'Like being in a bomb zone,' ice climbers brave frozen Tiffany Falls in Hamilton
About 20 climbers picked and hammered on the frozen water for this icy winter sport
The cold alert for the city of Hamilton may be over, but Tiffany Falls is still frozen enough for about 20 ice climbers who braved the cold and falling ice on Sunday. As you approach the frozen falls, the hammering ice picks sound like clanging metal cans.
Alpine Club of Canada's Toronto chapter drove out to the Tiffany Falls Conservation Area for a day of chipping and hammering on the falling water that has frozen solid. Climbers were dressed in hard hats, harnesses, crampons, and armed with ice picks.
"The ice we have right now is actually pretty brittle, it takes a lot more effort and power to hammer into the ice, unfortunately," said Liam Burke.
Normally a rock climber, Burke's affair with ice started as a Christmas present from his dad, who got him some crampons and a pair of ice picks.
"We were looking for a nice winter sport to do aside from skiing," said Burke. "We just went away with it and it's been two years now."
While Burke still prefers rock climbing because "it's a lot warmer," his face lights up when he talks about the joys of climbing ice and "making that perfect swing."
'Like being in a bomb zone'
The climbers were behind a rope that warned away onlookers without crampons and hard hats, but it didn't stop people from climbing over to take photos.
Being too close to the falls without a hard hat can be dangerous. As the climbers made their way upwards with their ice picks, pieces of ice would fall.
"Ice climbing is easily the most dangerous form of climbing," said Robert Le Blanc, who has been with the club for more than 20 years. He said even a falling piece that weighs about 2 kg (about 4.4 lbs) can do a lot of damage.
"The further the ice is falling, the worse, so the belayer [person on the ground who secures the climber] has a lot of danger," he said, "It's like being in a bomb zone."
Le Blanc said it's the climbers' responsibility to make sure people below know ice is coming by yelling "ice" very loudly, because belayers can't take their eyes off the climber even for a second.
What's more, at Tiffany Falls, the climbers weren't just making their way up ice.
"The rock could also come off, and that's of course much worse danger because of more momentum and the sharp edges, and it's a very dangerous projectile," said Le Blanc.
Training for climbing
While falling ice is no doubt a challenge for climbers, so is endurance — and the frozen Tiffany Falls is a towering challenge at 21 metres.
Burke said lasting long enough on the ice is the most difficult part for him and that he recommends exercising in order to do this icy sport.
Jogging, biking and even doing rock climbing are his suggestions.
"If you don't, it's just really hard up here," he said.
Over the next two to three weeks, he'll be conquering Tiffany Falls. There are a number of other areas that are good for ice climbing, he said, like in Algoma and a couple of lakes near Algonquin Provincial Park, but the lack of ice is leading him to choose the falls in Hamilton.
But that doesn't mean Burke is giving up on the other locations.
"The winter's still young, we'll see what happens."