Summer Ice Climbing on the Matier Icefall

Word and Photos by ML Ambassador:: Alex Ratson

There is something special about confronting the juxtaposition of swinging ice tools on a late summers day.

Despite the amazing weather and warm temperatures that scream anything but FROZEN ICE it is hard to sway the stubbornness that plages Ryan Larkin and his addictions of swing ice tools regardless of what’s the seasonal social norm.

While most of our peers were taking in warm granite splitter cracks in Squamish, Ryan Larkin and myself opted for an early start into the Joffre Lakes area of The Coast Range.

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Ryan Larkin free-solo's the Great Arch of The Matier Icefall.
Ryan Larkin free-solo’s the Great Arch of The Matier Icefall. this detached arch demanded great care due to the ice’s delicate nature
Ryan Larkin at the base of Matier Icefall scoping out the line of most resistance
Ryan Larkin at the base of Matier Icefall scoping out the line of most resistance

 

Most famous for its turquoise lakes below the magnificent Matier Icefall, very few venture above these lakes onto the surrounding peaks and even fewer make the effort of carrying technical ice climbing gear up with the intentions of climbing the seracs in the Icefall.

As we approached the base of the icefall we were blown away by the many sculpted options we had to climb. By far the crux of the day was choosing what to climb first!  After some debate, we opted to choose a line deep between two seracs right in the middle of the icefall. Ironically most people who navigate through the Matier Icefall opt to surmount it on one of its two perimeters where the objective hazard and technical difficulty is the lowest but with our motives set on STEEP ice, we went for the line of most resistance!

 

Ryan Larkin entering the Bowles of The Matier Icefall
Ryan Larkin entering the Bowles of The Matier Icefall
Ryan Larkin takes his first swings at some summer time ice in The Matier Icefall
Ryan Larkin takes his first swings at some summer time ice in The Matier Icefall

 

As we climbed into the Bowles of the icefall we masked our hidden trepidations of opting to climb unroped with jokes of being swallowed by Moby Dick and having to ice climb our way out. As we entered into the icefall further and further we eventually found ourselves at a near vertical impasse that warranted the use of both our ice tools and the rope. After we both tied in Ryan took the first lead, swinging his tools to up a magnificent pitch of glacier ice.
Unlike water ice, glacier ice is much more mature and less dynamic in how it reacts to an ice tool or crampon penetrating it. For the most part this makes for very secure placements.

As we topped out this first Serac we were left with a magnificent view over the 3 Joffre Lakes. We set our sights in search for our next line. It didn’t take long for a magnificent frozen arch to catch our attention. THIS was THE LINE!

As we quickly approached the arch we noticed that despite being tall enough to climb it was in fact not actually attached to the glacier. A couple swings at it with our ice tools gave us enough confidence to delicately boulder up its underside.

Ryan Larkin Topping out one of the many searc's in the Matter Icefall with Joffre Lakes bellow
Ryan Larkin Topping out one of the many serac’s in the Matter Icefall with Joffre Lakes bellow

As the sun started to hit us with its warmth we knew we didn’t want to overstay our visit.

While descending back to the lake we could already hear the icefall coming to life as the solar rays hit it, causing the seracs we had just climbed to shift around.

A prime reminder that days like this are privileges to our lives that should not be taken for granted… after all, how many people get to swing there ice tools on a Late Summers day on the West Coast?

 

For some more ice climbing in wild places:

Desert Ice: Ice Climbing in Zion National Park

Photos: Ice Climbing on Kilimanjaro

Climbing the Ice Caves of Iceland is as Chilling as it Sounds

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