Urbanity on Ice

Living Ice
  |  Gorp.com
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Why is the iced cliff before us called the Freezing Wall? Because the water on the wall is generated not by the falls, but by ground water that emerges in the cliff's face. Claude refers to this as"living ice." Its ongoing flow constantly fills any holes, cracks or fissures caused by man or thaw. It readily re-freezes, leaving a consistently fine climbing surface. (The opposite of living ice is not dead ice, but snow ice. Snow ice, dry and more snow-like in consistency, is less solid and prone to dropping large chunks when whacked with an ice ax.) The Freezing Wall holds many climbing routes, nearly each named. Climbing routes are number-graded by difficulty, one being the easiest, seven being the hardest, and eight being a climb that's mixed with rocks.

With the falls roaring postcard style in the background, Claude begins unloading equipment. Out of his bags come ropes, nylon straps, harnesses, carabineers, helmets, ice axes, crampons, and clothing. We select and fit helmets, which will protect us from any falling ice, and then are introduced to the crampons. Modern crampons, Claude relates, have the front-protruding "teeth" that allow the climber to kick straight into the ice. How much difference do these make? "The first ascent of this wall was twenty years ago," Claude says. "The climber, having no front crampons, had to dig footholds with the ice axe. It took him eight hours. Two years ago, someone climbed it in two and a half minutes."

Climbing with Crampons

Wearing crampons, you must walk with feet at shoulder width or, as Claude puts it, like you're carrying a load in your pants, lest you gore a calf or Achilles heel. Climbing, feet must be kept wide along the wall, or you'll kick yourself instead of the ice.

The axes have no-nonsense, curved and notched, tempered steel blades on one side of their heads, with straps to loop around your wrists. In each pair, one has a hammer head on its backside, the other a spade head. The spade and hammer are used to set steel screws in the wall onto which carabineers (metal rings) are clipped.Through those a belay (safety) rope is run. That's called"setting belay." Only experienced climbers set belay.

The nylon rope comes in 50-meter sections, which means that topmost belay stations can't be more than 50 meters up. If you're going higher, you climb in 50-meter sections, setting a secure belay (either with a triangle of screws connected with nylon strap, or by using a naturally stable object like a handy tree).


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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