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What makes ice climbing hard?
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Dec 5, 2012
It's fun. Try it. If you don't like it, don't do it. It's not that it's particularly harder or easier than rock, because that's relative to the grades you climb in either.

I think it's hard for most people because when we got up our first pitch of ice on borrowed gear we realized how friggin' much money we were going to want to spend.
Tony T.
From Denver, CO
Joined Jul 29, 2009
10 points
Dec 25, 2012
It's all about the pain and discomfort. Ice climbing and alpine climbing in my opinion is mainly about pain management. Or dealing with the discomfort. Most of the time you're cold, wet, scared, hungry, thirsty, stuck at the belay stomping your feet to keep the blood flowing in your toes (if the belay position allows you to move). With that comes a bigger, deeper experience. There's more on the line, so the payoff is better. I'm with Ben - all my stress from the daily grind melts away more so than when I rock climb. I am 100 percent in the moment while ice climbing. And I love when those moments stretch out to a fifteen hour day hiking or skiing a couple hours up river in a canyon, startling bighorn sheep early morning, climbing multiple pitches, rapping down in the dark, and heading out- headlamps lighting the way.

Yeah, got a little carried away there. I've been rock climbing around 20 years and ice climbing about the past 5 years now. Liked ice better immediately. Harder? Maybe not technically, but a way better experience in my opinion. And the cost issue. If you rock climb and have all that gear, you have a great start on what you'll need. Nut up and pay the price! You'll be happy you did.
Dave Lynch
From Waseca, MN
Joined Nov 17, 2009
70 points
Dec 25, 2012
Rock Climbing Photo: Ha!

Rock Climbing Photo: Ha,ha,ha!

Rock Climbing Photo: Straight over the 8'roof..Aaahahahah! It's easy, s...
Straight over the 8'roof..Aaahahahah! It's easy, sooo easy :) Try it, you won't be disappointed.
Keith Noback
Joined Jan 21, 2009
0 points
Dec 25, 2012
Just got back from ice climbing, had the whole place to myself. What makes it hard, is like someone said already. How to keep your belayer comfortable. In my case it's my wife. It's taken years for us to figure out how the both of our bodies react to different weather, and temps. Try not to sweat to much on the approach, take an extra shirt, gloves, hat, etc... Hot coffee in a thermos, and some double chocolate vodka works for us. Good luck. England
From ?
Joined Aug 26, 2008
120 points
Dec 27, 2012
Someone in this string said something about high chance of being injured falling 10' on ice. The American College of Orthopaedic Surgeons compiled data of ice climbing accidents (lead falls) and concluded if the leader falls only 3' on 70 degree ice (+/-), there is a 90% chance of a bad ankle sprain. If the fall is 6' (+/-), there is a 90% of a very bad ankle sprain &/or break.

A few commented on the "sharpies" around you (crampons, etc.). I'll put it this way: an ice climber is a box of razor blades. Crampons that don't/shouldn't come off your boots (unless improperly attached & if they do you have a range of other problems), ice screws of different length (rather close to a lot of arteries, & other vitals etc.), and ice tools (if leashes opposed to leash-less tools)....then they are attached to the climber as well. Now, imagine jumping off a moderately steep ice route and falling, bouncing, rolling, launching only 10 to 20 feet. Sounds fun? Seasoned ice climbers often have nicked or scarred faces from brittle ice hitting them, even from swinging the tool let alone any coming down from above. (Don't let me forget to mention something about the bad juju when the leader drops an unleashed tool or ice screws on to the belayer (who shouldn't be belaying under the leader anyway, unless no other place to do so).

Emphasis here: ICE CONDITIONS CAN CHANGE ON THE SAME ROUTE IN A SHORT TIME, SOMETIMES MINUTES IF THE SUN IS AT THE RIGHT (OR WRONG) ANGLE, THE ICE SCREWS YOU JUST DRILLED IN START TO MELT OUT CUZ THE METAL IS EXPOSED TO THE SUN WHICH JUST BROKE THRU THE CLOUDS, ENDLESS VARIATIONS OF THIS ETC. Last I checked, rock doesn't do this. (To prevent screws from melting out under warm and/or sunny conditions, pack a handful or two of ice over the screw hanger. Actually works more than one might think).

The belayer is also at risk but of different sorts. I'd rather get hit in the face (but not really) by a dropped #100 Cam than a 22 cm ice screw, razor sharp. Oh, and then there's the possibility (not far fetched) that a rope is going to get, at a minimum, partially or completely (but the latter is rare) cut by certain types of falling ice. The best way to cut a rope (even partially) however is to put a front point of a crampon or an ice tool into it. There is not an expert climber I know that hasn't done this. A loop in the rope and the seconding climber kicks his/her crampon. Oooopps. Or, similarly, the ice tool deadpoints the lead rope, clean thru, or nicks it. And the argument that that's the reason to climb on doubles (I twin or single it but that's just my preference) doesn't hold much water.....or ice....with me cuz if one's cut (on a multi pitch route), that changes the game a bit (esp. getting down). Sometimes I use doubles, depending on the route, however, it's alot of rope management in a cold environment; very different than on the rock.

Did I forget to say something about heavily iced up ropes not working with the belay device you are accustomed to using on the rock? And the fun of managing an icy rope with wet and/or iced up gloves? Yippeeee....can't get enough of it. I heard that rapping down on icy ropes was going to be an Olympic sport but they decided to make it an XXXXX Game instead. Wise decision.

And if you can't walk off the route, then you go down it. For those unhappy about the prospects when looking down, they age abt 5 years (+/-) when rappelling off 8ml cord (called "V threads") drilled into the ice, and/or expensive ice screws. If you don't have enough to get down, you are, well, "ice screwed". Down climbing ice can be uber dangerous, (as can rock be, granted). But it qualifies you for the national bobsled team, you can't use a sled and there is a giant cheese grater waiting for you at the end of the ride.

The belayer is often freezing while the leader is pumped and sweating. Change leads and repeat. And then repeat, then repeat. Then sell your outrageously expensive ice climbing gear because you were so frightened (been there). (But for those of us who got hooked on ice climbing, well, it's tougher than heroin (so I hear) to kick. Once you're "in" and getting even moderately good, there's no "getting out" of ice climbing. Then, you'll sell your rock gear to buy more ice gear.

Can't help but comment on the comments (many) abt "kicking your crampons into the ice". "Kicking" is mostly old-school. Modern, super difficult ice climbing is about PLACING your crampon front points (dual or mono) onto an ice feature and making your move. "Kicking" wears out your legs, may crack ice around you (esp. on pillars) and worse, it's bad technique. Most think that kicking means to kick your toes straight. Not so. You need to learn to kick your foot/crampons at an "upward" angle so that the front points engage properly. Look at a pair next time in the shop or online....the points have a downward direction. So to kick (or place) it properly, your heel should end up lower than your toes, i.e., like doing calf raises when exercising. Now, with heels DOWN, you now are setting yourself up nicely to RAISE up on them when moving upwards. It also lessens the "sewing machine" leg pump (that some here underestimate). If you kick your front points straight in and THEN lower your heels, you just cracked or weakened your tiny toe hold. To place/kick crampons properly takes a lot of practice, often years.

When asked about rock climbing v. ice climbing, I say: "They are exactly the same only different".


Whether a rock or ice climber of any caliber, check out this video clip from Will Gadd's site. Scroll down just a bit where you see a window of a guy with a green shell (you will see a video clip icon). The clip is 14 minutes long and it will grow hair on a watermelon watching it. Big time HURT (it's hard to a horror movie....which it is) but an important learning experience. Yeah, a guy takes a super bad fall (and unbelievably, lives) in New Hampshire and the video is the real deal. However, all of what happened is dissected by a lot of pro climbers inc. docs, etc. To his credit, the injured guy stepped up to the plate and helped the film professionals with commentary. (The belayer on the other hand should be banned forever climbing? No, banned from doing ANYTHING. Keep an eye on him, his gear, what he says, etc. and see what not to do).

The blog on Gadd's site, just below the video clip is worth reading, ice climber or not. Every time I watch it I learn or think about something I didn't see the first time I saw it. I've climbed ice for over 30 years (rock for 40+) and sometimes when watching it, I think I've never ice climbed. Watch the video clip, read the blog.


Ice climbing v. rock climbing? One could argue they are different sports.

Ice climbing is a fantastically fun, dialed-in, body & head game but my advice is always take a class and/or hire a guide if you haven't done it. Always. Don't just buy or rent some gear, watch a few You Tube vid clips and you're ready to go. Put your ego aside....I did (was hard and that was a long time ago when pro ice climbers were not many) and do it right. If you have a friend that will teach you, he/she better be damn good, real good...and not at just ice climbing but in TEACHING ice climbing.

Be safe. Have fun. Levitate in joy.
Joined Dec 14, 2012
0 points
Dec 27, 2012
P.S. to my long comment above (from Warren Robbins).

I'm often asked whether the video clip I refer to from Will Gadd's site a re-creation of the fall or real footage?

Answer: it's real. For that extra "feel it" bonus when you watch it from your couch, put your boots and crampons on, harness & about 10 ice screws (22's to stubbies adds to the "full rack" tension of the vid clip experience) and cinch those wrist leashes down. If you have leashless tools, then grab some duct tape from the garage and strap those puppies on. Now you're ready. You can wear a helmet if you like...won't hurt.

(On the serious side, even though the guy lives & recovers, if your significant other or loved ones, including your pets, sweats it out every time you go ice climbing, I strongly suggest you grab your laptop and head for a locked closet and watch it by yourself. Still keep your gear on though.)

While I'm here, I have to add that Dave Lynch's comment earlier in this string re: the unexplainable joy of ice climbing is perfect......he knows the feeling.
Joined Dec 14, 2012
0 points
Dec 28, 2012
Can't help from adding a few more comments. (After all, Mark Twain said "Why say in 100 words what you can with 1,000?). Apologies for not using the quote format..

I'm done after this....I promise...

Below these comments I've included the Canadian Rockies WI ("Water Ice" as opposed to AI - "Alpine Ice") ranking system. This might help tune up - or toss out - the opinions of those comparing rock climbing difficulties to ice. I think most experienced ice climbers wouldn't bother with that discussion (however, it's understandable why one would ask for this comparison). But the biggest reason to read the rating system is to put into perspective those commenters who claim that "WI grade such and such" is easy, etc. This is Bovine Scatology.

1. The "screaming barfies" was mentioned several times (but not defined) and obviously the commenters have experienced it. For those of you who haven't, it's this: When your near-frozen hands and fingers (at the point where you virtually can't feel them but not frostbite stage) start to warm up, the blood rushes back in and you literally scream and I mean scream....AND (this is the best part).....barf. Google it. You Tube even has some clips. Tip: don't get it on the ropes, clothes, etc. and if you're belaying (where it usually happens cuz you aren't moving) a second or two seconds, do NOT barf on your partner(s). Or on the ice. No one is interested in your used corn chowder. I've been at both ends and I think I still have it on me.

2. SAM LIGHTNER said several times: "You cannot fall." Given the string, some may have read his important comment as "you cannot fall because you have sharp tools so you can do whatever you like so it's impossible to fall". That is NOT how his comment should be read. He means you 'BETTER NOT' fall. Translation: you CANNOT FALL or you're going to get hurt. There is not an ice climbing instruction or guide book in the world (I think I have every one....maybe not Sudan's yet) that does not have Sam's comment laced throughout the book. 'Never fall ice climbing'. Enough knowledgeable people in this string have said as much. Sam and they are right. Sam's examples of run-out pitches is from someone who knows what he's doing; gems of wisdom & experience there. Well said.

BTW, one does not take a "whipper" when falling on ice, rather, it's a "ripper" and it rips everything.

3. DANNY UNCANNY'S one liner is perfect:

"Imagine doing chin ups on the easy jugs on a hang board, but after every chin up you have to grab a hammer and nail the hang board back onto the wall or it will fall off".

Absolute classic line cuz it's true. But he could have said it in 500 words.

4. Regarding placing an ice screw only to have it spout water may give some readers the wrong impression in that it happens a lot. This is probably a mistake on the climber's part (altho I don't know the specifics so apologies in advance). As he describes it, he places (on his first lead ever - good for him!) a screw and out comes water. If that's what happened, regardless of whether it's even a 22 cm (the longest), and he got water spurting into his jacket then he should have heard the water running behind the ice (w/o my knowing more abt this situation). This means he was on un-bonded ice (pulled away from what was behind it, probably rock), an extremely dangerous situation because it could collapse (if the unbonded part were of any size, say "body" size) and suck a lead climber in between the ice and rock. It's not so much of a problem if you're seconding (cuz w/luck, you can be pulled out, however, it's still something to avoid). When that happens, the person is usually killed due to hypothermia or drowning; give them 20 minutes if ice cold water, drowning less time..and that's it. Rescuers simply cannot get to that person in time....very rare...and it takes many rescuers. The "hole" they get sucked in to when the ice gives is really only a tight space (wedged) between the rock & ice, otherwise, it might be possible to use the lead rope to pull them out. Doesn't work that way. I've only seen one come out alive of such a wedge and he was washed under the ice about 20+ feet (vertical). It's worse than an avalanche rescue because you can usually hear the person, if not see them. Horrifying.

If at all possible, stay away from ice & running water. Then there's this axiom: "Training is learning the rules, experience is learning the exceptions".

This is part of the ice climbing experience: experience. But like rock, we're all still learning, no matter how good we or others think we are.

5. You can tell that the BOZEMAN, Montana commenters know what they are talking about! They live (probably less than 2 blocks from Conrad) 2+ hours of some of the best ice climbing in the U.S. (Hyalite Canyon). If you add convenience, it's probably the best in the world. The Bozeman guys here say, among other things, "Ice climbing is hard cuz it's scary". Precisely. But don't let the fright stop you.....learn to control it over time, just as in rock climbing....and the money you spend won't be for naught.

6. Re: Will Gadd. He's arguably one of the best all around athletes there is. He is good at everything and he's in to everything. Google again. He's a national champion paraglider, among a zillion other things. So when he's quoted as putting ice climbing at 17 yrs old into the context of it not being hard, well, anyone who knows Will would have a hard time believing he said that. If so, I'm sure it was his usual mellow, joking around self. But he does make it look easy does he not? E...gadds.

Will could have excelled at any sport(s) of his choice right out of the womb.

7. Regarding Will's rating of WI 10 (skipping over 8 & 9), to fully understand what happened, one has to read the history behind it, inc. his and Tim Emmett's comments about how they didn't know how to rank what is really a freak of ice climbing (spray ice in a cave). And only those two and a handful of friends are probably the only Immortals capable of doing it. It was also pre-bolted; no pro on lead, so in that regard, it's hard to compare it to anything (by their own words). For those interested, Google "Will Gadd spray ice" and you'll find it. No doubt, mesmerizing if not hypnotic.

Will has done only a few WI climbs that he would rate 7s, inc. his new 7+ in Norway. Two Austrians put up almost a 1,000 ft route and rated it 7+ (but not all moves were 7+).

There should be a Gadd/Emmett (& friends) scale, separate from WI, AI, M, etc.

8. Several (inc. the above commenter) said that WI 4/5/6 "isn't challenging". Anyone saying that should put that into perspective w/Will saying he's only done a few 7's. The leap from an "unchallenging" WI6 to Gadd's "a few" 7's doesn't pencil. Sorry for the news & sorry if this sounds arrogant. There are a number of people in this string trying to share info & ask good questions; for the ice new-folks or hopefuls, let's all encourage them to get into it (but safely). Ice climbing is NOT a death trap but leading them w/distorted info serves no purpose.

For the newbies, pay attention to those who write about their Zen-like experiences, focus, challenge, etc as well as the reasonably stated, sensible safety comments.

9. BEN said: "....when I shit myself from being scared". Exactly. This is the reason you bring your cell phone. When scared into a head space you deem unrecognizable, place a screw, clip in, whip out your cell phone (if you take it with - I don't) & call your stock broker (if you have one; I don't). Instruct him/her to buy 100,000 shares of Kimberly-Clark (they make "Depends", you know, for the incontinent) cuz it's about to go up in value while you might go DOWN in value, shitting all the way.

10. KEITH NOBACK'S photos are superb...fantastic. Now, "think" your way up the routes. Where would you go? Pull that roof? Or step onto the free-hanging pillars? How would you feel if they flex...creak....or break off? (I think I know where he went but not sure). How about the first pic: how would you feel simply scrambling around under the "Death Daggers"? (They do cuz they know what they're doing and in spades). Is the yellow-ish ice color important? Answer: yes (but ask Keith...he's got the tip dialed). Is the color of any ice important? Very important. Experience, but keep at'll be there.

11. The Canadian Rockies rating system is found below: (hmmmm....I don't see anything above a 7 rating. Where could the "10" be?

If the Canadian's say that a 7 does not exist in Canada, unquestionably the best and most difficult ice climbing in the world, well, that sort of puts a "6" (even 5) in perspective.

CRAIG LEUBBEN, author of "How to Climb Ice", considered to be one of the better "how to" books (& widely available) said it perfectly: "If you think ice climbing is scary, insecure, and dangerous, then it is."

Tragically but not necessarily ironic, Craig was killed in 2009 while ice climbing in the Cascades. If you want the details, you can find out. It was bad.

Canadian Rockies ice climbing rating system: (1 meter = 3.3 ft (roughly)

WI2 - Low-angled (60 degree consistent ice), with good technique can be easily climbed with one ice axe. Grades beyond this generally require the use of two ice tools.

WI3 - Generally sustained in the 60-70 degree range with occasional near-vertical steps up to 4 meters.

WI4 - Near-vertical steps of up to 10 meters, generally sustained climbing requiring placing protection screws from strenuous stances.

WI4+ - Highly technical WI4.

WI5 - Near-vertical or vertical steps of up to 20 meters, sustained climbing requiring placing multiple protection screws from strenuous stances with few good rests.

WI5+ - Highly technical WI5.

WI6 - Vertical climbing for the entire pitch (e.g. 30–60 meters) with no rests. Requires excellent technique and/or a high level of fitness.

WI6+ - Vertical or overhanging with no rests, and highly technical WI6.

WI7 - Sustained and overhanging with no rests. Extremely rare, near-mythical, and widely accepted testpiece examples of this grade don't exist in the Canadian Rockies.


Have fun.....
Joined Dec 14, 2012
0 points
Dec 28, 2012
Warren, thanks for the Twainian essay. You did a great job of painting a picture of a scared-shitless yet dialed-in experience. Living in NC, I don't think I'll be getting on ice any time soon... although perhaps someday. sanz
From Raleigh, NC
Joined Nov 7, 2011
185 points
Dec 28, 2012
IME most any solid 5.10 rock climber can TR short stretches of vertical ice on their first or second day. So it's easy, right? People fall off when they get so pumped - or are so off balance while they're swinging - that they can't take the time to get good tool sticks. They start to move up and the poorly placed tool pops out. In leashless climbing, climbers can easily reach a point when their grip fails and they simply can't hold onto the tool any longer. Beginners often climb with their feet too close together, with the arms spread wide (body in a T shape). Removing one tool then produces a very predictable barn door action and they're off. Gunkiemike
Joined Jul 29, 2009
1,725 points
Dec 28, 2012
Sanz, thanks for your comments but the credit goes to YOU! You started it all with good questions and everyone's comments, wrapped together, is a Leubben-approved nugget.

I felt guilty and still do about taking off on a long trip of comments. Apologies to all.

Though sentenced to NC, it seems you have a nagging interest in ice climbing. Actually, you're not so far from it and besides, the good "how to" books as well as video clips on the net can get you started insofar as getting in good shape as well as learning to make some types of moves that you would use on ice. It's easy to build a climbing wall in your house....or your neighbors. Keep at it and let the group know how you're doing.

I agree with everything that GUNKIEMIKE says. Any ice climber that climbs anything difficult (or even easier stuff) knows this (and GUNKIEMIKE says it too): one can be cruising along thinking things are fine and within 10-20 (?) feet after having gone a ways, your grip quickly starts loosening and no matter how hard you say to your hands "stop doing that!!" or you dig deep and re-grip, your forearms are ready for the barbecue and your fingers open up, uncontrollably. Then you wish Will Gadd were around with his paraglider to rescue you cuz you're coming off. (There are things you can do to prevent that "barn dooming" MIKE talks about and even prevent a fall but you need to act quick).

The head trip of ice is no different than rock except for, in my opinion, the objective hazards which are enough to keep people away from the ice, understandably. But if you smell an interest in it, at least go try it. Ice climbing instructors/guides tend to be super friendly, patient and safe. Different from rock instruction, they are teaching in a cold environment and that ups the "be patient" factor for the instructors. My experience in this scenario is such that most newbies to ice, or even experienced rock climbers will walk away from the even first day of instruction and say "WOW!!!!!!!!!!".

At a minimum, just a few classes will help you more appreciate movies of the climbing genre (although there are not many good ones; others in the works though). "Touching the Void", as well as Joe Simpson's You Tube, 8 - episode re-creation of the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger and the German film "The North Face"; a few others. It will also help you avoid the many bad ones.

Go do it.
Joined Dec 14, 2012
0 points

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