Climbers conquer winter blues with ice tower

WINNIPEG – If they can’t move the mountains to Manitoba, then Manitoba will make mountains of ice.

Winnipeggers have been scaling a man-made structure in St. Boniface since it was built in 1996. No other major city in North America has a permanent prop for ice climbing.

“We’re kind of lucky because we have the weather to have this here,” said André Mahé, president of le Club d’escalade de Saint-Boniface.

It takes volunteers between two to three weeks to fully cover the 20 meter tower with ice at a depth ranging from a foot in some places to three in others.

“We start mid-December with a bar on each side,” said Mahé. “Each bar has three sprinklers connected to a water supply.”

As the ice forms, crews raise the bars until they reach the top of the tower. No two winters are the same with wind, temperature and sun affecting how the water freezes.

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“We dont’ know what nature is going to give us,” said climber Thérèse Dubé. “When we start watering, we keep looking, wondering what’s going to happen.”

Several climbers use the column to train for more challenging ascends.

“They learn how to climb vertical ice,” said Mahé. “It enables them to go to the Rockies and do some longer routes.”

But for many, just reaching the peak of the pillar – that’s their Everest.

“When I reached the top, I was able to look over and see everything behind,” said third-year climber Louis Fillion. “It was an experience saying I achieved it.”

A moment when he stood taller than the rest.

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