Urbanity on Ice

Two Ways to Climb
  |  Gorp.com
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We've been offered a choice of two techniques, alternating or parallel. Just as their names describe, alternating means you set the ax with on the right and step up on the left; parallel means you set both axes, then step with both feet. I find myself naturally going parallel. Soon there's a rhythm to it. Whack, whack! Kick, step, kick, step. Whack, whack! Kick, step, kick, step. Whack, whoops! Suddenly the ax won't bite. The ice has changed color. Less white, more blueish/clear and gleaming. A hard spot. More snap is needed. The idea is to let the ax head back by bending the elbow (not reaching back as if to throw a ball), then snapping forward. With more snap, the ax sets.

After the angled shelf I start to ache. Not in the legs or back as I might have expected, but in the hands. Experienced climbers utilize leg strength. Novices tend to rely on the hands. I'm pulling with my hands, and death-gripping the axes when setting a footfall. Now, all I can feel is hand pain.

Don't Look Down

"I need a time-out," I call to Claude, turning my head to look down at him. Big mistake. I may only be 50 or 60 feet up, but it's too much. I quickly turn and face the ice. The ice, I repeat mantra-style, is my friend.

After a few beats rest, I begin again.This is the steepest part, although not nearly purely vertical.I re-establish my rhythm. I rise beyond the shelf, skirt the ice-free dry spot, and make my waddling way towards the screws. About six feet shy of the mark, I catch my breath. Then I go for it. Three more whack-whacks, step-steps and I'm there! Claude yells "Bravo!" I look down in triumph, forgetting my vertigo. No matter. Victory vanquishes vertigo. Now all I've have to do is figure out how to get out of here.


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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