Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Experience Family-friendly Ice Climbing in Jasper National Park

I used to joke that we enjoy nearly every outdoor activity as a family, with the exception of fishing and ice climbing. Then a few years ago friends introduced us to fishing on a backcountry camping trip, and it wasn't so bad. Fast forward to this year, and now we've tried ice climbing as a family - and absolutely loved it!! 

Ice climbing in Jasper National Park (And that's me!)

My husband has already been ice climbing for a few years now, but for my son and I, our recent adventure in Jasper was brand new! Terrifyingly and awesomely new.

My 12 year old high up on the frozen waterfall we climbed

Experience Ice Climbing with Rockaboo Mountain Adventures in Jasper 

We recently participated in a hosted trip to Jasper, partnering with Tourism Jasper, and I was asked if we wanted to join an ice climbing tour. I immediately said yes because I knew my husband was wanting to find a way to introduce the sport to our son (but as we all know, teaching your own kids how to do a brand new sport is very challenging!)

Me, I just wanted to go along for the ride and watch my son try ice climbing. In no way was I planning on actually climbing a frozen waterfall myself! (I was prepared with every excuse under the sun for why current injuries wouldn't allow me to climb.)

How the heck did I get all the way up here?

We joined an "Experience Ice Climbing Tour" with Rockaboo Mountain Adventures and the requirements for signing up were pretty simple.

You can join an introductory ice climbing tour with Rockaboo if...

  • You have a reasonable fitness level. (You can climb a ladder, go for a short hike, etc.)

  • You are over the age of 12! (Youth are welcome to join the tour but children will have to wait a few years.)

  • You have suitable winter clothing to spend up to 4 hours outside. You'll want a pair of waterproof pants and jacket (even your downhill ski pants and jacket will work,) warm mittens or gloves (again, as waterproof as possible,) and something to cover your head (a toque or buff that will fit under a helmet.)

  • You're willing and excited to try something new, even if you find it scary at first. (The guides will never pressure you to go higher than you want.)

  • You aren't scared of heights. (That's not an actual Rockaboo requirement but it kind of makes sense.)

I'll also say that if you've tried rock climbing, you'll find ice climbing MUCH easier. You'll already be comfortable with being lowered on a rope and will have worked out your fear of heights.

Getting started on the ice and learning how to use  crampons

What to Expect from a Beginner Ice Climbing Tour with Rockaboo

We met at the Rockaboo office downtown Jasper and were given the choice to drive to the waterfall we'd be climbing or to ride in a large van with the guides. We chose to drive our own vehicle (partially because of Covid and partially just for our own comfort.) 

We were then suited up with sturdy climbing boots, crampons, a helmet, and a harness. We transported this equipment to the parking lot where we got dressed.

My husband showing us how it's done!

Rockaboo lent us everything we needed for personal gear and then brought everything else with them to the trailhead (ice tools, ropes, climbing equipment, etc.)

I know my husband has wanted to introduce our son to ice climbing for a while but it's hard to just go out and "try" something when you don't have the gear. We appreciated that Rockaboo not only had the gear for all of us to borrow, but they had GOOD gear. (My husband was jealous of their top of the line ice tools.)

My boys both ice climbing together.

The other thing we appreciated was having professional guides and teachers with us for our first time trying this brand new sport. Again, my husband is not new to ice climbing, but it's hard to take two beginners out to a frozen waterfall by yourself and just teach them to climb (especially when you need a second experienced adult to belay you while you climb!)

The Rockaboo guides set up the ropes, belayed us while we climbed, gave us instruction in how to use our crampons and ice tools, and kept the ropes nice and tight so we always felt secure. I knew if I slipped that I wasn't going anywhere! (And trust me, I slipped a lot.)

Talk about helping a new climber! Our guide was right there beside my son.

One of our guides even climbed up beside my son to help him when he encountered some really hard ice that wasn't soft enough to get good placements with the ice tools. He coached my son to keep going and helped him reach the top of the climb.

All in all, our guides gave us the confidence we needed to try this terrifying new sport (and to do reasonably well at it!) 

Remember, I wasn't planning on climbing either! Somehow between arriving at the tour office and receiving our initial instructions I had decided to at least try it. And at some point, I realized I was comfortable enough to really give it a go and climb a long ways up the frozen ice.

First time ice climbing! My 12 year old crushed it!

Ice climbing is one heck of a mother and son bonding activity!

Preparing for your First Ice Climbing Tour with Rockaboo Mountain Adventures

Below are some suggestions if you're considering booking a tour with Rockaboo.

  1. Decide ahead of time if you'll want to take your own vehicle. We didn't know it was an option so had parked a few blocks away from the office and hadn't filled up on gas. Fortunately we had enough gas for the 2-hour return drive. 

  2. Be prepared for a drive of up to one hour in distance each way. Rockaboo likes to use Maligne Canyon when possible (which is close to the Town of Jasper) but when it's not in condition they choose Tangle Falls which is an hour from Jasper along the Icefields Parkway. 

    We were taken to Tangle Falls which I was very excited about. We've often admired this beautiful frozen waterfall while driving the Parkway and I was amazed we'd get to climb it! It's also a warm sunny location so you'll be taken here on cold days.

    Again, I didn't know that we'd be driving so far, so we weren't prepared with a book for our son (which we would have wanted for two hours in the car.) - Fortunately we had time to return to our hotel to grab some books.

  3. Bring your lunch, snacks, and water with you. The tour doesn't include any food or beverages. We stopped at a great café in Jasper and bought both breakfast and lunch at the same time.

  4. Have at least one or two backpacks with you to transport gear to the base of the climb. You'll be carrying your own lunch and water, your harness (if not wearing it,) and you'll want extra layers of clothing. Extra mitts or gloves would be a good idea too and you'll want to bring hand warmers on cold days. (Toe warmers wouldn't be a bad idea as well.)

  5. Be prepared to learn to belay on the spot (if you're willing) so more people can climb at the same time. We were lucky in our group because we had two guides with us. Often they only have one guide for a small group of 6 clients. My husband also helped out with belaying on our tour which allowed one guide to pay more attention to coaching the new climbers.

The tour is 6 hours long but that allows for driving time so you'll be back at the office in town by 4:00pm. That being said, the Icefields Parkway is always unpredictable so I would suggest you don't make dinner reservations for 5:00.

You'll be started on nice gentle ice! (No overhanging waterfall.)

For more information, visit the Rockaboo Mountain Adventures website.

Disclaimer: Our tour was hosted through Tourism Jasper and Rockaboo Mountain Adventures. However, all words are my own and we honestly LOVED our experience. This will not be our last time ice climbing as a family and I suspect we'll be buying more gear next winter for our entire family to get into this new sport.

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