As the sport of ice climbing becomes more popular every year, climbers across Canada will spend much of the fall anticipating their first swings of the season.
The journey from your driveway to the crag takes a lot of planning, organization and patience. Below are 10 tips to get you to the crag safely, climb comfortably and home before dinner.
1. The Drive: Be sure your car has winter tires, an emergency kit, some extra food, chargers for your electronics and extra warm clothing. Be sure your headlights are in working order, you have a scraper for the windows and the fluids are topped up. Car troubles stop many climbing days before they get started.
2. The Energy: Whatever you like for breakfast, whether it’s eggs and bacon or berries and whole wheat, eat plenty of it. Hydrate, chug coffee and make sure you have calories in your system to burn. Hanging around on frozen ice all days burns those calories. Having energy will help you stay warm and climb better.
3. The Tools: You need the proper equipment for a day of ice climbing. Make sure your ice tools don’t have loose parts, the picks are as sharp as they can be and the grip tape is still grippy. Your crampons should also be sharp, in working order and fit the boot your brining out. If it’s your first year, stick with dual front-points to improve balance and penetration.
4. The Boots: If you’re going to commit to a season of ice climbing, invest it the proper boots. Old leather boots with holes or that don’t really fit will leave your dogs barking. A good double-boot or high-end leather should keep you warm and dry. Kicking with frozen toes stings.
5. The Protection: Forgetting ice screws, helmets, harnesses or quickdraws have forced more than one party to leave the ice flow. Double check your pack and confirm with your partner who is bringing what. Other things that are easy to forget are the V-thread tool and screw clips for your harness.
6. The Apparel: You’d be surprised how many climbers underdress for a day in the snow and freezing temperatures. For your bottoms, consider long johns, mid-layer and a shell if it’s going to be wet. If not, then a pair of long johns and a soft shell should be sufficient. For the top, a base layer, mid layer, soft-shell or fleece and a waterproof layer are all good to have.
7. The Gloves and Socks: You’ll need gloves or mitts for the approach, at the belay and for the climb. If it’s warm, then thin gloves work for the climb. The thinner they are, the less pumped you’ll get. But always have a nice warm pair for after the pitch. If you can, keep them warm in your chest pocket. Shake your arms out often to avoid the screaming barfies. Wear a high quality pair of socks to stay warm and bring an extra pair if you’re worried about them getting wet. Have some camp booties in the car for the end of the day drive home.
8. The Climbing: Ice climbing techniques are different than rock climbing. When you swing, start at your elbow and then flick your wrist. Keep you tools staggered, never side by side because ice breaks horizontally. Step up, keeping your feet wide apart and on the same plane. Get your feet nice and high and push with your legs. Watch more experienced climbers and practice, practice practice.
9. The Lowering: Either rack your ice tools, put them over your shoulders or hold on to them, but if someone is lowering you, keep them out of the ice. Walk yourself down while your being lowered, it’s tricky with crampons. If you’re rappelling, add two carabiners on your belay device to add friction against wet and skinny ropes. Go slow at first, bashing your knees off ice is the worst.
10. The Post-Day Cocktail: Once you get home, empty your bags and rack your gear to dry, including the ropes. Dry your socks and pull the liners from your boots and gloves (if they have them). Then pour yourself an end-of-day beer, juice or hot chocolate and make plans for the next day.