When most hear of the sport of ice climbing they think of destinations like Switzerland, British Columbia or closer to home, like northern Quebec — not 10 minutes away from downtown Montreal.
For a year now, a towering wall of scalable ice has been open to the public at Parc Jean-Drapeau on Île Sainte-Hélène.
“If you would have told me three years ago that I would be climbing ice like that, I wouldn’t believe it,” ice climber Daniel Lapierre said.
Situated in the shadow of the Jacques Cartier bridge, the ice-covered rock wall has amassed a number of new climbers this winter.
Seasoned rock climber Julie Bergeron decided to pick the unconventional sport since her gym was forced to shut down.
“I decided to jump on the ice climbing right away after trying it once,” Bergeron said.
For Lapierre, who has been practising the sport of ice climbing for several years now, it was a similar story.
“I met some people who were climbing outside so I started on rocks and the next winter I started climbing and mountaineering,” Lapierre said.
The climbing duo say the island’s urban ice wall is the best of both worlds and ideal for short trips.
The closest climbable ice face, they say, is at least an hour and a half away.
Having a wall so close to home makes it easier for them and others to hone their skills on a weekly basis.
“That’s the perfect place to train even in the week time. We come here once or twice a week,” Lapierre said.
Not just anyone can tame this wall face — only certified climbers may climb the ice.
Specialized ice axes and crampons are essential equipment.
The ice wall has been in place for two seasons.
It was first started as a winter pilot project in 2019 by Parc Jean-Drapeau in partnership with the Fédération Quebec de Montagne et D’Escalade.
It measures some 12 metres high and is watered and maintained regularly to meet safety standards.
It takes climbers only a minute or so to scale the wall and while most climbers are used to longer assents, the majority are just happy they get the chance to dig into the ice.
“It doesn’t matter, it’s still ice climbing and it makes it easy and accessible,” Bergeron said.
With warmer temperatures on the way, the ice wall is beginning to melt .
The season is usually between late December and mid-March.
“It’s a passion. If we could we would do it every day,” Lapierre said.