Mountain climbing and bouldering are some pretty well-known sports for adventurists. But what do you do when winter hits and skiing or snowshoeing just doesn’t offer the same high-stakes thrills climbers are after? Head out ice climbing, the hottest cold-weather sport out there!
Ice Climbing In a Nutshell
Ice climbing is a bit different from climbing a mountain or boulder. It’s not just climbing a mountain in the wintertime, it’s actual ice you’re climbing. There are two different kinds of ice climbing, one is called Alpine and the other is called Water climbing. The difference is in how the ice was formed. Alpine ice is frozen precipitation such as rainfall that has frozen to the side of a mountain. Water ice is that of flowing water that has frozen, such as a waterfall.
Here in Michigan, especially in the Upper Peninsula, we have a ton of waterfalls, which makes us the perfect destination for the sport! But before you can head out to climb, you’re going to need some equipment!
Ice Climbing Equipment
Just like you need a harness and anchors for climbing a mountain, you need some special equipment to climb ice. Not only is this equipment for safety, but it’s pretty hard to get up the ice without some of it! Here is the list of the necessities and what they’re for!
Harness and Helmet: The harness and helmet are pretty self explanatory, but the harness holds you and the rope while the helmet protects your head from either you falling or things falling on you from above.
Mountaineering Boots: These boots are not only insulated to keep your feet warm but they’re usually waterproof and have a more rigid sole than the typical hiking boot. They’ll also be compatible with the crampons you’ll need to go over them.
Crampons: These are basically spikes for your boots. This way you can dig your feet into the ice on the way up.
Technical Ice Tools/Ice Axe: These are tools that are curved and pointed. They dig into the ice and allow you to pull yourself up. The main difference between the technical tools and the axe is size, and which one you want will depend on what type of ice, the thickness of the ice, and the grade you’re climbing.
Ice Screws: These are like the things you would pound into the cracks in a mountain, but instead you screw them into the ice, and they hold your rope.
Belays: These help to keep you from falling by gripping the rope you’re using along the climb. They will keep the tension and if you happen to fall, they grab the rope and hold it there.
Dry Treated Climbing Rope: Don’t just take any rope you find! Climbing ropes are specifically built to be sturdy, and they have just the right amount of elasticity to keep the impact down if you fall. Coming to the end of a rope that has no elasticity can be painful. You need to insure it’s dry treated for ice climbing, as this will keep it from absorbing water and then becoming slippery when it freezes.
Proper Clothes: This part may seem silly but there are some things you may not realize when you get out there. Layer your clothing and make sure that it’s something that dries quickly and won’t hold in moisture. While it is cold where you’re going, you can work up a sweat. One of the last things you want is to be wet and out in sub-zero temps. Layers allow you to add and remove clothing as your body temp changes.
The Best Ice Climbing Spots
Now that you have the info on what it is and what you need to get started, you now need to know where to go to ice climb! Here are some of the best places in North America that you can head to get in some ice climbing!
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore | Munising, MI
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a great spot to head for ice climbing. They have tons of waterfalls, lake-effect snow, and much more to create the perfect environment. The best places to hit are Sand Point and Miners Falls.
The Canadian Rockies | Alberta, Canada
The Canadian Rockies are probably about as good as it gets! The weather here offers the perfect temps and precipitation. You’ll find tons of different climbs and both alpine ice and water ice so it’s got something for everyone. The degree of difficulty varies as well so everyone from beginners to expert are sure to find something to challenge themselves.
Chair Peak | King County, WA
For alpine ice, Chair Peak is the place to hit in Washington! You’ll find a few different routes here that vary in grade. Dense snow and ice make this a great place to head out in the winter and test out your skills!
Smugglers’ Notch | Jeffersonville, VT
Smugglers’ Notch is a steep canyon crevasse where you can find both water ice and alpine ice! There are frozen waterfalls and rock walls with frozen precipitation and snow on them. This is another place where you can find climbing for all skill levels so you can head there no matter where you are. They even have an annual event called the Smuggs Ice Bash where ice climbers from all over celebrate the sport together!
Now that you have the info on this amazing winter sport, it’s time to head out and get up those icy grades! Hook us up with photos and info on your favorite climbing spots!