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

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. 

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. 

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."