Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada
The Basics - Rock Formations
Climbers familiar with the Canadian Rockies of Banff and Jasper will find a gentler but still rewarding experience in Waterton. The largely sedimentary rock is older and more weathered, and combined with the warmer and wetter climate, creates conditions more suited to the experienced scrambler.. Big cliff faces, composed mostly of billion year old sedimentary limestones, dolomites, and red/green argillites, are usually full of fractured smaller cliffs and scree-covered ledges. Protection is often insecure or non-existent, and rockfall is a continuous hazard.
More solid, cliff-forming rock may be found in several locations. A greenish-black band of diorite, of igneous origin, can be seen on many faces. Unfortunately, this band averages only 30 metres thickness, and is always sandwiched between layers of pale and rotten quartzite. As well, there are noticeable outcrops of an ancient fossilized algal reef, now turned into sharp, pocketed and fairly solid limestone of up to 20 meters thickness.
Traditional climbing routes and activity are concentrated on the limestone and dolomite cliffs of the Bear's Hump, a stone's throw from Waterton's townsite. Multi-pitch climbs to mid-grade difficulty are found on the south-facing cliff, and are often dry and climbable by April. Most routes end at the busy summer viewpoint, and climbers often use the Bear's Hump trail for their descent. Be aware that wood ticks also love this warm south face in the springtime!
Sport climbing routes have not been developed to any extent in the park.
Scrambling, or more accurately “easy mountaineering”, is easily the most popular climbing activity. Several popular scrambling peaks include Galwey, Crandell, and the highest peak in the park, Mt. Blakiston. South-facing scramble routes often come into shape early in May, although snow fields may be found on many routes well into the summer. Scramblers, like anyone travelling in mountainous terrain, should do their homework carefully, and carry emergency equipment and supplies. Mistakes in route selection, or an unexpected change in the weather, can turn a pleasant outing into a terrifying, life-threatening experience.
Several waterfall ice climbs normally fill-in by late November, and are climbable into the early spring. Warm temperatures and frequent chinooks can make the ice quality questionable, and it is not unusual for climbs to melt out or fall, then reform several times in a season. Most popular routes normally have little or no avalanche danger affecting them.
Camping and Bivouacing
Camping regulations and permits are explained in the Wilderness Camping section. Most climbs in Waterton are easily completed in a day, and given the small area of the park, camping outside of designated backcountry campsites is not encouraged. Climbers may be permitted to bivouac on long routes or as necessary to safely complete a climb, however a wilderness camping permit is required, and some restrictions will apply.
Leave No Trace
All backcountry travellers are encouraged to use low impact techniques, particularly in alpine areas. Fragile wet meadows and streamsides are especially vulnerable to trampling and informal trail creation. More durable surfaces such as rock, snow or gravel are preferred where possible. Travelling with a smaller group is safer, and creates less impact to vegetation, wildlife and other users. Scree descents can be fun, but may leave a highly visible track, and can accelerate erosion. Please consider the impact of your actions on the environment and other users.
A voluntary safety registration system is available to all travellers in the park. In the summer months, register in person at the Warden Office during business hours. In winter, a self-registration station is also available at the Warden Office. Upon completion of the trip, the party must notify the park by telephone, or by returning the registration form. Overdue registrations will be checked within a reasonable time frame, however climbers should be prepared to spend at least an extra night out after a registration becomes overdue.
Comprehensive rescue services are provided for visitors to the national parks. However, climbers should plan on being self-reliant and remember that rescue assistance may not always be immediately available, especially during the winter months. Rescue costs are normally recovered from the fees paid by visitors upon entry.
A number of guidebooks and on-line information sources are available, covering rock climbing, scrambling, waterfall ice climbing and ski touring. Topographic maps of the park are available for purchase at the Visitor Centre during the summer months.
Check the Public Safety
section on Waterton's home page for current trail conditions, weather and avalanche danger forecasts. Specific mountaineering inquiries and route conditions (if available) can be directed to the Warden Service, by
contacting the park