Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reach for THE TOP

Climbing ice tower is great when you've got 'Yoda' to help you

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There are many places in Winnipeg that can provide a great outing with friends or family, but there isn't one that quite compares with the The Club d'escalade de Saint-Boniface (CESB) ice tower. Perhaps you've seen it while trying to find a parking space during Festival du Voyageur, as it is right next to Fort Gibraltar. Maybe you've watched people climb up and wondered if you'd ever be able to do it. I was one of those people. I thought to myself: "When else would I have the opportunity to climb a 60-foot tower of ice?" So when I poked my head inside the gate and was asked if I wanted to climb, I said, "Why not?"

I was led to a small shack that looks much smaller on the outside than it actually is. The inside reminded me of a hunting cabin. The large number of pointy things on the wall could very well be used as traps, for all I knew. It was explained to me later that the pointy things go on my boots and they are called crampons. I still think they look like rabbit traps. Soon enough, I was attended to by one of the volunteers. He first set me up with a safety harness, making sure it was not too tight and not too loose. Then it was time for the pointy things on the wall to become part of me. After some adjusting, they fit me with boots, a helmet and some ice picks and I was set to go.

As I walked out to the tower, the combination of the clinking crampons, mixed with the two big ice picks in my hands, made me feel like some sort of Terminator walking out the door. I was undefeatable! The volunteer took me out to the wall. He explained all the best techniques to use, such as keeping the ice picks near the middle and to never swing it in front of my face.

He tied a rope to my harness and told me to wait until he said he was ready. Once ready, I was set to go. First things first: The ice picks had to be swung hard into the ice. Once they were anchored in, I looked down at my boots, wondering, "How are these spikes going to hold my weight?" One step at a time, I kicked my boots into the ice. Before I knew it, I was a foot off the ground. With the volunteer cheering me on, I made it half way up the tower, 30 feet off the ground, before my arms gave out.

Since that first day, I've been to the tower many times. I learned the reason my arms gave out was because I was not pushing up with my legs enough. I've since reached the summit of the tower and the view of Winnipeg from up top is simply one of the greatest.

This is why the ice tower is my favourite place in Winnipeg. From the very beginning, people welcomed me into their community; I was never an outsider. They taught me their ways, much like Yoda did for Luke, only in much better English.

Anyone interested in ice-climbing in Winnipeg should contact the Saint-Boniface section of the Alpine Club of Canada by way of its website: www.cesb.net.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2014 A1

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