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Rare ice formation on Highway 97 excites climbers

Rick scales the frozen waterfall while wife Sari spots him from below.
January 21, 2014 - 3:59 PM

SPALLUMCHEEN - An unusual ice formation on Highway 97 near Armstrong is attracting groups of Okanagan climbers.  

In Spallumcheen just north of Swan Lake by the roundabout leading to Hutley Road, a towering rock face, blasted into existence a couple years ago during highway construction, is veiled in ice. For Rick and Sari Cox, who have been climbing for over 30 years, the treacherous plane is a playground.

“It’s rare to get climbs locally that are so accessible with good solid ice and to have it last so long,” Rick says. “Usually if there’s an ice season in the Okanagan, it’ll last two weeks and it’s gone.”

The Cox’s have been enjoying the frozen waterfall—conveniently located just a short drive from their home—for about a month already. They’ve never had good ice in their backyard like this, and never at all on the side of a highway. Often driving to Cache Creek, Three Valley Gap or the Rockies for good climbing, they’re all smiles at the base of Spallumcheen’s surprise treasure trove of ice.

“Last year it formed up pretty good, and we started thinking of climbing it, but then it warmed up and everything started to melt away and collapse. This year it’s been consistently below freezing for a month,” Rick says.

“This is luxury,” Sari says.

Through word of mouth, a community of local climbers has descended upon the formation. Students at UBCO have made the trip out, lured by the promise of decent ice. Under the illumination of the road’s lamp posts, climbers have even been out at night.

Rick harnesses up and picks one of half a dozen ‘climbs’ or routes up the rock face that didn’t melt during last week’s warm spell. He picks one with a substantial amount of ice and begins digging into the wall with his picks and spiky boots.

“The leader climbs up first and for the (initial) little stretch, they have no protection and they’ll just fall right to the ground,” Sari says, glancing up at her husband.

Around 25 feet up, Rick twists a ‘screw’ into the ice and loops his rope through it. Now if he falls, it will only be to that screw, not all the way down. To his left, a steady trickle is born from a melted climb and every once in a while, a chunk of ice gives out under his boot and goes tumbling down as he yells ‘ice!’

Cars and semis speed past in the background, but Rick and Sari are focused on the task at hand: not falling.

Sari notes that weather wasn’t the only thing on their side this year. Most waterfalls are fed by streams, but there’s no such water body above the rock face. Instead, from a crack running horizontally across the top of the formation, water comes dribbling out. 

“The fact the ice formed up is not only a combination of the cold weather but the fact that there was the right amount of groundwater at the right time and place. That might not happen every year either,” Sari says.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.

Rick and Sari Cox at the ice formation on Highway 97 near Armstrong.

Sari and Rick Cox say the ice formation near their Spallumcheen home
Sari and Rick Cox say the ice formation near their Spallumcheen home "is luxury".

Rick Cox makes his way up the ice formation.
Rick Cox makes his way up the ice formation.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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