Ever since I have started to really get into hiking. A year or so ago I wanted to add more skills and sports related to the outdoors. I already have mountaineering all planned out (this weekend) so that led me to try ice climbing. The trip I did was through Adventure Spirit Guides . I was with my school (Champlain College) along with 6 other classmates.
The history of Ice climbing had its beginnings in European mountaineering. In 1908 the first significant progression happened when Oscar Eckenstein invented a type of toothed claw that attached to his boots. These were a very early version of a crampon.
Soon after in 1932 Laurent Grivel put front points on his crampons and this allowed much steeper ice to be climbed than ever before. The tools themselves also have a very special history. Ice axes used in ice climbing differ significantly than a standard ice axe . The left is an ice climbing axe and the right is a standard mountaineering axe.
The story goes that in 1966 Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia clothing) went to Europe to experiment with axes. He convinced the company Charlet to shorted the length of the axe (usually 65-70 cm) to 55cm and “reverse the curve of the pick.” This bold change was equal to that of the crampon and vertical ice could now be climbed much easier. Source: http://www.gorp.com/weekend-guide/travel-ta-ice-climbing-sidwcmdev_052804.html
The trip was organization through the Student Life Center at Champlain College. The great part about going through the college is they subsidize part of the trip. I only had to pay $20 and transportation was provided! That’s a pretty great deal. Everyone met around 8 a.m Sunday morning at the College and sized up boots and crampons. We set off soon after toward Smugglers Notch Resort. We drove as far as we could up route 108 near Smugglers Notch until the road was closed. Everyone gathered their gear and hiked about 3/4 of a mile up route 108.
We soon arrived at a spot up the road where we stopped to start our short hike up a hill to get to the ice climbing spot. Our guides Andy and Ansel showed us how to put on our harnesses correctly. We also put our crampons on to make the ascent up the steep hill easier and safer. Here is the view from where we stopped on the road.
After we made out trek up the hill to the ice. We stashed our bags under an overhanging rock. We started out with learning how to use the ice axes and getting familiar with them. Here is a shot of everyone’s first hack at the ice.
One of the guides said “the ice is like your canvas” he also said that ice climbing is one of the very few outdoor sports where it is okay to destroy what you are looking at. After having a chance at annihilating the ice we moved onto how to tie the knot that would be attached to our harness.
The knot we had to tie was a figure 8 follow through. This knot is a simple and reliable one that can be tied to a ring, carabiner or in our case the harness. It took a few tries to get the knot tied correctly, but after 15 minutes most people had the knot down. Here is the knot demonstrated.
The last and final piece of instruction was how to use a belay device. Belaying simply is the technique of applying friction on a climbing rope so the climber does not fall far. The actual belay device is very simple and looks like this.
These are all belay devices, there are different styles depending on preference and use. The act of belaying is a simple motion that over time becomes rhythmic. Here is a quick how-to video.
Belaying is an important skill that must be learned if you want to climb, because you are either climbing or belaying someone. After everyone learned this we were on to climbing. Before we started the guides set anchors at the top of the route for the ropes to go through. Here is the anchor point
For the first climb the guides said to go for it without any instruction. They said after everyone had a go at it with out instruction they would chime in and give pointers. It was more difficult than the guides made it look that’s for sure. With my first climb I noticed that getting the ice axes to place well was easy but getting the crampons to place was the difficult part. You have to find a small shelf in the ice or make your own by kicking into the ice. My feet were cold because I did not have thick enough socks on until later. With cold feet kicking into the ice was not the most pleasant feeling. Here are two of the routes we climbed.
After our first go at the climbing. The guides gave us a few tips that helped. The first tip was feet placement. Focus on your feet they said. You should be able to see your feet most of the time. If not you are stretching yourself out too much. They also mentioned the triangle stance. This is just as it sounds, you have your feet a bit wider than your shoulders and then you place one axe above you, finally pushing yourself up by your legs. Then you pull the lower axe out of the ice and place it higher than the other one you placed. Here is a link that explains it better: PDF write up of ice climbing technique
After trying out a few different routes and getting a hang of the different techniques and tools the guides set up a final route that was much more challenging than the other ones. Most of the group was tired and cold by then so there were only a few of us who wanted to try the route.
The route started out with a 6 foot tall wall of ice turning into a more gradual slope for about 20 feet. This is what it looked like
I was not the first to go but the person before me only made it about half way up before running out of steam. It was hard getting started up the vertical ice. I thought that part was hard, but the hard part was about halfway up the climb. The hard part involved climbing up a shelf and up another shelf where the ice was extremely smooth and hard to get the crampons into. Here is the spot
As you can see in the picture the rope is attached to a carabiner which is attached to the ice. I had to go and un-attach the rope from that carabiner before I could climb higher. A video was shot of me doing this and then proceeding up the most difficult part of the climb. It is 6 minutes long, sorry!
When I reached this point I was pretty tired. This is a sport that takes every muscle in your body, you have no choice around it. Even though you are suppose to use mostly your legs to push yourself upward it still takes all of the other muscles. Even though I am in decent shape and I most certainly felt it later in the evening.
I did fall once which was a little hair raising even though I was attached to a rope. I could not get my feet planted in the ice so I slipped and the rope caught me. At that point I was ready to give up. You can hear people in the video telling me to keep going. I found one last burst of energy and got up over the hump. It was a great feeling but would not be fully realized until I reached the Burch tree that the rope was anchored to. It was a great feeling not giving up at the halfway point and made me want to do this again. After I repelled down I was not cold anymore and felt the adrenaline pumping. I was actually shaking quite a bit, but it felt great and I was very happy with myself.
After I completed the climb another student was also able to complete the climb, almost quitting in the same spot that gave me trouble. That was the last climbing of the day. We packed our bags us and took our crampons off for a little fun to end the day. The fun was sledding on our butts down the hill we climbed up to get to the ice.
We are always getting ready to live but never living. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today myself and the other students were living. Creating one of my most memorable experiences I have had in some time now. I am looking forward to more experiences and memories like this in the future.
Hump day is almost over and the weekend is getting closer for the mountaineering training class!