Top ice climber Aaron Mulkey recently posted a video of an ice pillar collapsing next to him on a mixed route. Mulkey stressed that he was prepared for the pillar on a new route to collapse and had taken precautions. “I bolted this mixed route over a month ago and was pretty excited to get back to it before the avalanche risks both above and below became unmanageable,” he said.
“This route has a window of maybe a month to climb before it becomes nearly inaccessible and dangerous. As we rounded the corner and set our eyes on this gorgeous unclimbed ice and rock, I could already tell it had a very weak support structure holding thousands of pounds of ice hanging from above. The point where the pillar touched was very small in circumference, which means it could not easily support the weight above it.
“Even more important was the temperature, likely single digits, which makes ice incredibly brittle. With more snow in the forecast and the window of opportunity closing, I decided I was willing to risk the pillar potentially collapsing, because I had a plan for those things I was able to manage.” Watch the pillar collapse below.
Mulkey continued, “First, I did not plan to place screws into the pillar and felt comfortable climbing, given that the last bolt was about 10 feet to the side of pillar. This is very important. If the pillar collapsed while I was on it, the bolt to the right of it would take me out of the fall zone. Furthermore, we also had a plan for J. Keeler to safely belay me.
“Even though it’s tough to see in this video, he is tucked into a small alcove that would keep him safe from falling ice. In these situations, planning and communication is everything. We all discussed the risks and also talked about our safety plan. When the pillar collapsed, we could anticipate how the event would unfold, and no one was hurt. For anyone wondering, this ice is in a very remote area that has never seen climbers. It’s not close to a specific destination, and it is very unlikely that anyone else will visit it this season.”
Climbing ice daggers and pillars is risky and has led to a number of serious injuries and even deaths in the past. “I have learned how to control as many of the risks as possible by planning for the ‘what ifs’ and considering how to react to those unmanageable risks,” said Mulkey.
“We are all comfortable with different levels of risks and you should only push your comfort level when you have years of experience to back up those decisions. Listen to your instincts, not your ego. It’s also important to learn from others’ experiences, because they can help you to identify risks that you may not have known existed, and learn how to take proper precautions.”