Ice climb: Polar Circus 700m V, WI5

Polar Circus_1-2 Polar Circus

We kept an eye on the weather these past few days and decided that today was a good time to head up to do a climb that was on our list since the start of the ice climbing season. We needed a day below freezing with cloud cover to keep the avalanche risk low since temperatures have been hovering above freezing lately. Pat and I left Banff at 4:50am and parked along the Icefields parkway in front of the climb. We bypassed the lower rambling ice by going up a steep slope on the left to save some time. We wanted to complete the climb in good time since the avalanche risk could pose a thread if the south facing slopes received any sun. If so, hanging cornices above could break off and begin an avalanche.

We geared up for the climb beside the first pitch. Pat and I decided to solo up this 20m pitch and found some sun baked ice that often “dinner plated” off as we tried getting our tools into the ice.  We then walked up a wide snow gully for about 200m to solo the second pitch which was WI3 for 30m. The ice was nicer here and fairly hooked out. Another 150m snow gully brought us to another pitch of WI2-3 for 20m. We then followed tracks that contoured right around a rock band and came back left crossing a snow slope to reach the last 3 tiers of the climb. I led the first tier (WI4) and stretched the 70m rope to reach the top of it and a bolted belay on the right of the next tier. Pat led next on a WI4 pitch that required me to simul-climb a 20m to reach the next bolted belay. This brought us to the last and harder tier. By now the clouds where thinning out and the sun was starting to warm things up. Not good! We decided to keep going considering we were doing good time and ended up having to do the last tier in two pitches. I led the first on WI5 ice which didn’t show any signs of traffic. I made a belay on screws and Pat led the rest to the top (WI4+) where he found a bolted belay on the right. During the last tier I had kept an eye on the temperature and it had risen from -4 to 0 degrees Celsius in the shade. We were getting set to rappel together on each strand of rope to save time. All of a sudden we heard a loud crash which sounded near us. We yelled out a “Holly fuck!” while our hearts sank into our throats. From the top of the exposed climb, we started zipping down  to the safety of an ice cave below. It was most likely an avalanche which slid not too far away an possibly down an neighbouring gully. Not good news considering we still had 7 rappels to get down. We had no choice and kept going. We rappelled to the bottom of the last three tiers. With a total of seven rappels, we finally reached our packs which were left bellow a safe location of overhanging rock. When we got to our packs I noticed that something had pulled the zipper open. We figured it must of been a raven. They are the only ones who can live up here with the ability and intelligence to open a zipper. It had gone through my pack spreading a few items on the ground. Nothing seemed to be missing. Fortunately, I had clipped my car and house keys onto the pack! They had been pulled out and were left hanging outside the bag. Those shinny keys would have probably been missing if they weren’t attached. The scare of an avalanche was bad enough. Just imagine being left stranded without any keys to drive back and get into our home.

Polar Circus (Final tier)

Rappelling down the top tier of Polar Circus.

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