Beginner Ice Climber Advice


Original Post
Dave Dillon · · Tewksbury · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 0

I'm an experienced 4 season hiker and I've dealt with a lot of cold steep snow climbs in New Hampshire's white mountains in the winter. I have experience hiking with a standard mountaineering ax above treeline in crampons.

That being said, the pursuit of a rush hasn't worn off. Ice climbing has fascinated me for years and I'd love to get into it. However, I'm a general climbing newbie and the extent of my climbing experiencing is top roping in a gym environment and easy bouldering outdoors.

Just wondering how realistic it might be for me to get on the ice? I plan on hiring one of the numerous guide services in NH this winter to take me out on a "ice climbing 101" type of course. I'm just wondering what I'll get out of that? How many beginner courses will I need before I can venture out on my own toprope trips? I don't lead on rock, is it still possible to lead ice? What is the minimum gear someone should own to get into the sport? (I currently have real mountaineering boots, a harness, belay device, carabiners, the basiscs...)

Sorry for the dummy questions. I'm just ambitious. Any advice is appreciated.

Zac St. Jules · · New Hampshire · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 1,013

Its not dumb, and its good of you to reach out.

I think youll find that most folks suggest leading on rock as being a prerequisite for leading on ice and most folks accept the standard of having 100 pitches of top roped ice before you lead (though its usually far less than that before folks actually lead).

The above treeline experience you have is helpful but moreso because you knwo how the cold effects your body and how to move on ice and snow. climbing waterfall ice and hiking above treeline share some similarities but they really are very different activities. I know you know that.

Go top rope a bunch of ice as long as you know how to set up a proper top rope anchor.

I guess id suggest getting more experience as a climber in general and hiring a guide for a day of climbing this winter. tell them you want to know how to set up anchors on trees/bolts/ice.

Mike Hasse · · Norwich, VT · Joined Nov 2010 · Points: 75

You'll get a lot out of guiding services here in NH. The vast majority of them are top notch. I'd also check out the Mt Washington Valley Ice Festival which usually takes place the first weekend in February. You can take discounted clinics from guides local and abroad, as well as demo new gear and generally hang out/get an idea of the local climbing scene. It's usually a lot of fun, and very worthwhile for a newbie.

frank minunni · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined May 2011 · Points: 36

Don't do it! You can only be two things while ice climbing: Freezing your ass off or scared shitless. Sometimes both at the same time.

Dave Dillon · · Tewksbury · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 0
frank minunni wrote:Don't do it! You can only be two things while ice climbing: Freezing your ass off or scared shitless. Sometimes both at the same time.
Ha! Well I freeze my ass off pretty regularly while winter hiking ;-) but I haven't often been Scared shitless on a trail. well... maybe on Mt. Washington in 50MPH winds wayyyy below zero.

Thanks for the comments everyone, really helpful stuff.!
Bill Kirby · · Baltimore Maryland · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 40

Hire a guide. You can see if you like it. Find out what gear you still need and learn where to go to top rope. If you enjoy ice climbing go out and buy the gear to do so. Go out a few days and run laps. Hire a guide again to teach you proper technique. Toprope a bunch more until you feel you could solo the pitch. When you're that confident you're ready to lead.

You could totally lead ice before rock I did. Just remember never fall leading ice..

Hit me up in February. I'll be in North Conway from the 1st to the 23th. I would be happy to take you out one day.

Bill Kirby · · Baltimore Maryland · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 40
frank minunni wrote:Don't do it! You can only be two things while ice climbing: Freezing your ass off or scared shitless. Sometimes both at the same time.
You scared shitless? Huh...
Dave Dillon · · Tewksbury · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 0
Bill Kirby wrote: Hire a guide. You can see if you like it. Find out what gear you still need and learn where to go to top rope. If you enjoy ice climbing go out and buy the gear to do so. Go out a few days and run laps. Hire a guide again to teach you proper technique. Toprope a bunch more until you feel you could solo the pitch. When you're that confident you're ready to lead. You could totally lead ice before rock I did. Just remember never fall leading ice.. Hit me up in February. I'll be in North Conway from the 1st to the 23th. I would be happy to take you out one day.
Hey Bill, Thanks for the advice! You'll definitely get a message from me in February.
frank minunni · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined May 2011 · Points: 36
Bill Kirby wrote: You scared shitless? Huh...
You betcha. Ice always made me nervous. Had a rather bad fall too...Broke my back in three places.

As I recall, it was cold too. So that made me cold, scared shitless and in pain. Not a good combination
Bill Kirby · · Baltimore Maryland · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 40
frank minunni wrote: You betcha. Ice always made me nervous. Had a rather bad fall too...Broke my back in three places. As I recall, it was cold too. So that made me cold, scared shitless and in pain. Not a good combination
First I find out something scares you and now something we have in common?

I broke my back and neck plus a few other bones MTBing. I overshot the landing, missed the turn after and rag dolled down some talus. Spent a week in the hospital, getting high and watching TV with a few surgeries throughout that time. Not to one up you but I wasnt scared when my broken sternum felt like collapsed lung, my hand was turned 90 degrees to the left. I was alone so all I could think about was finding someone before I bled out. I first time I felt scared was when the paramedics were shocked I walked and called a helicopter. The second time was when the doctor said if I hit a millimeter harder I would be in a wheelchair. Another millimeter and I would be dead. I wore armor that day because I never had ridden those trails. I used to never wear any pads cause it ain't cool.
frank minunni · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined May 2011 · Points: 36

Bill Kirby wrote: First I find out something scares you and now something we have in common?

How can that be? Run!!! The earth is spinning off its axis!
There's always something in common. Being human is a start. And while I've done a couple of bold routes from time to time, I never said I didn't get scared. I was scared quite a bit, even if I knew what I was getting myself into before hand.

Definitely an ouch on those injuries. Sorry to hear that. The healing is the hardest part.

RockinOut · · NY, NY · Joined May 2010 · Points: 0

Check out: North East Ice Thats an ICE climbing specific siteÂ…tons of ppl to help you out there.

Dave Dillon · · Tewksbury · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 0
RockinOut wrote:Check out: North East Ice Thats an ICE climbing specific siteÂ…tons of ppl to help you out there.
Thanks! I've been on NEIce but it's a little slow this time of year until the ice starts to really come in. I appreciate all of the advice! I think I'm going to take NortheastMountaineering's "accelerated ice climb" course which is 3 days long and covers a lot of ground including building ice anchors. Pretty Stoked!
JohnnyG · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 0
Dave Dillon wrote: Just wondering how realistic it might be for me to get on the ice? I plan on hiring one of the numerous guide services in NH this winter to take me out on a "ice climbing 101" type of course. I'm just wondering what I'll get out of that? How many beginner courses will I need before I can venture out on my own toprope trips? I don't lead on rock, is it still possible to lead ice? What is the minimum gear someone should own to get into the sport? (I currently have real mountaineering boots, a harness, belay device, carabiners, the basiscs...) Sorry for the dummy questions. I'm just ambitious. Any advice is appreciated.
1. totally realistic...in fact you have great experience because you know how to stay warm in the cold. you will learn a lot more about this.

2. you will get a ton out of an ice climbing 101 course. Definitely the most effective way to get into the sport. From there you will meet friends. But you will know the basics and know if your partner is good or not. Do your course early in the season so you can get a whole winter out of it.

3. not a problem that you don't lead on rock. Ice is easier to lead than rock. Don't shy from getting lots and lots of toprope practice. Beginners through elite climbers do toprope laps to get better.

4. Minimum gear- sounds like you have it to get started on the 101 course. From there you will know what to get next (but that will include crampons and tools). You might want to get gloves that are good for ice climbing before your trip (and bring warm mittens for keeping hands warm). You'll find tons of advice on gloves by searching Mtn project.

have fun! Climbing a frozen waterfall is one of the most beautiful things in the world.
Dave Dillon · · Tewksbury · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 0
JohnnyG wrote: 1. totally realistic...in fact you have great experience because you know how to stay warm in the cold. you will learn a lot more about this. 2. you will get a ton out of an ice climbing 101 course. Definitely the most effective way to get into the sport. From there you will meet friends. But you will know the basics and know if your partner is good or not. Do your course early in the season so you can get a whole winter out of it. 3. not a problem that you don't lead on rock. Ice is easier to lead than rock. Don't shy from getting lots and lots of toprope practice. Beginners through elite climbers do toprope laps to get better. 4. Minimum gear- sounds like you have it to get started on the 101 course. From there you will know what to get next (but that will include crampons and tools). You might want to get gloves that are good for ice climbing before your trip (and bring warm mittens for keeping hands warm). You'll find tons of advice on gloves by searching Mtn project. have fun! Climbing a frozen waterfall is one of the most beautiful things in the world.
Great advice, thanks! Yes I have a lot of experieince staying warm in the cold. I've experienced 40 below zero wind, had my eyelids freeze together... the whole bit. I think the difference with hiking is that I stay warm by continuing to move, generating heat. Climbing seems tough when you're sitting at a belay.

I actually do own proper boots and crampons. Scarpa Phantom Guides and BD Cyborgs. I use them for above treeline travel in the Northern Presi's on gnarley forecasted days.

Gloves and mittens I should have covered... several pairs, varying thicknesses and liners.

Thanks a lot, really looking forward to this ice season. Trying to choose a good week to take the 3 day course with NE Mountaineering. I'm guessing Jan/Feb is a good time for ice conditions?
Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 615

I personally don't agree with the "100 toprope pitches before you lead" thing. It's more about starting to lead when you feel comfortable and confident with proper ice technique. For me, it was after about 50 pitches. For others, it might be 200.

AThomas · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 0
JohnnyG wrote: 1. totally realistic...in fact you have great experience because you know how to stay warm in the cold. you will learn a lot more about this. 2. you will get a ton out of an ice climbing 101 course. Definitely the most effective way to get into the sport. From there you will meet friends. But you will know the basics and know if your partner is good or not. Do your course early in the season so you can get a whole winter out of it. 3. not a problem that you don't lead on rock. Ice is easier to lead than rock. Don't shy from getting lots and lots of toprope practice. Beginners through elite climbers do toprope laps to get better. 4. Minimum gear- sounds like you have it to get started on the 101 course. From there you will know what to get next (but that will include crampons and tools). You might want to get gloves that are good for ice climbing before your trip (and bring warm mittens for keeping hands warm). You'll find tons of advice on gloves by searching Mtn project. have fun! Climbing a frozen waterfall is one of the most beautiful things in the world.
Ice 101 isn't the most efficient way, but it's probably the most cost-effective. If you can afford it, hire a guide 1-on-1 or with one other person you'll get more out of it with a good guide. You should also look into making experienced friends, not the friends you'll make in a 101 course. ;-) Later on you can return the favor to newbies.

Definitely agree about doing it early in the season. Ideally, do an intro day and then some moderate multipitch with the guide. I bet you'll really dig the multipitch stuff with your snow slog background.

You could also learn to set up topropes, belay, build anchors, place protection, rope management, etc., now.
Dave Dillon · · Tewksbury · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 0
AThomas wrote: Ice 101 isn't the most efficient way, but it's probably the most cost-effective. If you can afford it, hire a guide 1-on-1 or with one other person you'll get more out of it with a good guide. You should also look into making experienced friends, not the friends you'll make in a 101 course. ;-) Later on you can return the favor to newbies. Definitely agree about doing it early in the season. Ideally, do an intro day and then some moderate multipitch with the guide. I bet you'll really dig the multipitch stuff with your snow slog background. You could also learn to set up topropes, belay, build anchors, place protection, rope management, etc., now.
Great stuff! How early is too early? I don't want to schedule a course and then have thin ice to work with. I know Black Dike on Cannon was climbed on October 20th but things have warmed up since then. Maybe Late December is a good time?

Honestly the whole reason I want to get into it is for multi-pitch gully climbs in New Hampshire! Think Pinnacle , shoestring, hancock, etc... Love the idea of topping out near a summit. Mixing hiking and climbing for some technical adventures.

I'd love to make some experienced friends... but I literally know no one who climbs (rock or ice). Maybe I'll just start lurking around Frankenstein cliffs asking people if they want to grab a beer.
CCChanceR Ronemus · · Bozeman, MT · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 0

What makes you say leading ice is easier than leading rock? I'd definitely disagree with that. Maybe ice climbing is physically easier than most rock, but there's a lot more at play, the protection is more difficult, and the consequences are definitely higher! Don't fall leading ice!

Muscrat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 3,040

How come no one has said the obvious?

CCChanceR Ronemus · · Bozeman, MT · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 0

Yer gunna die?

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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