Be­ing Pre­pared for Ice Climb­ing is Ev­ery­thing

Gripped - - EDITORIAL -

I’ll never for­get my first full sea­son of ice climb­ing. It be­gan in No­vem­ber of the year 2000. I or­dered ice tools and cram­pons from mec after hear­ing that ice climb­ing was pop­u­lar in North­west­ern On­tario, where I was liv­ing at the time for uni­ver­sity. There was no In­sta­gram, Face­book or how-to YouTube videos so we had to learn for our­selves with lit­tle to no in­struc­tion. I asked my rock climb­ing part­ner, who was also a stu­dent, Aus­tralian Stephen Gale, if he’d join me be­cause I knew that he had glacier ex­pe­ri­ence in the Hi­malayas. We were not pre­pared.

On our first day, we drove a bor­rowed car 100 kilo­me­tres north of the city to Ori­ent Bay, a drive which should have taken us one hour but took us 2.5 hours be­cause we had bald tires. We only brought one pair of ice tools for the two-pitch route, Hully Gully, the eas­i­est route in the area. Our only pro­tec­tion was two an­cient tap-in ice screws loaned to us by Jeff Ham­merich, the most ex­pe­ri­enced alpin­ist at Lake­head Uni­ver­sity at the time.

Slowly – and I mean slowly – I made my way up the first pitch in -40 C weather. Ev­ery time the pick of my tool made con­tact, the ice would frac­ture a thou­sand ways and if I struck the same spot again, the ice would din­ner-plate down to­ward Steve. I used the ham­mer on my dmm tool to gen­tly move the pro­tec­tion into the ice, which never worked. Luck­ily, a branch stuck out of the frozen, low-an­gle stream, and I slung it. After an hour, I wrapped my two-inch tubu­lar web­bing around a tree at a ledge and yelled to Stephen, who had ici­cles ex­tend­ing from his nos­trils past his lips, that I was se­cure. Be­fore he could climb, I had to lower my tools to him, so I clipped one onto a rope and tried to lower it down the bulgy ice. It snagged on the pro­trud­ing branch. I tried to throw the other to him, but it landed in deep snow on a slope and re­quired much dig­ging and some time to find. We de­cided to bail and drove home slowly along the icy road un­der a starry sky back home.

I soon met some lo­cal Alpine Club of Canada mem­bers who in­vited us for an evening of ice climb­ing at the Terry Fox Memo­rial in Thun­der Bay to “learn the ropes.” I spent that win­ter prac­tis­ing my ice tech­niques and screw plac­ing on top-rope be­fore at­tempt­ing to lead again. Now, 20 years later, as ice sea­son ap­proaches, I put the win­ter tires on, sharpen the tools, count the screws and make sure my win­ter ap­parel is ready for the ex­treme weather. Ice climb­ing equip­ment has come a long way over the years, but good gear doesn’t re­place prepa­ra­tion and knowl­edge. Be sure to bring avalanche equip­ment when nec­es­sary, and don’t stay home on the cold­est of days this win­ter – you’re an ice climber, after all.

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ISSN: 1488-0814 Printed in Canada

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