re-sized ice climbing

Continuing the discussion on different climbing styles

It’s been a while since I started the climbing styles discussion (trad and sports), so time to add some more information. Please note that these ‘discussions’ are merely an introduction to various climbing stlyes not the bible. And now for the i‘s…

Indoor Climbing

Some would say that indoor climbing is ruining the sport of rock climbing, but as with everything, there is a time and a place for it, if only to get your initial rock climbing lessons. However, the tendency to become a little cocky on an indoor wall has been known, and seldom transfers with confidence to a real rock face!

There is a place for indoor climbing. Many people live in an inclement climate which prevents them from climbing outdoors as often as they wish. Equally many people find it difficult to find the time to go out rock climbing, but most people nowadays find time to go to a gym … and if you love rock climbing and there is a wall at your gym, then hey – why not?

In order to improve in any sport, consistent practice is crucial. With the advent of indoor climbing, weather, seasonal difficulties, and busy schedules are less of an obstacle to consistent improvement, and enjoyment of the sport.

The concept is simple: climbing walls, which can range from 14 thousand square feet to the size of a basement, are bolted with holds (points where the hands or feet can settle their weight in while climbing) and are located under a roof.

Because indoor climbing is in a controlled environment it is safer than climbing in the great outdoors, and although it may look easy as all the holds are easily distinguishable, it does offer different levels which you can try out and master. Despite the apparent uniformity from the ground, harder routes demand more effort and physical strength to be successfully scaled.

It is certain, though, that indoor climbing walls do not have the diversity of the real thing, nor the adrenaline buzz that you get from a real rock face. But for some, it’s better than nothing…


Ice Climbing

Ice climbing is self-explanatory – it’s all about ascending ice formations such as frozen waterfalls, icefalls and cliffs or rocks that have refrozen over.

Iceland Ice

There are two catagories of ice climbing: alpine ice and water ice.

Alpine ice, again self-explanatory, is in a mountain environment and is generally caused by precipitation. It is normally encountered on a summit attempt. Whereas water ice is caused by a frozen liquid flow of water and is found on cliffs or beneath water flows. Water ice is generally more technically challenging than Alpine ice.

Ice varies greatly in consistency according to weather conditions. It can be soft, hard, brittle or tough and the technical grade is independent of ice type. The strength of the ice is often surprising; even if the ice axe only goes in a centimeter or so it is enough to pull up on.

What you wear on your hands and feet is of vital importance for serious ice climbing. Your boots must be stiff enough to maintain ankle support and must be crampon compatible.  And your gloves will be of paramount importance. You ARE going to get cold, wet and numb! I have been told that the best are the GTX ones, but that they are pricey. If you can’t afford them then the next best thing to do is invest in the off brand pile gloves or wool gloves and carry multiple pairs. One that will get wet and one pair that will stay “dry” for belaying and standing around. Equally you could stock up with shells – the ones by OR are good and relatively affordable. Make sure you have yet another pair of warm, comfortable gloves for the way home.

Some important techniques and practices common in rock climbing (a discipline we are more familiar with) that are also employed in ice climbing include knowledge of rope systems, tying in, belaying, leading, abseiling, and lowering. However, there are other and different tools needed for ice climbing, amongst these are ice screws, ice axes/pick, a spike – important for balancing with the tool when you’re moving on low-angle ice, a hammerhead – allows you to pound pitons into the rock for protection, and an adze which can be helpful for chopping stances in alpine terrain and, of course, crampons.

One of the things that does make a difference in ice climbing is weight and balance – I have been told that this can make a difference to what tools you choose. Smaller climbers or those with less arm strength often prefer lighter tools whilst strong, confident climbers often prefer the weight of a heavy tool. More important than weight is balance. The tool’s balance point should be near its head so most of the energy of the swing goes into penetrating the ice.

If you are going to embark on an ice climbing career you must make sure that you are comfortable with the various tools. The best way to check this out is to attend an ice demo or festival where you can try out a variety of models bearing in mind that this is just a demo and does not give a full assessment of the tool’s performance.

I have given you the bare outlines of ice climbing here. I have not done it myself – though loving the cold as I do…hopefully it’s only a matter of time before I take on this challenge.

“Why ice climb? well apart from the fact that I get a huge buzz out of being scared shitless most of the time, its because its so so beautiful.” – Pete Atkinson

What further incentive could you possibly need?

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