Ice climbing is cold. It has be cold in order for the ice to be “climbable.” Ice climbing can be violent too. You have to swing metal tools into sheets of ice, which often leads to chunks of ice flying at your face or down below on top of your partner (or whoever else happens to be below a climb.)
It takes a certain person to love this sport. The kind of person who can suffer knowing that the pay off is worth it. It is certainly a sport that may surprise you. Many people who ice climb (more than a handful of times), end up falling in love with it. We decided to speak with four ice climbers, and dive into the very reasons why they love ice so much.
Just Plain Fun
“I loved ice climbing the first time I tried it,” climbing photographer Tim Banfield tells ASN. “Swinging spikey ice tools into ice is fun, like when you were a kid and swung a stick at something until it broke, it’s kind of the same.
“Climbing ice adds an additional element that isn’t often found in rock climbing, I like the added challenge of having to stay warm in poor weather conditions.”
Banfield is one of those who suffers not only for the climb, but suffers for photography. “I find ice climbing shots to be really appealing, I like how the climber is always silhouetted against the background, they always stand out and often, if shot from far away it is easier to show a sense of scale,” he continues.
For the sake of a great shot, Banfield will often climb a different climb or hang out on another feature.
“Some days it means I don’t get to climb but it allows me to grab the scale of the climber and the ice from a distance,” he says. “I’ve started to pack more clothing for the far away shots too, the last couple times I have actually had a nap at various points while hanging out in my sleeping bag.”
One of Banfield’s repeat subjects, is self proclaimed “weekend warrior” Michelle Kadatz, who actually climbs like a pro. Kadatz loves the beauty of ice climbing.
“I am a Canadian climber and winter is long here. I love how snow and ice highlights the details of the mountains,” Kadatz tells ASN. “It’s such an aesthetic sport and a great way to move around in the mountains.”
We asked Kadatz where the most bizarre place she has ice climbed. “Probably Scotland,” she says. “The style of climbing is very different, traditionally protected mixed climbing with lots of passive protection like hexes and nuts.”
“There are no bolts. The conditions are not considered ‘good’ for mixed climbing unless the rock is covered in snow,” she continues. “Conditions change constantly with horrible weather; massive storms with heavy precipitation and 100-kmh winds. However, I’ve been there twice and can’t wait to go back.”
And so the suffering continues. Probably the most suffered ice climber who has lived to tell about his experience is Scottish climber Greg Boswell. The running joke amongst climbers is that the already “spicy Scottish ice” wasn’t adventurous enough for Boswell because a few years ago in Canada, Boswell was attacked by a grizzly bear (which doesn’t happen very often, but due to climate change some bears aren’t denning as much.)
“Yeah, after my grizzly bear encounter I have changed my views on climbing a bit,” says Boswell. “But not in a more reserved way, more like in a ‘go out and get it’ way. I know don’t faff around trying to make decisions if I want to go and try an awesome climb or adventure, if it’s in condition and I want to try it, I’ll just jump in and go for it.”
“There’s no point in leaving in things until tomorrow, as you might get killed by a bear tonight, or similar,” he jokes.
Boswell also sees the mystic of ice. “There's something that feels much more adventurous about being in a remote area with snow everywhere and everything frozen and crisp,” he tells ASN. “It’s almost magical!
“With Ice climbing you never know what you might get, the ice could be brittle, delicate, thick or nonexistent. Routes change every year and depending on the current conditions, you might have a completely different experience to someone else who has climbed the exact same route.”
Across the pond in Vermont is AMGA guide and owner of Petra Cliffs Climbing Center and Mountaineering School Andrea Charest. “I love climbing in the Northeast,” she tells ASN. “I’m lucky to have climbable ice literally right out my back door.”
“It is cold, the ice is hard with the lack of sun (Vermont and Washington tie for the states with the lowest average bluebird days per year at 58, while Colorado has 136), the days are short – but this makes us hard men and women, and climbing anywhere else feels easier.”
Charest finds freedom in the suffering of ice climbing.
“When the crampons and tools become extensions of my body, the movement feels natural, fluid, rhythmic, and the surrounding cold air and quiet beauty make me feel relaxed and alive,” says Charest. “None of the other daily problems or tasks matter at that moment, just the next move. Then I get to a crux and the mental side of climbing has to take over – the reassurance that your body can do this. Breathing. Facing fears and working through them, knowing that you’ve mitigated as much risk as possible… it’s a powerful feeling.”
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