One of the abilities you’ll need to learn is judging the conditions to determine when you can go ice climbing. Weather, avalanche risk, and ice quality are just a few of the elements that must be considered. Climbing ice that is thick, blue, and free of natural hazards is generally considered safe.
Trying to figure out if it’s a good time to go ice climbing is a fluid process that requires you to consider a number of variables. These include non-ice elements like the weather and the possibility of natural hazards, as well as ice factors like your strength and tools.
Understanding Ice Climbing Conditions
To make a decision, you must first do a comprehensive analysis of all relevant factors, and then make a judgment call based on your knowledge and intuition. Getting the necessary mileage under your crampons to make these decisions is a part of learning to ice climb.
Let’s go through some of the things you should think about before going ice climbing.
Ice climbing is only possible in the winter or during the spring and fall extremes. The exact months will vary greatly depending on your region, but a typical ice climbing season runs from November to April. If you go too early, the ice will not be frozen enough to begin climbing; if you go too late, the ice will begin to melt, resulting in a variety of perilous circumstances.
The season will also vary from year to year depending on the weather. It may arrive early in certain cases, while good ice may not form until mid-December in others.
If you’re new to climbing, seek advice from more experienced climbers.In your area, park rangers, guiding businesses, and Facebook communities dedicated to alpinism and ice climbing should have a good idea.
The weather for the day you’re going on is the next item to think about (and the days surrounding it). It’s all well and well to plan the season correctly, but knowing the current state of the ice is the only way to truly determine whether or not it’s safe to climb.
The most important weather-related factor to be mindful of is the temperature. The ice might turn sloppy and unstable if the weather is too hot. When it gets too cold, the ice becomes fragile, increasing the chance of something breaking, especially thin pillars.
Temperature, on the other hand, cannot be judged in a single day. You must be aware of the weather conditions in the days preceding your climb. If you know there have been a lot of cold/hot fluctuations recently, for example, you can expect the ice to be filled with air. The ice will be highly brittle if there have been a few warm days followed by an extremely cold spell.
Change throughout the day
The weather changes throughout the day, and you must consider how this will affect your ice climb. If you’re on a lengthy route, the temperature may rise while you’re ascending, weakening the ice and making the situation unsafe by the halfway point. Using the ‘high’ temperature prediction to judge the day is an excellent method to avoid this.
Snow, Wind, etc
These have a greater impact on your safety and ability to enjoy the day than they do on the ice condition. Snow, high winds, and other unfavorable weather patterns can make it difficult to enjoy yourself while out on the trails.
This is more applicable to alpine ice than crags, but it’s something to think about before you start climbing.
Avalanche danger is one of the most difficult to avoid in ice climbing. Climbers are not to blame for these calamities, which are often unexpected and unavoidable. Three world-famous alpinists died recently in Banff when an avalanche broke loose thousands of feet above them, plunged down a gully, and wiped them all off the face of the mountain.
To avoid this danger, properly research the route ahead of time and make sure you’re informed of the avalanche conditions.
You still have to determine the real quality of the ice when you arrive at the route after all the extraneous elements have been taken into account. It takes a lot of willpower to look at a route and say ‘nope, not today.’ After researching a route, psyching yourself up for a climb, waiting for a clear day with low avalanche risk, and hiking hours uphill to get to the climb, it takes a lot of willpower to look at the route and say ‘nope, not today.’
Finally, consider some of the information available to help you determine whether or not a route is safe to climb. The areas listed below are excellent sources of information:
- Local guides and wardens: Sometimes all it takes is a quick phone call to receiving the information you require. It may be as simple as contacting a local guide service and stating, “I was looking to climb xx route this weekend.” Do you know what kind of condition it’s in?’
- Forums or Groups: Ice climbers and alpinists can form groups on Facebook, Reddit, and other platforms to socialize, ask questions, and share knowledge. If you’re unsure, post there.
- Historical Reports: You may probably find historical reports online if you reside in a big ice climbing location (Colorado, Calgary, etc.). These provide some insight into when routes are likely to begin emerging.
- Avalanche Conditions Report: Before embarking on an alpine ice route, you should always read this.
- Guidebooks, Online Route Reports: These might provide you with important route information and advice. It’s possible that the online trip reports contain up-to-date information.