C.J. Bennington Fine Art Photography | Ice Climbers

Ice Climbers

February 24, 2013  •  3 Comments

I've been participating with a couple of Meet Up groups in an effort to get out shooting more often. One of the challenges of non-studio photography is finding locations, topics and company. Joining a photography group helps on all counts. On Saturday I joined an outing to Banff's Johnston Canyon to shoot ice climbers. With any sporting shoot it helps if you have seen the sport before or are familiar with the area, in this case I was neither.

The day started early, 5:30 to be exact, but to be fair 5:30 isn't all that early for a photographer looking for great morning light in May, but this is still February. A coffee from Tim's (it is Roll Up the Rim season) and I'm on the road in to Calgary. After meeting a few more more shooters it was off to Banff. We arrived at the trail head, geared up, and headed out.

After an icy experience at Elbow Falls a few weeks ago I knew I did not want to challenge a mountain trail without some ice grippers. A pair of YakTrax from MEC did the job for me. Also, thanks to Ian who offered me a walking pole, wow, those things are great. I'll be putting a set of them on my wish list.

The National Park Service does a great job of making nature accessible and the trail up to the falls, while snow packed, was wide and had railings in all the places that needed them. It was also built out from the canyon edge in places that would have otherwise been near impassable for any others than mountain goats.

Lower FallsDSC_1253










The Lower Falls, where I had thought we were headed, was a lovely 1.1 km walk, but alas, there would be no climbers challenging the ice formations on those falls. The Upper Falls were another 1.6 km up the trail. So after a brief photo op it was back to hiking.










Along the trail to Upper FallsDSC_1274 A million visitors make the trek to the falls annually and it seemed a goodly number of them were on the trail this day. I overheard a group at one viewpoint discussing heading back thinking they had arrived at the Upper Falls and had seen all there was to see. I told them the Upper Falls was still ahead but some in the group were about done in. Just then another group arrived at our location from the other direction, they told us the Falls was only another block and a half. Good news! After telling them to expect ice climbers up there they decided to carry on. What a shame it would have been for them to turn back when the final destination was so close. And what a destination it was.

A short ways further and we were at the Upper Falls. True to what we had heard, ice climbers were scaling the falls.

Ice climbers on the Upper Falls of Johnston CanyonJohnston Canyon Pano What a rush that must be! Thirty metres of frozen water over several routes with varying degrees of difficulty on which to practice their sport. As well as the sound of rushing water beneath the ice constantly in their ears

Access to the starting point.DSC_1348









Access to the falls base for the climbers is to scramble over the view point railing, step down onto a narrow edge of rock (hard enough in regular footwear but try it in ice spikes!) and a further drop of almost 2 meters. Don't want to miss that first step.







Half way up with plenty of climb leftDSC_1330













You may have spotted these guys on the large shot of the falls a few pics ago but it would have been easy to miss them. They were just right of centre about two thirds of the way up the ice. Check it out.








Looking for a toe holdDSC_1334 Looking for a pick holdDSC_1295













Looking for a toehold by kicking at the ice, or digging a notch for an ice pick to cling to can cause chunks of ice to come hurtling down on your climbing partner below. The first time I heard "ICE" called out it certainly got my attention. The clatter of ice bouncing off the walls and splashing into the pool below were a reminder of what could happen to one of these ice wall dare devils.

Veterans of the ice climbsDSC_1395 Time for lunch and a rest but never really relaxing as these guys keep an intent eye on the "kids" on the ice.

The holders turn to climbDSC_1447









After his partner achieved the top and secured the ropes it was his turn. No one to pelt with falling ice cubes below him and the path somewhat laid out for him, this looks a little less intimidating. Really? Maybe just a tad safer.











Tools of the tradeDSC_1376 I like to call this one "tools of the trade" waiting for their turn to dig into the ice and scale the frozen falls.

I've not been much of a hiker in the past but this outing has whetted my appetite for other experiences like this. I learned some valuable lessons about both hiking and photography on this trek. One is to know your equipment before you start out, I learned this one the hard way with my camera pack. It's heavy and awkward to get on and off - guess you get what you pay for and this one was free. My new camera is too heavy to sling around my neck for 5 km so another system to carry it will have to be investigated. I carried a water bottle but did not hydrate nearly often enough and paid the price the next day. I also packed a snack which I did not eat - another mistake. Feed and water your body if you are asking extra of it. The nice thing about hiking in Banff is there are lots of options for dining when you are done and ready for a meal.

Thanks for stopping by. I'll be blogging about my photo outings, things I hear about that I find interesting and hope you may too, and tips and tricks I learn. More images from this outing can be found in my Johnston Canyon gallery. Feel free to look around, leave me a comment, or just say Hi!

Ta for now! Cathy


I have never been an ice climber and have not had the desire to take up the sport. However, as I examine your ice climbing photos I get a sense of the exhilerating and excitement these climbers are experiencing.

Thank you for making the trip and for sharing your fantastic photos.
Thanks for sharing this experience, beautiful pictures.
Andrew Barron(non-registered)
Great ... I love photoblogs especially from people I know ( now). Can't wait for more posts.
No comments posted.
January February (2) March (3) April (2) May June July (2) August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March (1) April May (2) June (1) July (1) August (1) September (1) October November December
January (1) February (1) March April May June July August September October November December
January (1) February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December