Monday, March 10, 2014

And on Saturdays, we climb ice walls

This weekend, Sam and I went up to the Catskills for a lovely day of ice climbing. When booking the trip a couple of weeks ago, I was a little wary of the weather because it's been a pretty harsh winter, and the ice climbing trip guide explained we would be outside for 6 to 7 hours and to dress accordingly. As a non-skier or winter hiker, I didn't have adequate outer wear but fearful statements on the trip guide like "cotton kills" at least scared me enough to make an attempt to buy snow pants the day before. Turns out everyone is out of ski attire by March. As luck would have it though, this past Saturday was mild and sunny. I didn't even break out all of my layers (although I was at any given time still wearing about four of them).

A beautiful March day in the Catskills. 
After a couple of hours of driving from the city, we arrived at a small parking lot and met up with the rest of our mountain guides.  They outfitted us with helmets, crampons, ice axes, and mountaineering boots--really all the ingredients of a successful day of not falling off of mountains. The hike up to the ice fall that we would be climbing was a bit more treacherous than I would have thought. There was no trail, so we were basically just walking up a steep mountainside through a few feet of snow. The crampons helped for the most part to make me feel less like I was about to careen over the edge, but on some of the softer snow, my feet definitely sank down a ways. I guess this is where snow pants would have come in handy.
We didn't climb this, but isn't it beautiful? 
After about a half hour hike, we reached the day's ice climbing spot. One of the guides had run ahead and already anchored one of the ropes, and while they demonstrated how to ice climb, another guide was able to hang a few more. So by the time they'd gone over the basics, there were a number of courses all ready to climb.

Climbing an icy cliff, like a pro. Probably because this was one of the pros. 
This was my first time ice climbing, and I have to say, it's very different from rock climbing. I'm not sure if it's harder or not, but I will say being good at rock climbing doesn't really help you. When I rock climb, I tend to move faster as I get tired just to get through it. I also will jump for things and grab at holds I can't actually manage for every long. In ice climbing every step has to be deliberate, and you can't move on until you've firmly planted each limb. You anchor both axes (harder than the guides made it look!) and then you carefully move each foot up a little bit at a time and kick into the ice with the crampons.
This is me. Probably resting
The main thing that I found tiring about ice climbing, other than the forearm workout, was the grip strength. By the end of a climb, it was difficult to hold onto the axes, and I kept feeling like I was going to drop one. On the plus side, the climbs themselves did get slightly easier throughout the day because you could see where other climbers had made indentions in the ice and use those to plant your axes. Still not easy, but a little better.

While I was having issues with the technical aspects of ice climbing, Sam had the added bonus of facing his fear of heights. I'm lucky that he always is willing to go along on these little adventures, and luckier still that he doesn't have interests like caving that would exploit my own fears (claustrophobia).

You'd never know he's not a fan of heights.
Overall, it was a lovely day, and we both had a lot of fun. It's always nice to get out of the city, and the fact that we were gifted fine weather made it that much nicer. I'm not sure ice climbing will become a regular hobby for either of us (if for not other reason than because it's cost prohibitive), but it's always nice to try something new.
There's at least five layers in this photos. 


  1. This post did not make me want to try ice climbing! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. That's likely because you and Sam share a common fear.

  3. Susan, that's so cool! I'm proud of Sam for facing his fear. Ice climbing sounds exhausting, but good for you!! I didn't realize (or remember) that you were claustrophobic too, Susan! I am not a fan of enclosed spaces either. You're so adventurous so that makes me feel better. Maybe I can be too!!