Night Terrors 1 – Ice Climbing at the Wedge Smears

Night Terrors 1 – Ice Climbing at the Wedge Smears
December 15, 2016 Phil Tomlinson

I’m of the opinion that there are skiers who climb and climbers who ski, but it’s more or less impossible to truly do both. Especially ice climbing which truly conflicts with skiing.

If you’re a skier, you ski every weekend you can. If you’re a climber, you climb. You might dabble in the other sport when conditions for your primary aren’t great, but ultimately, you have to pick one if you want to really develop your skills. That or quit your job.

This may come as a shock to you. Brace yourself. I, Phil Tomlinson, am a skier. Pretty much my entire life I’ve wanted to spend every waking moment on my skis.

I have a problem though. When I moved to Calgary, I figured I’d try ice climbing to kill a couple of shoulder season weekends. The problem you see, is that I seem to like it. It’s more than a way to kill time when the snow is less than ideal (which I generally believe is never), I actually really like climbing ice. Worse still, I like leading ice.

So how does a skier who climbs start climbing more ice without sacrificing his weekends and causing himself to have a full-blown identity crisis? You find time other than the weekend to climb.

A few of us started a climbing at Grotto after work once a week last year. I like organizing things as club trips because it gets you exposure to people who might not normally be in your little incestuous ‘mountain-friends’ circle. So, I started posting my new ‘Night Terrors’ series. A small group meets up after work, carpools to some ice, climbs until we’re happy, then drive back to Calgary late enough that you’re lucky to get 5 hours of sleep before work the next morning.


I get to go ice climbing, and it doesn’t interfere with my ski season.

So, Wednesday December 14th we had Night Terrors 1. The plan was to head out to the Wedge Smears as a party of four and put up a couple of ropes. Unfortunately, a couple of days prior, the flu laid waste to half the party, so it ended up with just Emin – a relatively new club member – and I blasting down the highway.

Wedge Smears was the objective for the night because the approach is only half an hour, it can be top-roped if Phil chickens out and it’s got a reasonable variety of lines.

Thanks to weekend activity, there was more or less a highway to the base of the climbs so it wasn’t exactly tricky to find in the dark.

Once there, we let the -21oC temperature really sink into our psych.

The combination of the flowing water and extremely cold temperatures was incredible. Screws practically placed themselves. I think I could have just sat a screw down on the surface and it would have been buried in ice five minutes later. Emin had a hell of a time freeing a couple of more wetter placements.

Emin frees a screw from the ice.

Emin frees a screw from the ice.

Wet means plastic though, so despite the temperature, we didn’t have much shattering of the ice or dinner plating and I didn’t even re-gouge my banged-up nose.

The top of the route is more of a scramble than a climb, but that’s sort of nice because it’s also pretty bare. I was climbing on Christine’s tools and since a) she doesn’t trust me to sharpen to sharpen them and b) I would like to continue to have permission to use her tools, it was some very ginger placements in choss and dirt at the top of the route. I was pretty stoked to have a nice attentive belay from Emin and some solid screw placements not too far below me.

With an anchor in place, Emin lowered me down and we spent a couple of hours lapping lines on top rope as our rope became more and more frozen.

Finally, cold but feeling pretty good, we packed up and hiked out.

We were back at the carpool for around midnight and I had just gotten fully re-warmed as a pulled up to my home where I had the usual gear-splosion of frozen, wet gear before collapsing in bed.

A successful night of ice climbing, got to know a new club member and I didn’t have to sacrifice a ski day to do it.


Phil Tomlinson


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