance. We had planned to go into the Smoke Bluffs in downtown Squamish to try some easy ice and a mixed route.
Squamish is not necessarily known for its ice climbing because of its temperate coastal climate, but this year we had two weeks of subzero temperatures which developed a lot of ice. The Smoke Bluffs and surrounding areas were packed with local ice buffs who were taking full advantage of this rare opportunity.
I was excited to try it out and had borrowed some tools and boots from my good friend Eric Hughes. So we were set. The Bluffs would be a great place to learn. I had done a few minutes of indoor dry tooling, using ice axes on wooden or plastic holds in a rock climbing gym and some very low angle glacier ice in the mountains but no vertical ice. It looks very hard and dangerous, I had always thought, but I was ready to give it a whirl!
HERE WE GO.........
So it was the night before ice climbing and all through my house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. My axes and boots were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that morning would soon be there. The dogs were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of cookies dance in their heads. When on my phone arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. I unlocked my phone with the flick of a switch, to see a message with a photo of a crazy new pitch. (Sorry Christmas is near and I could not help myself)
In the morning we set off to investigate the falls and see if it was going to be climbable. On the drive there Tim could hardly contain his excitement. He was like a little boy on Christmas morning, or giggly school girl. The thought of a Helmkin like falls only 25 minutes from home was almost to much to handle for him.
Once we got there and looked across to the falls from the viewing platform, I thought to myself, you have to be kidding, we are going to head down there? And that is exactly what we did. We one at a time rappelled down just to the right of the waterfall, which was flowing fairly heavily, to scope out a climbable line. I really had no idea what I was looking for, but Tim took a lot of time and decided it would go. He grabbed my hammer drill, some bolts, and a wrench and set forth on bolting the route. The bolting took most of the afternoon and by the time Tim was done it was almost dark. My first day of ice climbing was done and I had not touched any ice!
It was my turn to rappel down and try some moves. I put on the boots Tim had lent me, Fruit Boots, grabbed the axes I had borrowed from my good friend Ross Mailloux, put on my helmet, and went down the line. It was just me and the ice. Wait a minute there was no ice, only rock.
I pulled on and started to do a few moves. It was not so bad. Tim had given me a 10 minute run down on how to climb rock with ice tools. I was running though his list of things to do and most importantly things not to do. Then suddenly the seriousness of the situation set in; I am hanging on one rope 65 metres off the ground right beside a raging waterfall and there are icy daggers looming over my head. I hung my tools on my harness and jugged up the rope back to safety.
Tim crushed the climb, floating upward with a confidence and refined movements of a seasoned pro (which he most defiantly is). His movements were so impressive, especially his foot placements; I was so impressed and inspired that my view on the situation changed very quickly. I went from feeling well over my head, to feeling like this is something I have to do! When am I going to be in this situation again? It looked so fun, not easy by any means, but a worthy challenge.
The first section of the climb was a short section of close to vertical ice, which was actually much easier than I was expecting. At last I had climbed some ice, albeit a very short section of ice, but ice nonetheless. I moved up through the overhanging rock with the speed of a turtle and my movements were far from fluid. I took all of Tim's advice to heart and was able to move through each section. I managed to do all of the moves, falling a few times. I had two goals, first and foremost don't die and secondly don't drop Ross's tools, which he referred to as his good friends.
Mission successful! One might say, "I am hooked," pun intended!
Tim graded the route M10 and it is called 100% Proof.