It is hard to imagine anyone who would not be awed by the high peaks of the snow-capped mountains. Despite their beauty and majesty, they are hard to reach and impregnable. There are people, however, for whom ice and snow do not pose a problem. One of them is an ice climber.
What does ice climbing entail? The sport of ice climbing is a young one, like rock climbing, which was born out of mountaineering. Nevertheless, it retains some of the same characteristics as its ancestor – high levels of adrenaline, unpredictability of the terrain, and high dependence on the weather
Climbing ice does not mean ascending only icy peaks. It’s rare to find a place where the rocks are entirely covered in ice. Stones and ice are more consistently found there – iced rivers, waterfalls, and cliffs. It is mainly vertical ice walls that are used for ice climbing competitions. As an alternative, dry tooling or ice-free climbing can also be performed with the same equipment.
History of Ice Climbing
Beginning of the 19th century
The British nobility spent their holidays in the Alps at the beginning of the 19th century, where ice climbing originated. The nobility hired local shepherds to guide them. Several improvements in equipment have been made as a result of their mutual interest. In an ice hill, the alpenstock for cutting steps was made shorter and fitted with a shovel.
In the beginning of the 20th century
The Scottish Mountain Club paved the way for icy, snow-covered hills at the turn of the century. Harold Raeburn climbed Ben Nevis (1344.5 m), the highest point in Britain, for the first time in 1906. The achievements of the Scots remained unsurpassed until the 1950s.
In the first half of the 20th century, the three most famous North Faces of the Alps were scaled: the Matterhorn, Grand Jorasses, and Eiger.
During the second half of the 20th century
In 1955, a six-day climb up the North Face of Les Droites marked a new level of difficulty for ice climbing. In comparison with other routes scaled before, this route had the highest incline.
Using new tools and the experience of Alpine and Scottish ascents in the early 1970s, climbers in New Hampshire were able to ascend frozen waterfalls. A good example is the first ascent of the 600-foot Black Dike.
At the same time, ice climbing was introduced to new standards of free climbing in Utah and Colorado. Greg Lowe climbed a scary route without safety equipment near his home in Ogden, Utah, in 1971 (75 feet (ca. 23 m) of vertical ice wall). He only used his own ice axes.
Ice climbing became popular in the USA, Norway, Alpine countries, Korea, and Japan by the end of the 1970s. Ice climbing tools were also improving at this time.
Despite the fact that ice climbing is a young sport, it hosts competitions all over the world. Ice climbing World Cups consist of several international stages and are considered the most prestigious.
Competitions and festivals like these encourage social interaction. Experience and knowledge can be shared, new equipment can be tried, and fun can be had.
In September 2002, ice climbing became a separate discipline. In the same year, the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation held the first World Cup competition.
Basics of Ice Climbing
An ice climber must first determine the type of ice he will encounter. Ice has two kinds of structure: crystallized and noncrystalline.
- An uneven coating covers a brittle and hard formation called water ice. On the rock, it appears as a thin coating. It is the result of a frozen water flow. Most people who climb water do so to test their technique and it is usually a frozen waterfall.
- The layered and soft structure of Alpine ice is created by compressed snow. It is a form of frozen precipitation. It is found on mountains, usually climbed by mountain climbers who want to reach the summit. There are many types of climbing in mountaineering. Water ice can sometimes be harder to climb than Alpine ice. In addition, Alpine ice usually requires longer routes than water ice.
Athletes must have technical skills and understand the features of the ice surface to move safely.
Equipment for Ice Climbing
Classic mountaineering requires different equipment than ice climbing. Tools for ice climbers are available in a wide variety of designs and types. Some of the most common types of ice climbing equipments are:
- The ice screws. On steep slopes, such as frozen waterfalls and icefalls, climbers use ice screws to create running belays. As well as preventing falls on icy surfaces, they use them to secure themselves.
- An ice axe. Ice axes are the most important piece of equipment for ice climbing. Assist the ice climber in pulling himself up to the peak by securing him to the ice. A technical ice axe has a curved shaft. That way, the weight can be better supported. Additionally, they can be used to self-arrest when you slip or fall on slippery surfaces. Difference between Ice axe and ice tool is written in this article.
- The harness. Anchors and ropes are used by climbers to secure themselves to harnesses. Both the legs and the waist are supported by this nylon and cloth combination. Commercial harnesses are much more convenient than harnesses made of rope. These can be rented from an outdoor sports shop.
- A carabiner. A carabiner is most often a steel loop. Connecting and disconnecting his rope from the harness is quick and easy. Since their shape and size are ideal for joining two strands of rope, ice climbers use them for rappelling and belaying.
- Belay device. It is a mechanical part of the equipment that allows the climber to exert tension on the rope. It also serves as a fall prevention device.
- Crampons. These traction tools are attached to the bottom of ice climbers’ boots and crampons have spikes made of steel alloy that help them climb icy rocks without losing traction.
- Rope. There are two types of rope for ice climbers: static and dynamic. Dynamic rope is better for climbing because it is more flexible. This makes it safer in case you fall or slip. Static ropes are thicker and better suited to rappelling.
- Climbing boots with insulation. For ice climbers, these are essential.
- Helmet for climbing. Helmets are protective equipment to prevent head injuries.
Ice climbing’s best places to practice
Ice climbing is not only possible in winter, as you may think. Indoor ice walls are available year-round for training. One of the largest ice walls in the UK is a 12m structure.
In any case, if you feel confident enough to try ice climbing outdoors, below are the best spots.
- Banff, Alberta, Canada
In Banff National Park, Johnston Canyon is an ice climbing zone. Beginners and professionals alike will enjoy ice falls.
- Ouray, Colorado, United States
Ice climbing is a popular activity in Ouray. Since 1996, the Ouray Ice Festival has been held there. At these competitions, the best ice climbers from around the world compete. Climbing is permitted in the ice park as long as it is safe.
- Norway, Rjukan
There is a stunning frozen waterfall in Norway’s Rjukan that has become the center of European ice climbing. They founded the Rjukan Ice Festival in 2005, which became the European counterpart to Ouray. In addition to being a popular ski destination, it is also held in February.
- Kandersteg, Switzerland
An ice climbing festival is also held in Kandersteg, a municipality in Switzerland. The ice there is less stable than at other climbing sites. However, when the Kandersteg waterfall freezes, it becomes one of the most challenging climbs in the world.
Kandersteg has hosted the Eiskletterfest for 15 years. The event lasts three days and features numerous contests, training courses, interviews with world-renowned ice climbers, as well as massive parties.
- Viedma Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina.
The vast Viedma Glacier offers ice caves and steep hills where you can test your climbing skills. An ice climbing expedition in this area will provide you with all the basic knowledge you need to climb ice.
Due to its sheer size and speed, the Vierema glacier makes for a thrilling hiking destination, with a variety of ice holes and abrupt cliffs scattered throughout. Climbers arrive at the lake by boat after the glacier flows into it.
- Skaftafell, Iceland
Iceland combines geysers, volcanoes, and mountains into an otherworldly landscape. Many of its territories are covered by glaciers. There are a number of suitable venues for ice climbing there, including the Svinafellsjökull glacier. Vatnajokull also has gorgeous climbing trails.
Safety comes first
If you do ice climbing, you will face many risks as with any other extreme sport. Falls aren’t the most deadly risk, however. As long as you use ropes and safety equipment.
Ice climbers are often injured by ice axes. It can slip out from under the ice and punch its owner if it is detached. Ice climbing also requires you to be careful with the ice particles, which can be quite sharp.
Make sure you secure ice screws in the ice before you install them. Make a hole using the tip of your ice tool after removing any soft snow or ice.
You should always have a GPS device and first aid kit with you. It takes time to get to the hospital when you have been injured.
In spite of being relatively new, ice climbing is gaining popularity among adrenaline junkies all over the world. Ice climbing is mostly a winter sport. Indoor ice walls, however, allow you to practice even during the summer.
However, if you really want to feel the spirit of ice climbing, you should pack your suitcase and head to one of the above locations. Unbelievable landscapes and a sense of freedom await you!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Where do you do ice climbing?
The Rockies and the Northeast have spectacular frozen waterfalls and there is ice climbing at volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest.
How much does it cost to do ice climbing?
You can expect to pay $200-300 per day for an ice climbing lesson, depending on the guiding company you choose. Fortunately, this will usually include all the gear you’ll need.
Is ice climbing easy? Is ice climbing safe?
The sport of ice climbing is dangerous due to many factors. Aside from the cold temperatures and the danger of falling ice, injury from lead falls is another factor that makes ice climbing dangerous.
How do you start ice climbing?
To know how to start climbing, check out this video.