Ice climbing – perfect sport for winter adventures

Doug Williams

Are you looking for something different to do this winter? Have you seen documentaries showing people climbing frozen waterfalls and thought “that looks cool”?  Do you rock climb during the summer and would like a similar sport for the winter?  If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then the sport of ice climbing is for you.

This is not the kind of sport that you can dive into without a good level of preparation. It has some technicalities that are best learned at a climbing school, so find a reputable ice climbing academy and take a series of lessons. These will teach you to climb safely and avoid making silly errors.

Without proper tutoring, you may find your first ice climbing excursion is your last, but once you have mastered the basics and know how to climb safely, you’ll be ready to start out on what may become a lifelong love affair with frozen walls and the desire to climb up them! Not only will the ice climbing school teach you to climb safely they will also lend you the equipment you’ll need.


The right equipment is essential for ice climbing

To purchase these items up front will cost around $1,000. You will need to buy the following:

  • Harness and helmet. These are similar to rock climbing helmets and harnesses, so if you climb during the summer, you will most probably have them. The only difference will be that the harness must fit over bulkier clothing as you will be wearing warm clothing instead of the simple gear for rock climbing. Also, your helmet should be large enough for you to wear an insulating hat, as protection against cold weather, underneath.  A visor on the helmet is also a good idea as it protects your face from falling ice chips.
  • Look for well-insulated boots that are a comfortable fit. Removable liners can be useful as they can be taken out and dried separately which is a boon when climbing over several days. Dry, warm feet are a must.
  • Crampons and Ice Tools. Your guide will initially give you crampons and an ice axe but once you have mastered the basics you can look around and find tools that you like and that suit your style of climbing.
  • Ropes. The ropes for ice climbing are no different to standard rock climbing ropes with the exception that they must be dry treated. This means the rope must be treated to make it water, dirt, and abrasion resistant to ensure good grip in cold and wet conditions.
  • Ice Protection such as ice screws. You will need several of differing lengths as well as several quickdraws.
  • A good backpack with loops on the outside to hold your tools will be very useful.


Climbing is hard work so dress in layers to keep comfortable

The clothes that you wear can be the difference between a thoroughly enjoyable climb and one steeped in misery. As with most climbing, dressing in layers is preferable, so you can remove the layers or replace them depending on the conditions at the time. The base layer is the most important, and you should never choose cotton for this layer, rather use a mid-weight synthetic fabric or merino wool. Your middle layers should be composed of whatever keeps you comfortable but try not to have an intermediate layer on your legs. Your top layer should be both lightweight and waterproof. It should also be comfortable to move around in. Don’t forget your head, hands, and feet, and make sure you have a good quality beanie, gloves, and socks.


Once you have had some lessons and are confident enough to strike out on your own, make sure you consult a guidebook about the degree of difficulty of the climbs that you intend to undertake. Like any climb, ice climbs are graded according to the level of difficulty and technicality so be careful before you set off. A beginner should not tackle challenging climbs without more experienced companions.


Learn from more experienced climbers

It is also a good idea to learn some of the jargon around climbing. One of the most important things to learn is that when someone shouts ‘Ice!’ do not look up as this means that ice is falling down towards you. You will also be climbing in winter so respect the natural environment, and make sure that someone is aware of where you are going so if you do not return within a reasonable time help can be sent to find you.

Ice climbing is an exhilarating and enjoyable winter pastime, but like all types of rock climbing, it must be treated with respect. Learn the basics, get the right equipment and get out there to enjoy all winter has to share.

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