Dikko First Lead Ice

Why Yamnuska guides rock (and ice)!

The first time I paid a climbing guide was for a technical mountaineering course in New Zealand. A highlight was finding the guide’s patience much more solid than the glaciers we navigated.

Six years later and it was time for another climbing guide. Dikko and I had spoken about it at length, were rock skills easy to transfer to ice? What were the little tricks that would make our days easier, faster and safer? How much would it cost? Could we get the lowdown on what was “in condition” to make the most of our time in Canada?

My ice climbing experience extended to top rope shenanigans on Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers in New Zealand and a couple of days in Canada in February. I had never led on ice (nor had Dikko) and that’s what we both wanted to do. Hence on 26 December we awoke early to arrive at the office of Yamnuska, premier guides in the Canadian Rockies.

I felt a little nervous; I wanted to have fun while I learned, but how much fun was in the hands of someone we were paying to teach us.

As soon as we walked in the door a huge grin framed by a fluffy beard greeted us. That grin and fluffy beard belonged to Brent Peters, our guide for the day. We signed relevant paperwork, had a quick chat about gear and were efficiently on our way to The Grotto. The walk in was pleasant and social, a relief as I expected to burn in at some short-rope gallop and arrive puffing and sweating like clients I’d seen dragged about New Zealand.

Ice Climbing Hers Grotto

Gettin’ my A-frame groove on with Brent’s help (pic Brent Peters)

Perhaps it was intentional, but instantly Brent’s demeanor and personality put me at ease. We top roped Hers (WI3+) and off the bat Brent shared invaluable, encouraging coaching on technique. The climb instantly felt easier. Pump was still inevitable for the ice-unfit, but it took longer to arrive!

Moving to The Grotto (WI2-3) we prepared Dikko to take his first lead of the two-pitch, low angle canyon known for its new leader popularity. I needed not ask my burning questions about screw placement, racking and leading – Brent offered the knowledge openly and spoke of his own preferences and experience.

Dikko First Lead Ice

Dikko having a blast on his first lead – Grotto Canyon (pic Brent Peters)

Topping out on the pleasant ramble I realized something… I was having a lot of fun and I was learning a lot at the same time!

Returning to His/Hers Brent scooted up His (WI4), hardly shaking out before setting up a top-rope for us to mock lead the pitch of frozen seepage. Being able to watch Brent climb was worth money in itself. Like rock, I love to learn by watching people move efficiently and confidently, climbing strong in mind and body.

Brent cruising His to set up our mock lead rope

Then my mock lead arrived. Placing screws on steeper ice was interesting and gave me a real appreciation of what I needed to work on to progress, like forgetting an annoying voice in my head that repeated, “You wouldn’t do THAT on lead!” Dikko replicated the mock lead and we both received great feedback from Brent, always intent on improving our efficiency and safety.

If he repeated himself to get the message through he never sounded fed up, always encouraging yet earnest – the perfect guide balance.

Dikko Mock Lead His Grotto

Thumbs up from Dikko after his mock lead (pic Brent Peters)

The clock ticked and our next challenge was to have a pick about on a mixed climb. It was about this moment I realized a number of things:

  • how grateful my forearms were that Brent had offered to share his Petzl Nomics.
  • how dry tooling can keep you ice fit any time of year.
  • how mixed climbing is bloody hard.
  • how ice suddenly becomes a light at the end of the “oh crap tools balancing crampons sorry arms ohh rock” tunnel.

All that said there was something strangely enjoyable about it, the diversity of technique for rock and ice and trying something completely new. I was pumped silly by half way but Brent was patient and rallied me to the top.

Grotto Mixed Climb His

Dikko on the mixed climb adjacent His (pic Brent Peters)

The Grotto is a popular walk and non-climbers stopped to stare and take photos, as they do when someone is scaling frozen water.

It was here I noticed Brent was chatty and entertaining with everyone. Sure, you could say he was selling Yamnuska for potential clients but there was more than that, he had a genuine passion for ice climbing that was infectious.

Around that time I recalled an observation of a guide in the Darrans. He had been rude and arrogant in the hut during bad weather days, only engaging with two of New Zealand’s top climbers in the area for cragging and totally ignoring his client. I remember thinking what a terrible ambassador he was for his employer.

Brent was the total flipside of that for Yamnuska. His welcoming, inclusive conversation, encouragement, knowledge sharing, humor and expertise all made my day a wonderful experience and the perfect foundation to explore climbs, and my mind, on the sharp end.

To anyone reading, you may know climbing history abounds with mavericks of the self-taught school, of close calls and quick, nasty lessons. But that pathway isn’t for all of us, it takes a certain mind and a lot of luck, so some of us choose a different way to learn.

What my guided day taught me was no matter your level, there’s always something to improve, a new trick to make things safer, save time or more enjoyable. We all learn from each other and nobody knows it all.

So thank you Brent for a top day, for taking lots of photos while we belayed and climbed and learned, for making it feel like we were out with a friend and for giving us invaluable advice we’ll use every ice climb. Thank you also for your contribution to the climbing community; rebolting anchors, putting up new routes and writing IceLines. It’s a great effort you’ve made.

To Yamnuska, it’s great guides like Brent that make you rock (and ice!)


Check out Brent’s guide IceLines – Select Waterfalls of the Canadian Rockies and the highly professional Yamnuska Guides.


  1. Liz -  21 May 2014 - 4:55 pm

    How did I miss this post? Brilliant article Kristy – Being guided through a new experience with a good guide versus a bad one can be the difference between continuing with a sport and turning your back on it for ever. So pleased you found a great guide! The fellow Garth & I climbed with at Whistler was pretty good too (sorry no idea what his name was now, way too long ago. I remember the mixed feelings I had marvelling as he scaled the ice and being relieved that I got a break!

    • Kristy Dixon -  23 May 2014 - 4:13 pm

      All good Liz! It’s great to climb with people who have climbing as their “job” as you see the fantastic skills and knowledge first-hand. If we ever organise a guide again it’ll be on an instructional basis, I’m not much a fan of “Hey, here’s my cash, pull me up that huge hill on a short rope!”


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