Ice climbing to me was always one of those sports that seemed out of reach. I’m not sure if it was the stigma, the price of equipment, or the simple idea of climbing up a sheer wall of ice up to thousands of feet tall. Either way, experiencing it pretty much shattered any preconceptions I had previously had.
When registering for courses for the Spring I realized I needed another ‘activity’ in order to graduate. I was pleasantly surprised that Ice Climbing was being offered, and was the first to sign up. After a brief meeting in the Red Barn (our on-campus climbing gym) we met on friday afternoon to head to the Adirondaks. Only four souls were brave enough to embark on this journey, which was very nice. Along with our instructor and a TA (my age), there were six of us total.
I was pretty psyched the whole way up, about five hours from Rochester. We stayed at a ski shop in their bunks downstairs and got up early on Saturday for a day’s climbing. Our first wall was down into a canyon from the outlet of Chapel Pond. Anybody familiar with my pics from hiking Giant will remember seeing this pond, very visible for most of the hike.
We briefly reviewed tying knots and belaying basics, and George (the TA) scrambled up around the wall to set up the top rope. We waited (im)patiently for them to come back so we could start.
I was naturally the first to volunteer to go, and started making my way up the choppy middle section of the wall on the right. I progressed pretty well about 2/3 of the way up (guess I’m a natural) before my hands started getting really sore from gripping the ice axe so hard. Then I decided to go up the right side of the uppermost central rock face, and ended up falling after an axe placement slipped. After a 50 foot fall or so I brushed myself off and went back at it. Good ol’ combat roll at the bottom saved me from injury.
Haha, ok so of course when you fall the rope simply tightens and your belayer (the person controlling the rope at the bottom, see my pics) catches you. Falling was still unacceptable to me and I went about 9-10 times before doing it again (incidentally on my last climb of the weekend). The next few climbs I made it to the top, taking just about every route I could.
The beauty of ice climbing is that you’re not restricted to finding holds in the wall like in rock climbing. You just pound your ice axes into the ice for handholds and kick your crampons (spikes sticking off your boots, they’re pretty badass) into the ice for footholds. This allows you to take just about any route to the top. Usually I just want to get to my destination when i’m in the woods (in the case the top of the wall) so I usually just head straight up. Either way, it’s extremely taxing on your upper body, especially your hands and arms. Come to think of it, it’d be a really fun yet effective method of working out. Sweet.
I had taken an outdoor rock climbing class a couple summers ago, long before this blog detailed my life’s story, and was quite unimpressed with my classmates. It was a similar trip, we went to Rattlesnake point to the west of Niagara Falls in Canada to do some climbing. They seemed mostly uninterested in climbing and I ended up doing by far the most. This time was different, though. There were only four of us and it was clear that we all enjoyed the outdoors and a challenge, not to mention handling standing around for hours at a time in sub-freezing temperatures. We all gave it a shot time and time again, which was admirable, especially at a nerd-filled school of engineers and techies like RIT.
The next day we spent climbing on Pitchoff Rock. Anybody who has driven into Keene from Lake Placid will have probably noticed this wall, it’s on the left side opposite of Cascade Lake. According
to Tony it’s one of, if not the most climbed wall in the Northeast. This is because of it’s accessibility and approachable dimensions. The ice here was even more beautiful than on saturday, esepcially because the sun was shining. However, the sun has a very dramatic and fast effect on ice, and after about a half-hour it was dripping pretty badly. The column especially was dripping pretty badly, and we joked (well half-joked) about kicking it right over when climbing. A column is simply a free-standing pillar of ice formed from a giant icicle, like at left. Here it was difficult to maintain your lateral balance on since it was so thin, and I ended up flailing my axe a few times to keep my balance. Overall it was pretty easy though. After a few climbs the ice started getting really soft and difficult to manage, and eventually I started pulling my axe right through the ice. This led to my second and last fall of the weekend, and I decided to call it a day due to fatigue and some serious soreness.
Afterwards we headed to the Noonmark diner for lunch and pie and then headed home to the sounds of NPR.
I’ve decided that ice climbing isn’t something I’m going to jump right into yet, as it’s still not as much fun as simply climbing mountains and is incredibly inexpensive. Rope, boots, carabiners, ice screws, ice axes, crampons, and belay devices will make you self-sufficient, to the cost of $1000+. However, I figure that once I start climbing peaks tall enough to be glaciated I’ll need this stuff anyway. All in due time.