Helmcken Falls is a 140-meter tall waterfall in British Columbia cascading over an enormous amphitheater. The waterfall itself never freezes, but the spray from the falls clings to the amphitheater walls creating ice stalactites that offer some of the most unique, steep, and hard ice climbs on the planet. The first ever WI10, WI11, and WI12 routes were all climbed there. In February, Tim Emmett and Klemen Premrl sent the new line Mission to Mars. With their suggested grade of WI13, it is the hardest ice climb in the world.
Mission to Mars is a four bolt extension of the route Nadurra Durra (WI12) that Emmett and Premrl made the first ascent of a week prior. Emmett wrote on his Instagram: “‘Mission To Mars’ WI13 is a natural 40m ice climb through increasing steepness with the crux being the last three moves. Klem and I took many goes to try and link it but managed successful ascents back to back on 9th February. Of all the ice climbs at Helmcken this is the steepest and overhangs approximately 30m.”
Premrl wrote on his Instagram: “The climb will be on my mind for a while. Not just because it’s one hell of a route, but because I had to dig really deep, to pull the last hard move on ‘Mission to Mars’ Thanks for good times [Tim Emmett].”
Because the spray ice is so soft, the climbs in Helmcken are protected by bolts. Not to mention that the daggers are prone to falling off—not ideal for ice screws—and necessitates that climbers are always on high alert for incoming ice missiles. Despite clipping bolts, Mission to Mars is climbed almost entirely on ice.
Back in 2010, Emmett and Will Gadd made the first ascent of Spray On at Helmcken and graded it WI10. It was several grades harder than any other established ice climb at the time. The notion of “skipping grades” perturbed some of the climbing community, though Emmett and Gadd were not without reason. They graded Spray On as if it were a mixed route. At the time M10 had been established. Because of the steepness of the amphitheater, the climbing calls for hard mixed and dry-tool techniques on almost-entirely ice routes, hence the seemingly astronomical grades.
“This is the first climb at this suggested grade,” Emmett wrote regarding Mission to Mars. “I really hope someone goes in there in the next few weeks to try it, it’s waiting for you.”