An Ice Climbing Primer

New Routes Going Up
By Cameron M. Burns

Other difficult ice routes were climbed in subsequent decades in many areas of the continent.

The Canadian Rockies, Northern Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and of course, Colorado, saw their own areas develop and their own history being made. In the mid-1990s, ice climbing had a second revolution.

Climbers began seeking out not just ice to climb, but steep cliffs that offered the combined challenge of scaling sections of ice and exposed rock. While the term and sport of "mixed" climbing had been around for decades, the mid-1990s saw it develop into a complete sub-sport within the ice climbing world. And as the number of those taking on mixed routes increased, a new ratings system developed; now an "M" preceded a number grade, whereas previously the number grade was preceded by "WI" for "Water Ice," or by nothing at all.

The area around Vail, Colorado, saw some of the first hard mixed routes in the country, and once again, it was the innovative Jeff Lowe who helped usher in the new era. He did so by ascending a route called Octopussy, a climb that took him over rock as well as dangling icicles. Although it is not as obvious to the casual observer as the frozen waterfalls nearby, Lowe's route pointed the way to the future: devious lines that weave in and out of rock and ice terrain.

Today, dozens of ice climbers in hundreds of areas across the continent are seeking out these new, often devious lines, bringing their rock gear along for the ride. And the sport continues to grow.

Nevertheless, while the hardmen of a new generation gain headlines in the magazines by tackling mixed routes, it's important to remember that there are many straight ice climbs for those who want something challenging but more simple.

Heading Out and Up

Should you try ice climbing?

That's a question that requires many hours of deep soul-searching for an answer. However, a good rule of thumb is that if you're athletically inclined, enjoy rock climbing, and are masochistic enough to want to spend long hours partially frozen into the surface of the earth, then it's for you.

Ice climbing lessons are offered throughout the country and Canada, most provided by guide services. If equipment isn't provided as part of the lesson you can usually find it at the local climbing equipment shop. Check the listings for guide services in any of the outdoor magazines.

So, while ice might be for pouring whiskey on, as Patey noted, it also creates a challenging medium to climb.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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