N.W.T. ice climbing scene gets leg up from little-known spot

Two Yellowknife climbers spent days exploring a canyon near Enterprise better known for its scenic vistas than its climbing potential.

Frozen falls near Hay River could be hot new spot for climbers

Jean-François Dufour poses beneath one of the many waterfalls along the canyon between Alexandra Falls and Louise Falls. (submitted by Jean-François Dufour )

Ice climbing in the N.W.T. may have just found its footing.

After years of searching for ice that is accessible and abundant, members of the Yellowknife climbing scene have discovered some cool ice just outside of Hay River. 

The eureka moment came last week when Jean-François Dufour and his fiancé, Kimi Balsillie visited Twin Falls Gorge. They were new to ice climbing but keen to find somewhere near Yellowknife that could act as a good playground for the sport. 

The two rappelled into the canyon between Alexandra Falls and Louise Falls, near Enterprise. They were immediately rewarded. 
Jean-François Dufour climbs a waterfall in the canyon while his fiancé, Kimi Balsillie, spots him from below. (submitted by Jean-François Dufour )

Ice climbing paradise

"I was like, 'Oh my God, there is so much ice here,'" Dufour said, calling it an "ice climbing paradise." 

The couple proceeded to spend three days walking up and down the Hay River between the two waterfalls, poking into caves and climbing the ice. 

The gorge is made up of steep sedimentary rock cliffs with small frozen waterfalls and springs dropping in regularly along the two kilometres between the two larger falls.

Dufour says March is the best time to go climbing in the territory, because for most of the winter the weather is too cold and even the ice itself can be too brittle for climbing. Later in the year it begins to melt, so the shoulder season is the best time to take advantage of the conditions. 
Alexandra Falls, at the southeastern end of the canyon, is a popular tourist stop. Louise Falls is two kilometres away through a canyon covered in smaller waterfalls. (submitted by Jean-François Dufour)

Local spot earning territorial fame

The two are not the first to go ice climbing in the gorge — Hay River photographer Adam Hill says it's been known locally for years. But former Yellowknife Climbing Club president Eric Binion says no one has ever reported back to Yellowknife to describe what they found there. There are no developed ice climbing routes in the area. 

The spot is located just a few minutes' walk from the highway. 

"Having the stuff right alongside the road is really tremendous," Binion said. 

"Some people need to get in there and start developing it, and opening it up... It will definitely add to the character of the N.W.T." 

Dufour and Balsillie have already named their first route Dreams of a Boy, after the nearby trail sign. That's how accessible the spot is: there is a long trail that follows the canyon from one waterfall to the next, meaning any number of spots could potentially be climbed with ease.

He says they plan on returning next year to explore more routes in the canyon. 

"I have a feeling that this location could become quite popular." 


Jimmy Thomson is a former reporter for CBC North.