Ice Climbing in the Valley
of a Thousand Falls:
By Peter Austen
Lake is the first emerald you see just before the entrance to the Valley
of a Thousand Falls. It is glorious on a hot summer's day but ice cold
and scintillating when you cross it on skis at 30 degrees below zero.
Bob Knight and I had come exploring and ice climbing. The great deed
was to make a first ascent of White Falls off to the side of Heartbreak
Hill, so called because of the sweaty effort required to climb it on
the way to Berg Lake. We camped just past Kinney Lake and broke out
the Glayva – "just to have a wee medicinal dram, ye'll understand."
thousand feet above us Whitehorn Glacier hung in the air, poised to
drop on us and we held our breath as if that would make a difference.
Konrad Kain, the great Austrian guide, has amazingly climbed Mount Whitehorn
solo 60 years ago to the make the first ascent. The first pitch of White
Falls rose up ahead like a white dragon, glistening and menacing. Bob
wove his way through bulges and feathery plumes, placing ice screws
and carabiners (snap links) every ten feet and clipping in his rope
as he went. Thirty metres of almost vertical ice took half an hour and
his breath resembled that of a horse in the biting cold. I led the second
pitch without incident.
his way competently but with perhaps a mite of over confidence up the
third pitch and then it happened.
was climbing up the side of a free running cascade on fairly thin ice.
I took a picture and looked down at my anchor point to check all systems.
A great roar shook the amphitheater all around. Bob did a neat backwards
swan dive off the dragon's crest as the large section of ice he had
been clinging on to cascaded into the depths. He went down with the
blocks but somehow they cushioned his fall. Grinning sheepishly and
slightly shocked; we laughed off the moment, trying to keep mucho macho.
Bob extricated himself from the blocks that were the size of cement
bags. "Lucky devil, where do you buy charmed lives?" I ventured. "Built
in of course."
things I remember about the next pitch was the deep pool we avoided
at high speed by the left wall. A Robson winter squall covered us with
diamond dust as we managed to climb out. The huge icefall of Emperor
Falls towered above and dozens of other waterfalls of up to two thousand
feet in height beckoned seductively in the fading light. Bob had used
up one more of his nine charmed lives.