Get A Grip
If winter has you climbing the walls, try this …
Open up winter’s freezer and step inside. There is plenty of ice of varying shapes, thicknesses and hues. Gaze upon brilliant blue or banal brown.
Ice climb on frozen waterfalls among the state’s cliffs, peaks and gullies. Strap on crampons and wield a sharp ice axe to scale magnificent formations.
“Ice climbing is cool, well, maybe even cold at times, but with the proper clothing and equipment it beats having cabin fever,” says veteran ice climbing guide Brad White, director of the International Mountain Climbing School in North Conway.
Ice climbing is an efficient, technical and precise activity. An appreciation for tools helps. That’s where a lesson comes in. Take one to be introduced to the world of carabineers, ropes, ice axes and fang-like crampons, and how to use them safely and correctly.
“The first and foremost thing is to have warm, functional clothing,” says White. “Modern clothing wicks moisture away from the body, keeping you dry, allows you to move freely, is windproof, water-resistant and keeps your core and extremities warm. Sometimes ski and snowboard clothing will work to get you started.”
White says basic gear for technical ice climbing starts with a good pair of warm and crampon-compatible double-plastic mountaineering boots. If you already rock climb you may have a harness, helmet, ropes and carabineers that can be used for ice climbing as well. You will need to add a pair of ice tools (one for each hand), ice protection (screws) and a good pair of technical crampons for your boots.
Now hit the ice.
Brad White is a White Mountain climbing icon. He took his first ice climbing lesson in 1975 at age 21 and has been hooked on ice and rock ever since. White’s passion for climbing has taken him around the world and he’s scaled major peaks. He’s now a family man and president/director of North Conway’s International Mountain Climbing School where he still takes novice ice climbers on their first climbs.
What kind of shape do I need to be in and how should I prepare for my first ice climb? The better physical shape you are in, the easier it is to get around in the deep snow and steep terrain. But there is ice climbing for all abilities and fitness levels so there is always something for everyone to try. Don’t let your lack of winter experience or fitness level deter you from at least trying. Show up on your first day with an open mind, ready to be challenged.
Is all ice the same? Unlike rock climbing, ice changes from day to day, week to week and year to year. One of the biggest things that affects ice is temperature. After all, if it is not cold enough it would not even exist at all. Overall, the colder it is the harder and more brittle the ice becomes, and the warmer it is the softer it becomes. This softer ice is sometimes referred to as “hero ice” as it is easier to climb. One of the exciting things about ice climbing is that things are always different every time you climb.
Where are some of the best ice climbing spots in New Hampshire? Some of the best are Frankenstein Cliffs in the Crawford Notch area, Mount Washington, the Mount Washington Valley (Cathedral Ledge) and Franconia Notch.
When is the ice climbing season? The season usually starts on Mount Washington in Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines around Thanksgiving and runs till around mid-April. The climbing at the lower elevations such as at Frankenstein Cliffs starts around the second week in December and ends around the third week of March.
What happens if I get tired? If you are taking a lesson with a climbing school your instructor will attempt to choose an appropriate level of climb and location for your first ice climb. You will be “on belay” and roped while you are climbing so you can hang on the rope to rest and either lower down or continue as you see fit.
What is the appeal of ice climbing? The appeal of ice climbing to me has always been the chance to physically challenge myself in a sometimes hostile winter environment. Sort of man against nature. Climbing ice enables you to challenge a lot of perceptions you may have had about what we often think is possible.
(See the Gear Box Photo Above)
Ice climbers want to feel secure on their feet. The La Sportiva Nepal EVO GTX (www.sportiva.com, $475) provides warmth, durability and support with a Gore-Tex lining.
Crampons take some getting used to and Black Diamond Sabretooth Pro Step-In crampons are good multi-purpose equipment (www.blackdiamondequipment.com, $169.95). They provide stability for fledging feet on ice. Ice climbing is also an upper-body workout with both hands using ice axes.
Swing through the various types of ice with the Petzl Quark Ice Axe (www.petzl.com, $285). Though before getting gear, be sure to pick your guide’s brain and demo the equipment. The Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival, February 5 to 7, is a good place to start.
Tuckerman Ravine, known as Mount Washington’s spring skiing mecca, is also a classic ice climbing spot.