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Ice climbing is for adrenaline junkies, and the rest of us

If climbing a sheer face of vertical ice doesn't seem like your idea of a good time, you're probably in good company. But that shouldn't stop you from getting in on the action.

If climbing a sheer face of vertical ice doesn’t seem like your idea of a good time, you’re probably in good company.

But that shouldn’t stop you from getting in on the action.

Equinox Adventures, which had located its winter operations out at Takhini Hot Springs the last few years, has moved back downtown to Waterfront Station.

The company’s goal is to help Yukoners access adventure, no matter their level of ability.

You might have noticed the towers of ice sprouting over the last month behind Boston Pizza.

They’re built by spraying water out of a basic garden hose, suspended from the top. Tiny icicles grow as water drips down them, eventually forming into a massive, solid block.

“We just spray and spray and spray, and it forms up the same way a natural waterfall would,” said Gishler, owner of Equinox Adventures.

They’ve already grown taller than 10 metres, and are set to double in size before the winter is through.

If Gishler has his way, they’ll eventually be an ice palace, complete with towers, ramps, stairs, tunnels, and who knows? Maybe even an ice bar for post-adventure drinks.

He started building ice towers in 2006 as a way of bringing extreme climbing a little closer to home.

“There’s some fantastic real ice climbing around Whitehorse,” he said. “It’s all at least an hour’s drive away, and then another half an hour to an hour to hike into it. Not all of it, but most of the good stuff is like that. That’s one of the reasons we got into ice towers in the first place, was to create something that’s a bit more accessible.”

The project has grown over the years, with expanding options for varying levels of challenge.

It’s a choose-your-own adventure, with something for serious thrill-seekers, and something for the rest of us.

Feeling timid? You can strap on a set of grippy overshoes and explore the towers safely from below, watching climbers and exploring the icy towers and caverns.

The next step up is an ice trek - a path cut into the ice, so you can walk gradually from the bottom to the top of the palace while strapped in to safety lines.

That part of the project is still under construction, but may be complete in the next few weeks, said Gishler.

And of course there’s the ice climb, which requires the climber to use crampons and ice picks to scale the frozen face, while suspended by safety line to a belayer on the ground.

After the ice trek is constructed, the next step is to put in some zip lines, said Gishler.

That way, once you get to the top of the ice trek or ice climb, you can hook in to the zip line and ride on down.

There’s a few other man-made ice towers in North America, but none that offer the variety of options that Equinox does, said Gishler.

“As far as I know we’re the only ones on the planet that offer the ice trek. And were the only ones with a zip line coming off; I’ve never seen that before.”

Even for extreme adventurers, Equinox offers certain creature comforts that climbers won’t find in the wild.

There’s an indoor space just steps away to warm up before or after climbing, complete with an indoor bouldering wall.

Next door there’s a coffee shop and bakery, and just across the way a restaurant and bar.

Last week Equinox ran adventure camps for kids, and children younger than 10 years old were getting in on the ice climbing fun.

The older kids scaled the ice face with a little boost from the belayer below.

One of the younger ones seemed content scrambling a couple feet up and swinging himself from side to side, running laterally across the ice wall until it was someone else’s turn.

Gishler said they normally recommend the ice climbing for children eight and older, only as a function of their ability to swing an ice axe and pull themselves up by their arms.

But as a matter of having safe fun high up on the towers, the only limitation is finding a harness that fits, he said.

They’ve had kids as young as two complete the ice trek, he said.

“As long as they can fit in a harness and follow instructions and have a fun time, then we’re all over it.”

Climbing has exploded over the last decade in the Yukon, said Gishler.

“It used to be a handful of people, a dozen years ago, and now there’s hundreds of people out rock climbing in the summer and ice climbing in the winter as well.”

People who give it a try often surprise themselves, he said.

“I love to see those transformative moments when someone comes out, and they think they can’t do something and then they realize that they can do it, and it’s a lot of fun. That’s just a great thing to see, and a big reason why we do this.”

Equinox is currently open for ice climbing and indoor bouldering daily from 1-5 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays 7-10 p.m. and by reservation at 334-3725.

There’s also an after-school bouldering club, Mondays and Wednesdays for kids in grades 2-6.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at