I just spent the past five days instructing in the Jasper and Nordegg area with a Thompson Rivers University ice climbing course. This is a second-year course in the Adventure Guide Diploma. The goal in one week is to have the students leading each other up and down a multi-pitch ice route in the WI2-3 range. It is very inspiring to watch these students develop their skills and decision-making process on their way to becoming competent and self-proficient ice climbers. I wish I learned how to ice climb this way. The following are conditions observed during our week up north.
Roads: The Icefields Parkway is now open north to Jasper but in poor winter driving conditions. The road from Saskatchewan River Crossing to Lake Louise is also in poor condition with lots of ruts and slippery sections.
Routes: We steered clear of any routes with avi hazard given the parks bulletin and the overall weak condition of this year's snowpack. We climbed Swartz's Falls, Maligne Canyon (The Queen and The Last Wall), Tangle Falls, Two O'Clock Falls and Cline River Gallery. All areas were in normal condition but ice in general is running with water making it hard to keep ropes dry. As of Thursday (Jan 8), the canyon beyond Pure Energy in Cline River Gallery was frozen offering access to the Splashdown routes, which are usually tricky to access. This can change rapidly so be cautious of thin ice and open pools.
Cascade Falls: On the drive home today, I was shocked to see a party on Cascade Waterfall in Banff. Given the Banff National Park avalanche bulletin of HIGH hazard at all elevations, recently observed natural size 3.5 avalanches on Cascade Mountain (yesterday!) and temperatures above zero degrees Celsius, this is a VERY poor route choice. This is not the time to be climbing under ANY avi terrain. Enough from the soap box; please play safe and choose routes accordingly.