Prep For Ice Climbing Season Like An Alpinist

***Editor's Note: Graham Zimmerman will be co-teaching a clinic at the Bozeman Ice Festival, which is Dec. 6-10, 2017 in Bozeman, MT. And it will likely be more fun than you've ever had on two tools!***

Let me start this out by stating that I absolutely love to ice and mixed climb. Every season as the temperatures start to drop, I daydream about hanging off of frozen bits of ice and rock. And I really do reckon that ascending frozen waterfalls, whether it be dangling pillars or blobs of frozen moss, is a wonderful thing to do. But it can also be scary, cold and occasionally, downright miserable.

Here are a few things about ice climbing I really DO NOT look forward too, and pro tips for making them much more survivable. When it comes down to it, ice climbing really is an amazing thing to do, and I would wholeheartedly encourage you to get involved.

1. Waking Up Before The Sun Does

Between the drive, the approach and the route itself, a day out ice climbing can take a long time during the shortest months of the year. More often than not, this means getting up at an unreasonable hour. Personally, I love getting my beauty sleep and getting up early is hard, but for ice climbing, it's often simply part of the game.

Tip: Pack your bag the night before and make a strong coffee that you can drink as soon as your alarm goes off. Faster caffination and less to do when you get out of bed can make these mornings much easier to deal with.

2. The Pump

It is inevitable, no matter how much I've been rock climbing and/or training, that when I get onto my first steep ice lead of the season I will get pumped. Something about hanging onto the same grip for a full pitch (even though the grip is huge) and being cold—and scared—combine to make sure that I overgrip and get terribly fatigued forearms. It can be super frustrating…  and what does this lead to, you might ask? (see #3).

Tip: Train on your ice tools before the season, and then when you're on that first pitch, remember to breathe, relax and shake out.

3. The Screaming Barfies

Many people who have not experienced the screaming barfies think it's just a weird, gross name. Those who have experienced it know it's a pretty amazing combination of wanting scream and—literally—vomit as your hands warm up after holding onto your tools too hard for too long. It's just as bad as it sounds, and it's a ubiquitous part of the ice climbing experience. We have all been there and will be there again. It’s terrible. The good news is that it does go away, and when it does you're left with a resounding feeling of euphoria as your hands are washed with an amazing feeling of warmth and blood flow.

Tip: Bring lots of gloves, keep your hands dry and relax on lead. Additionally, make sure your forearms have enough insulation (it will keep the blood flowing to your hands warmer which will make everything better).


Photos by Elise Giordano, John Price and Seth Langbauer.