Winter climbing is an unusual branch of the climbing tree. While seldom fun, the memories ferment rather quickly into vague reminiscences of heroism and adventure. Here’s a short reminder of what really goes on out there. If you’re thinking about heading back out for another ice climbing trip this weekend, please refer to this mid week, and again on Friday afternoon.
Remember the screaming barfies?
Yup, they suck. For the uninitiated, that’s the nauseating, burning sensation of rewarming your hands. Typically your day goes like this: coffee, breakfast, drive, hike, belay, screaming barfies, then you get to climb and rewarm your hands … again. Contrast with: coffee, breakfast, drive, skin, take your skins off, hang out, then giggle your way down the mountain floating on powder.
The most common tangles:
1) Ice screws and slings, and for the mixed climber, hooks and, well, everything.
2) Leashless ice tools and slings, cinch cords, branches and your climbing partner.
3) Ice clippers—you know those little plastic carabiners that are great for carrying ice screws?—I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to leave a belay, exit a chimney, whatever, when I’ve still had the lead line clipped into my hip.
4) Half ropes. I love them, I do. But let’s be honest—a single rope is a lot simpler.
Sh*t falls from the sky
My friend Kevin and I were doing a route on Cathedral Ledge, easily visible from the ground, when my wife and our non-ice-climbing-rock-climber-friend, Jordan, walked by. Just then Kevin kicked off a fairly massive hanging icicle. We all watched, unfazed, while it did its thing, breaking branches and crashing into the snowy ground 150 feet below. Jordan, somewhat amazed, asked, “Does that happen all the time?” To which my wife replied, “Well, yeah.”
Taking your gear for a walk
Tired of the old, easy access, popular routes? Well it’s time to get out in the backcountry then. Pack a good lunch, your axes, your crampons, your shovel, your harness, your probe, your beacon, your helmet, maybe some skis, ski poles, ice screws, slings, quickdraws, carabiners, a rock rack, some pins, some hooks, some of your partner’s silly huge Screamers from the 90’s, a belay jacket, a map and compass, a GPS, a headlight and whatever else you like and head out on the trail. Easy as that! No really, it probably is that easy because chances are you not going to find any ice, but at least you’ve already broken trail for the way out.
Here’s a good example. It’s a cold morning, you get to your route and it’s in great shape. You’re psyched. You get right on it, climb a few feet and put in a screw. The ice is reverberating like a drum, you look up, muscles tensing, and as your next swing makes contact with the ice, a vibrating crack shoots out from your pick like cold lightening; you feel it run. What does it mean? Is the whole thing about to fall down? Did you just release the tension and now it’s good to go? Is it a hint of what’s to come higher on the pitch? What would John Bouchard do? … actually never mind. Should you have waited to go climbing until the mercury was above 65? Should you have studied harder in math class or just gotten that job on the city? What are you doing here with this crazy person anyway and why are you up here and they’re down there? Boy, a hamburger sure sounds good, pizza, too ... and puppies. God I love puppies.
If you STILL want to go ice climbing, well, you can shop our ice climbing gear here.
Photos by Louis Arevalo.