Canadian Rockies: Discover the extreme winter sport even a novice can do

Lately I've developed a strange fascination with mountaineering novels. From Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air to Joe Simpson's Touching the Void and many more besides, I've devoured them one after another over several weeks.

After a couple of glasses of wine, I convince myself, if I really put my mind to it, maybe I too could sling a coil of rope across my shoulder, brave the elements and return home a conquering hero.

Standing at the foot of a 30-metre high frozen waterfall, crampons fixed to my boots, it soon becomes clear that any such notions are at best, delusional.

Our guide, Steve Blake is wielding two large axes in front of me.

Slamming them deliberately one by one into the ice, he demonstrates the rudiments of ice climbing while I try in vain to push the more harrowing accounts of Simpson's exploits on the Siula Grande to the back of my mind.

When the safety ropes are fixed, Blake hands over the axes.

Strapping into my harness, I look up at the looming ice wall and swing my first axe. It ricochets awkwardly of a ripple of ice. I flounder about like this for some time, hacking and huffing my way up, a blur of flailing limbs until eventually, I find some kind of rhythm.

We are at Tangle Falls in the heart of Jasper National Park along the scenic Icefields Parkway. Spanning more than 11,000 square kilometres, it's the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and among the world's most celebrated playgrounds for adventurers.

Everywhere you turn, there is something spectacular to catch the eye; a wild coyote picking its way through the frozen scrub, an icy waterfall, glaciers, canyons, turquoise lakes, wild forests, the list goes on.

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A few minutes in, I realise I'm about 10 metres off the ground. To my left, I see a guy taking a breather on an adjacent section. He grins, giving me a gloved thumbs-up as I continue my ill-advised – and exhausting – tactic of all-out aggression over considered technique.

Reaching the top is exhilarating. When I look down, my fellow climbers look like Lego figures. I enjoy a few moments suspended by rope taking in the landscape before being rappelled down, feeling like a member of the British SAS abseiling the face of a building to rescue hostages.

We attempt different lines as a group over several hours, graduating slowly to the higher face on our left. Some make it all the way up, most half way or so, but the shift in atmosphere is unmistakable. If the morning was about muted conversation and concerned faces, the afternoon is far more animated, anxiety giving way to exuberance.

This is the beauty of an excursion like this; not only do you spend an active day breathing in crisp alpine air, but you test yourself a little, maybe learn that you're capable of more than you thought when you got up that morning.

Back at the carpark, the groups' crampons piled high inside a frayed duffle bag, I glance back towards the falls, now morphing a fetching shade of blue in the fading sun.

I've had no wine, but I begin to wonder if I'm quite so delusional after all.

Siula Grande, the Eiger, K2. Pfffft. Bring 'em on.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/Canada 

jasper.travel 

DO

Rockaboo Mountain Adventures offer fully guided ice climbing excursions in Jasper National Park. The six-hour tour includes climbing gear, transport and professional instruction. From $CA225 per person, 10am-4pm, group sizes two to six. See rockaboo.ca 

FLY

Qantas flies direct to LA with ongoing connections to Edmonton. It's a four-hour drive on to Jasper. See qantas.com 

STAY

Pyramid Lake Resort offers alpine chalet style lodging on the shores of Pyramid Lake. All 62 guest rooms come with fireplace and views of the Canadian Rockies. The resort is about 10 minutes' drive from Jasper town centre with rooms starting from $CA148 per night.

Guy Wilkinson travelled as a guest of Tourism Jasper.

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