Dave Gorzitza takes writer Mary McIntyre deep into the frozen world of ice canyoneering, British Columbia’s chilliest fringe sport.
Knee-high snowbanks line the Marble Canyon parking lot of Kootenay National Park in eastern British Columbia. Dave Gorzitza and I slip into layers of long underwear and puffy jackets, before wrestling our heads through the rubber gaskets of our dry suits and zipping them closed. Our breath hangs in the wintery air. Other park patrons give us confused looks while strapping into their snowshoes. We follow them along a snowy path but after a short time veer off and descend to a river flowing from the mouth of the canyon. Dave then cannonballs into the bright blue pool.
The adjective frequently associated with Gotzitza is “crazy,” though in a good way. The 36-year-old, Spillimacheen local has a wide grin and relaxed demeanor, both indicative of his belief that “Everything is going to work out, and more importantly, it’ll be fun.”
He applies this conviction to the fringe sport of ice canyoneering, which he discovered in January 2009 after spotting a guy wearing a dry suit standing on the side of the road. Curious, he had to stop. The man introduced himself as Michael Morse from Calgary, Alberta, and explained he was taking advantage of the river’s low water to reach places that were raging rapids in the summertime. However, on that particular day, he had to turn around due to an ice dam. Dave suggested he climb the dam with ice-tools and the duo have been exploring BC’s freezing waterways ever since.
Back in Marble Canyon, we wade through the frigid water then swim upstream, grabbing rocks to brace against the current. Frozen waterfalls and pillows of snow cling to 60-metre-high walls sculpted smooth by millennia of erosion. Soon the chasm deepens, leaving us in a shadowed chamber festooned with delicate icicles. Although the two explorers often ice climb deep into canyons, today we are caving. Following him through a small hole, I stem up a slot-canyon until we reach a waterfall too difficult to ascend. We return bobbing downstream in air-filled suits.
It’s been a fairly standard day for ‘Crazy Dave,’ but for me it was magic. He chatters about exciting adventures ahead, but for now we’re just looking forward to warming our cold bones in his sauna.