Elite Ice Climbers Flock to Helmcken Falls

At 141m, Helmcken Falls is the fourth-highest waterfall in Canada. It lies in Wells Gray Provincial Park in British Columbia.

Helmcken Falls is busy these days. The ice climbers establishing new lines or repeating others include Will Gadd and Sarah Hueniken, Ines Papert, Gihado Kadota and Takahiro Ishikawa, Klemen Premrl, and Trevor McDonald. Creativity, skill, and good fear management are required.

“I was stoked to onsight the new ‘Dire Wolf WI9’ and almost ‘Instaspray WI9,’ falling on the last bolt [because I chose] a poor ice hold,” wrote Hueniken on social media two days ago.

Klemen Premrl and Trevor McDonald established Dire Wolf just a few days earlier. “Although I was not able to send the route clean, I was able to lead it to the chains, improving each burn and even taking a good whipper,” wrote McDonald after the climb.

The new "Dire Wolf" line on the Helmcken Falls, established by Klemen Premrl and Trevor McDonald.

The new ‘Dire Wolf’ line at Helmcken Falls, established by Klemen Premrl and Trevor McDonald. Photo: Brian Hockenstein


Meanwhile, Neil Gresham and Emma Powell put up Instaspray 2. This line “seemed harder than Dire Wolf to both of us [Hueniken and Gadd]. Call it WI 9+, but grades honestly miss the point at Helmcken,” wrote Will Gadd.

“Bombs Away WI10” is a new line established by Gordon McArthur and Jeff Mercier and repeated by Gihado Kadota and Takahiro Ishikawa. Kadota thus became the first Japanese and the first Asian to climb Helmcken Falls. (Ishikawa focuses on filming and belaying, not climbing.) Kadota may target other lines in the next few days.

Will Gadd also climbed the “Bombs Away” line. “Helmcken is a mad place where we can all find our own adventures!” recalled Gadd.

Gihado Kadota on "Bombs Away" on the Helmcken Falls.

Gihado Kadota on ‘Bombs Away.’ Photo: Taachincamera


In fact, this is a dangerous place and ice climbing there is really hard.

“Helmcken Falls is no joke,” wrote McArthur. “It demands so much more than anything anywhere I’ve ever experienced. The hazard is high, and so is the risk…And although it can be as calculated as you make it or allow it, there are always certain variables that you can’t control.”

Indeed, on Jan. 29, a falling rock or piece of ice struck him in the head in Helmcken Cave. The helmet saved his life. In fact, he suffered no major injuries. “I guess I’m one of the lucky ones,” said McArthur.

Sarah HUeniken, one of the best ice climbers of the world, in China.

Sarah Hueniken on a past climb in China. Photo: Outdoor Research


“Fear and desire for control are challenges we embrace and learn from,” wrote Hueniken. “They become habits, excuses, and a part of who we are…Climbing is fun, especially when every [second] hold doesn’t crumble when you use it. Tiny icicles are fun too but still very scary,” she added.

The Helmcken Falls.

Helmcken Falls. Photo: Gordon McArthur


Sad news

Yesterday, Gripped and the local Canadian press reported the death of Zach Milligan on Banff’s Polar Circus. He was ice climbing alone. The 42-year-old American was an accomplished climber with many outstanding feats in Yosemite. Parks officials investigated an abandoned car in the parking lot near Polar Circus last Friday. A drone spotted Milligan’s body the following morning.

Zach Milligan.

Zach Milligan. Photo: Dean Fidelman

Kris Annapurna

KrisAnnapurna is a writer with ExplorersWeb.

Kris has been writing about history and tales in alpinism, news, mountaineering, and news updates in the Himalaya, Karakoram, etc., for the past year with ExplorersWeb. Prior to that, Kris worked as a real estate agent, interpreter, and translator in criminal law. Now based in Madrid, Spain, she was born and raised in Hungary.