Saturday, April 1, 2017

Winter Adventures, Part 2: Ice Climbing

In Part 1 of this series, I chronicled my adventure of backcountry skiing, which wound up to be more adventure than I could handle.  I wasn't very good at it at all!  A couple of weeks after that trip, Brennan and I signed up for ice climbing at the Boy Scout camp.  The wall was mostly artificially created, but it was over an immense vertical rock face, so it looked natural.  It was a cold day in the mountains, not quite up to freezing even with the sun high in the sky.  We strapped on a climbing harness and some crampons, grabbed a couple of ice axes, and away we went.  The first ascent was on a slope.  Brennan went first and made it look easy, getting to the top in about five minutes.  It was much rougher for me.  I got less than halfway up, and my fingers were completely numb and I was completely worn out.  I didn't think I was going to be able to make it, but I pressed on and finally reached the top after what seemed like an eternity!

You can almost see me at the top.
When I got back down, the climbing instructor explained that if I gripped the ice axe for dear life, I was actually squeezing the blood out of my fingers, creating the numbness.  If I just relaxed and held on to the axe with as little pressure as necessary, both swinging and climbing, that it would be much less work and my hands wouldn't get so cold.  Sure enough, we both thought the next run was much easier, and my hands stayed warm!  We were really amazed at how well the ice axes held in the ice -- even if the axe went less than an inch into the ice!

For our last climb, we wanted to try the completely vertical face.  The instructor explained that even though it looked harder than the others, it really wasn't because of the way the ice formed with plenty of places for footholds and ice axe holds.  Sure enough, that held true.  Brennan and I both thought the climb was pretty easy until we got about 2/3 of the way up.  At that point, there were plenty of footholds, but they were really more like holes in the ice wall.  We put the ice axes in the holes, and they did okay, but were not as secure as creating your own hold.  At one point, one of my axes came loose, and the other started to slip.  Using my crampons and digging the one axe in, I was able to prevent a fall, secure myself again, and finish the ascent.

You can see the holes in the ice in this picture.

If you ever have the opportunity to try ice climbing, I highly recommend it.  There are some absolutely beautiful places in this country to do it.  But do it on a warmer day!