Daring duo conquers Helmcken Falls icicles

Two ice climbers from Europe made a first ascent up the frozen spray to the top of Helmcken Falls on Monday, Feb. 6

A photo of Helmcken Falls taken on Feb. 6 shows the conditions on the day the duo climbed from the bottom to the top of the falls. Their route took them to the right of the waterfall

A photo of Helmcken Falls taken on Feb. 6 shows the conditions on the day the duo climbed from the bottom to the top of the falls. Their route took them to the right of the waterfall

Two ice climbers from Europe made a first ascent up the frozen spray to the top of Helmcken Falls on Monday, Feb. 6.

“It was amazing,” said Tim Emmett. “It was the most awesome climb of my life.”

Originally from the U.K., Emmett and Klemen Preml of Slovenia made the climb from the bottom to the top of Helmcken on Monday, Feb. 6.

“It did take a huge amount of effort,” said Emmett said. “We spent about two weeks hauling ropes, bolts and setting things up. We wanted to do it before Klem went back to Slovenia on Tuesday.”

This is Emmett’s third winter at Helmcken Falls. He came here the winter before last and last winter with Canadian Will Gadd.

During the first winter they pioneered one pitch (basically, one rope length or the distance between two belay points) on a route they called Spray On. The following winter they developed four pitches.

Gadd was with Emmett for a short while in January but had to leave for other commitments.

“This year we climbed what we did last year in just two pitches,” said Emmett

They used eight pitches to reach the top of the falls, making use of a 100 m super-thin but strong climbing rope (most ropes are 60 to 70 m long).

Because they were climbing on icicles of frozen spray, they needed to place bolts in the rocks as anchors as they moved.

“Spray ice is actually very good to climb on,” said Emmett. “It’s very soft, aerated, kind of snowy. Water ice can be very brittle. On the other hand, it’s not so strong as water ice and anything that’s suspended can break off. That means we needed to place protection as we go up.”

After nearly two weeks of preparation work Emmett and Preml found themselves stymied at the lip of the cave behind the waterfall.

They couldn’t see enough to find a climbing route to the top.

Instead, they spent a couple of days rappelling down from the top to the lip, scouting for a route.

It was only after they found what they were looking for that they made the climb on Monday.

“We started at about 8:30 and finished at 7:00,” Emmett said. “We were always out in space, always in the spray, and the wind made it difficult. It was a very good challenge.”