The fantastical, wondrous world of ice climbing – How do I start?
If you’ve never climbed ice before then continue to read below.One question we often hear is, “Am I in good enough shape to ice climb?” Answer: YES! If you are able to walk up a ladder then you can ice climb. When you start, you can do it as intensely or casually as you like.Many climbing areas are a short walk from the road, and once you’re at the base of an ice fall, the day consists of hanging out with friends, making hot drinks, taking pictures and climbing as much as you wish.Beginner ice routes are less than vertical and normally 10-20 meters long. Much of the climbing consists of using your legs and balance (more on this below). For protection you are attached to a rope at all times and so are perfectly safe. You may also challenge yourself on steeper, harder, and more diverse ice routes.Specialized equipmentLike downhill skiing, ice climbing involves specialized equipment. At the most basic level your personal equipment includes mountaineering boots, crampons, harness, belay device, helmet and a pair of ice tools. One pair of ice tools can be shared between several people, but all other gear you’ll be wearing all day. It’s probably not worth purchasing this equipment at the start as it’s quite expensive. You can rent from a local outfit or store and borrow from friends. Or, if you sign-up for a formal ice climbing course then they should provide you with all the necessary gear.When you know you’re hooked then it’s worth purchasing your own equipment. Your biggest purchase is going to be boots. But having your own pair of boots is important as always renting boots that others have worn is not ideal – other folks sweat and foot fungi – Yuk! Actually it’s that a boot slowly molds to your foot and becomes personalized to you.Remember that your gear is there for your protection so you must learn the correct way to use it. With correct use, which comes from proper instruction, ice climbing is very safe. And conversely, incorrect use is dangerous.Staying warmIf you’re cold then you’re not going to have fun. Many ice climbing sites are in the shade and if you’re not climbing then you’re standing around. Having a thick, down jacket is key to staying warm at the base of an ice fall. Also, hot drinks are essential, so bring a quality thermos full of your favorite drink. A small insulate pad to sit on will also make for a more comfortable day.Learn to belayIt takes two to Tango. The same goes for ice climbing. You need one person to climb and one personal to give protection, known as belaying. Anybody can climb. But you must learn how to belay. It’s not hard, just requires some proper instruction and earnest application as the climbers life is literary in the belayer’s hands.Climbing etiquette says that after you climb you offer to give somebody else a belay. And, if you just belayed, then you have the right to climb and request a belay from someone else. If you can’t belay then eventually others may not want to climb with you anymore.Learn Proper TechniqueIce climbing is not like rock climbing. When you start it feels foreign and strange. You have to get used to balancing on and trusting small metal points stuck into the ice. The movement also doesn’t always feel natural to most folks at the beginning. I’ve seen folks who have climbed an entire winter and still climb like shit.Ice climbing is so much more fun if you take the time to learn the different techniques. This will enable you to climb more smoothly, with less effort, and climb more varied terrain. Climbing ice is tons of fun when you start to feel the flow.