Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ice Climbing

I took an ice climbing class from Colorado Mountain School on March 1st and 2nd. The first day we learned the basics of ice climbing. We drove to the Big Thompson falls East of Estes Park about 9 miles on Highway 34. After crossing the river and a one mile steep hike you come to a nice but short frozen water fall. The keys to ice climbing are to stick the front points of your crampons into the ice with your feet level. Keep your heels down. Don't move your feet at all once placed. Placing the ice tool is a bit art and science. You should try to find a slight depression in the ice. Swing your tool with assertion to produce a satisfying "thunk". If the ice "dinner plates", don't pick a new spot thinking the ice is bad. Swing your tool in exactly the same spot. You have removed the loose ice, so the second swing should seat nicely.

As in rock climbing, you should keep three points on the ice at all times. Tying a figure-eight follow through with gloves on is a new experience. There were five in our class the first day and we had fun climbing various routes on the ice. One in particular was an ice column. We learned how strong even a small amount of ice is. We learned how to create an Abalacov anchor by drilling a "V" in the ice with an ice screw. You need a short piece of wire to push a sling thru the corner of the V. Once the sling is thru, you can pair it with a carabiner to create the anchor. It is often used on rappels since a minimum of equipment is left behind.

The second day it was just Christiaan and I in the class with Bill. We went up to Rocky Mountain National Park to practice some vertical ice. The approach this day was much longer and the weather was much colder. We took turns climbing two different routes. On vertical ice it is much more important to keep your feet still. Once you lose footing it is hard to kick around and find another spot. You must get used to leaning back off the ice trusting your ice tools. This allows you to see your feet and find the next spot to front point. When placing an ice screw, you might be tempted to angle the ice screw down as you screw to create an angle. Research shows that a slightly upward angle is stronger since it is the first few threads that hold the load. A downward angle could chip away at the ice at the front. Ice screws are around $60 a piece, so this sport is not cheap (unless compared to snowmobiling :-) )