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Lillooet ice climbing festival returns

Grassroots West Coast/Lillooet Ice Festival is set for Jan. 20 to 22. 
Ice climbing in Lillooet.

If ice climbing is your jam, or you just want to see what it is all about, mark your calendars for the West Coast / Lillooet Ice Festival, which is set for Jan. 20 to 22, in and around Lillooet. 

The grassroots event, which is sponsored by Squamish's Climb On Equipment, will feature speakers and clinics. 

The festival starts Friday night, from 6 to 7 p.m., with a meet-up at Lillooet Brewing Company

Saturday, there's a free Steep Ice Clinic, and Sunday, there's a free Mixed Climbing Clinic. 

While full event details are still being hammered out, folks can meet up at Lillooet's Abundance Artisan Bakery on both mornings.

Guide Ian Welstead and climber — and editor of Gripped climbing magazine — Brandon Pullan will be on hand at the festival. 

There will also be demo gear — like tools or crampons — available on both days. 

The event's organizer Danny O'Farrell said the long-range forecast suggests the ice will be in great shape this year for the festival.

"The best conditions are right around -10 C ... even if they warm up during the day, to even 0 to -5 C and then overnight lows are kind of in that minus 10 range [those] are usually perfect conditions for ice climbing," he said. 

He is expecting about 100 climbers to attend. 

"Climbing has become more mainstream in the last 10 years. There definitely will be more of a presence this year in Lillooet for the ice climbing festival compared to any other year, especially due to the conditions this year, [which] seem to be great."

The clinics are aimed at more advanced, rather than beginner ice climbers, according to O'Farrell.

Marble Canyon is a great spot to watch the action, he said. 

"You can literally park your vehicle at Crown Lake, walk across the lake, and there's a small little trail. There should be a bunch of groups that are climbing on that weekend," he said. 

O'Farrell notes the festival used to be run by climber Lyle Knight, before he moved away.

After a hiatus, O'Farrell picked it up and then there was a pause again due to other commitments. 

Now he is bringing it back for 2023.

He got into ice climbing more than two decades ago when he was at university in Thunder Bay.

Asked what he loves about it, O'Farrell said it has the same draw as more fair-weather rock climbing. 

"It's just being out in the elements and being fully engaged. It's almost meditative and challenging yourself, like a lot of people enjoy doing different activities."

Given climate change, O'Farrell, a trained biologist and ecologist, said it is hard to predict how global warming will impact ice climbing longer-term. 

"Who knows how climate changes will interact with the West Coast, to be honest. It may actually go cooler during the winters ... We don't know. Nothing's really been impacted yet. Some years are amazing. And some years are horrible. It just really depends on that freeze-thaw and then those deep freeze cycles." 

For more information on the festival, go to Climb On Equipment's Facebook page. 


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