Climbing - - CONTENTS -

AS YOU READ THIS, IT’S JAN­UARY, the dead of win­ter, which for most of us means one of three things: 1) Your hands are a wel­ter of cal­luses, cracks, and splits from pulling too much plas­tic—and spring can’t come soon enough. 2) You’ve found a dry, south-fac­ing cliff, and you’re go­ing to do ev­ery last route, even if they’re all zero stars. Or, 3) You’re ec­static, be­cause you love ice, mixed, and alpine climb­ing.

Ice climb­ing has en­joyed a par­al­lel evo­lu­tion to rock climb­ing, with both in the past five decades see­ing the in­ven­tion and mass pro­duc­tion of gear that’s served to make each pur­suit eas­ier. On ice and mixed, it’s things like self-ratch­et­ing screws, curved picks, and mono-points; on rock, it’s per­for­mance rock shoes, quick draws, nuts, and spring-loaded cam­ming de­vices. Yet while rock climb­ing has largely got­ten safer be­cause of some of these ad­vents, ice climb­ing re­mains as se­ri­ous, com­mit­ting, and some­times ter­ri­fy­ing as ever, even if the gear has made it phys­i­cally eas­ier. Why should that be? As you can see in Ken­nan Har­vey’s photo es­say “San Juan Sil­ver” ( page 46), fea­tur­ing the rowdy ice climbs of Colorado’s San Juan Moun­tains, frozen wa­ter­falls are in­trin­si­cally fright­en­ing places to be. Or take Aaron Peter­son’s Flash shot (page 6) of two climbers lashed to the WI5 HMR above the dark, crash­ing waves of Lake Su­pe­rior—their peril is tan­gi­ble and im­me­di­ate. It’s ei­ther sum­mit the flow or straight into the drink, dragged into the murk by all that metal. And it’s in fact all that metal that’s part of the risk: You’re bet­ter off not fall­ing with those sharp axes, spiny screws, and an­kle-snap­ping cram­pons on (trust me, I’ve done it—once). Which means you must treat each lead as a semi-pro­tected solo. Now fac­tor in that ice can sheer out from un­der you, ice climbs are of­ten in avalanche-prone ar­eas, and that your pro is only as re­li­able as the ever-fluc­tu­at­ing medium. Dan­ger!

But this is also what makes the dis­ci­pline so beau­ti­ful—it is undis­tilled com­mit­ment, and takes you up some of the coolest fea­tures in the world. And even if you don’t much en­joy it your­self, you can cer­tainly ap­pre­ci­ate its beauty and his­tor­i­cal roots in our sport. As Kevin Cor­ri­gan wryly notes in his Unsent col­umn ( page 32), ice climb­ing is some­times bet­ter to look at than to do. Or, it’s what we do when the crags are buried in snow but we still want to climb out­side. What­ever your mo­ti­va­tions, I hope you en­joy our win­ter is­sue. Stay safe out there.


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