Hydrophobia is another real gem of the Canadian Rockies. A 180m tall curtain of ice that flows off a vertical limestone cliff in a beautiful cirque above the Waiparous valley. The climb is guarded by a long - and sometimes problematic - approach, making it one of the more remote routes in the area. Do not expect crowds here.

We had been obsessed with the route ever since we spied it from the road on a reconnaissance drive into the Waiparous on December 30. That day, we had given up on climbing in the South Ghost because of the brutally cold and windy weather. We had taken the opportunity to try and explore the infamous drive into the Waiparous, following Will Gadd's detailed instructions (which you can find on his website). At one point along the long, snowy drive, the most spectacular ice flow is visible in the distance above Johnson Creek. We would be back when we felt ready to tackle the long, sustained route.

On February 19, we were ready to go. We drove into the North Ghost, hoping to approach the climb from the south. We had never had serious difficulties driving into the Ghost before, but that day, long sections of the tracks were covered in deep, unconsolidated snow and were deeply rutted. We had to stop repeatedly to inspect the next stretch on foot before launching full speed ahead into the chosen track to the next bare spot. This slowed our progress considerably. Eventually, it got so bad that we had to stop for good, about 3 miles short of the "trailhead". By then, we had lost too much time, and much of our resolve, so we gave up the attempt. The approach is long enough without adding extra miles to it.

Later that day, when we drove the Waiparous approach for a reconnaissance of the northern approach, we luckily found really good conditions. And most importantly, both river crossings were well frozen. Our excitement level jumped back up several notches. We would be back the next morning.

We left Canmore around 4 AM again on the 20th. By 6 AM, we had reached the end of the drive, at the start of a cut line into the forest that had way too much snow to be drivable (step 8 in Will Gadd's description). We got ready and started what would turn out to be a 2 hour and 20 minute approach to the climb. We were able to follow old ATV tracks most of the way, but carried snowshoes on our packs just in case. Just after 7AM, we started crossing a huge meadow (step 11 in WG). A beautiful spot. A sizeable group of moose went hiding in the woods as we passed by.

You cannot see the climb for most of the approach as it is hidden deep in a cirque. This makes it all the more impressive when you finally emerge from the woods and find yourself in the large rocky cirque, face to face with the huge ice flow. Gulp...

We were at the base of the route a little past 9AM. The cirque is a gorgeous and inviting place. I always find that having a comfortable spot to unpack and get ready at the base of a route makes a big difference on my mental state... helps relieve a lot of the anxiety. Given the length of the approach, we had brought a stove. We rested, melted snow, and had hot chocolate for over an hour before we started climbing. There was no rush: nobody else around and many more hours of daylight ahead of us.

"Hydrophobia" is a very sustained climb. Probably the most sustained route we had climbed until then. Thankfully, we found extremely good ice conditions. The climb was exceptionally fat and the ice plastic.

The first pitch is easy, and leads to a good belay on an ice ledge on the left at the base of the steep curtain. From here, the rest of the climb is very near vertical, without significant ledges, so it can be broken into pitches any number of ways. A couple of caves can provide protected belays along the way. We climbed the main flow in 3 pitches, for a total of 4 pitches for the entire route.

We ran a very long second pitch to a hanging belay on screws slightly right of our line. From there, another long pitch heading slightly left brought us to a protected belay under a hanging curtain 15 meters from the top. A short but still steep pitch got us to the top. The second pitch was clearly the crux for us, both because of its length and the sustained WI5 climbing.

We rapped the route from Abalakovs then spent some time at the base again, admiring the line and melting snow. Once we were rehydrated, we started the long walk back to the car, arriving there at 8PM. A memorable climb!

Hydrophobia, Waiparous, AB

February 20, 2004 / WI5+, 180m
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Hydrophobia seen from the drive into the Waiparous valley. The very top of the Sorcerer can also be seen further left.
 
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Early morning start.
 
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Hiking across the Bog Meadow.
 
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Taking a break among the huge boulders in the cirque below the climb.
 
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The spectacular Hydrophobia (our route in red).
 
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Melting snow and making hot chocolate at the base after the long approach.
 
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Eric on the easy first pitch.
 
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Setting up a belay on the good ice ledge.
 
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Lucie following the second pitch (crux).
 
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Almost there.
 
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Smiile!
 
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"GU'ing" up at the belay.
 
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Eric starting the third pitch.
 
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Higher up on the same pitch.
 
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Eric setting his first screw on the third pitch.
 
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Nearing the top of the third pitch.
 
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Looking down toward the rock amphitheater.
 
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The belay at the top of the third pitch.
 
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Eric starting the short 4th pitch.
 
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Higher up with "Necrophobia" (?) in the background.
 
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Happy climbers at the top.
 
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Coiling the rope after a long day.
(high res. images are about 300KB)