What is Ice Climbing? Worlds Most Dangerous Sport

what is ice climbing featured image

Ice climbing is a challenging and exciting sport that is growing in popularity. However, it can be dangerous, so taking a course and learning the basic safety procedures is essential before attempting any route.

This article will discuss what ice climbing is, the gear you need, some of the world’s best ice-climbing destinations, and some of the best climbers who have overcome them.

So, What is Ice Climbing?

What is Ice Climbing?: Ice climbing is a sport where participants scale ice-covered rock faces using specialized equipment. It is considered dangerous and should only be attempted by experienced climbers.

Ice climbing can be done for recreation or as a way to reach the summit of a mountain. Many people who enjoy ice climbing also participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and rock climbing.

Ice climbing is physically and mentally demanding and requires strength, stamina, and technical skill. In addition, climbers must safely negotiate rugged terrain and use their equipment correctly to avoid injury.

Despite the challenges, ice climbing can be an enriching experience. The accomplishment of reaching the top of a challenging climb is unlike any other.

Many versatile ice climbers also practice mixed climbing – these mixed climbs contain a variety of ice climbing that involves climbing on ice, rock, and snow.

The sport of ice climbing has also grown in popularity in recent years as more people have become interested in adventure sports. Ice climbing trips are often organized by experienced guides who can provide instruction and equipment.

How Difficult is Ice Climbing?

Ice climbing is an outdoor activity that requires a great deal of strength, endurance, and skill. Therefore, it is not for the faint of heart or those looking for an easy climb.

While the rewards of completing an ice climb can be great, the journey to the top is often fraught with danger.

Those who attempt ice climbing must be prepared to face frigid temperatures, strong winds, and treacherous ice conditions. The sport can be extremely physically demanding, and climbers must be in excellent shape to have any hope of reaching the summit.

Ice climbing is not for everyone, but those who are up for the challenge will find it an exhilarating and rewarding experience, just like urban climbing or buildering.

Why Do People Ice Climb?

why people ice climb

Ice climbing is a dangerous and challenging sport requiring great skill, strength, and endurance. However, the rewards are well worth the risks involved, including seeing some impressive scenery.

For many climbers, the chance to test their limits and push themselves to the absolute limit is what keeps them coming back for more.

There is something truly exhilarating about scaling a massive wall of ice using only your skill and a few simple ice tool. The accomplishment of reaching the top after such a technical challenge is unmatched by any other activity.

The History of Ice Climbing

The sport of ice climbing started in Europe during the 1800s and was an extension of mountaineering. In 1908, the first significant advancement came about when Oscar Eckenstein designed a claw tooth that fits onto the bottom of a boot – this innovation is now known as a crampon.

In 1932, Laurent Grivel attached two front points to all crampons, enabling climbers to kick into the ice for stabilization while allowing them to scale steep ice.

In 1966, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, began experimenting with ice axes and produced what is now the standard ice axe.

I researched the history of ice climbing by reading Blue Lines; An Adirondack Ice Climber’s Guide by Don Mellor. In this extract, he talks about how ice climbing became popular in the area:

“The art of soft ice climbing has changed dramatically from the European invention of alpenstocks and rudimentary crampons to today’s ergonomically bent ice tools and crampon points mono.

So when Jim Goodwin, Adirondack rock climber patriarch, climbed Gothics in December 1927 using a hand axe to chop holds on what is now the cables section of the summit path, he was pioneering new territory.

His solo climb gathered the attention of Keene Valley summer resident John Case, who needed a climbing partner. The case had been the first in the area (most likely in the United States) to use a rope and belay system in what is now known as modern technical climbing.

In 1932, Goodwin teamed up with Edouard Feuz, Jr., a well-known Rockies guide, to learn about European axe and crampon techniques. Then, in 1935, he and Ed Stanley used these abilities to climb Colden’s Trap Dike, an Adirondack ice route that is now a landmark.

In 1960, Goodwin made what he considers one of his finest ascents, the massive slab at Chapel Pond. Without being anchored, the roped team of Goodwin and Bob Notman hacked their way through the ice – it was an audacious climb for a usually cautious Goodwin.

Although the Adirondacks is known for its rock climbing, it has played an essential role in the history of ice climbing. In 1969, Californian Yvon Chouinard brought a short ice axe with a drooped pick to Chapel Pond. At the time, Chouinard was one of America’s most prominent climbers and gear innovators.

With new, rigid twelve-point crampons (versus traditional ten-point crampons utilized for flat-footing but lacking front points) and no chopping a single step, Chouinard and the Shawguns’ Jim McCarthy climbed Chapel Pond Slab, pointing most of the way rather than chopping.”

Ice Climbing vs. Rock Climbing

While ice climbing and rock climbing share similarities, they are two very different sports. Ice climbing requires specialized equipment and important techniques not used in rock climbing.

Ice climbers must use ice pickaxes and crampons to gain traction on the ice, whether that’s solid ice, soft ice, or waterfall ice. They also often use ropes and anchors to safeguard against falls. On the other hand, rock climbers typically use their hands and feet to ascend the rock face.

The challenges of ice climbing are also different from those of rock climbing. Ice is a dynamic material that can change quickly, making conditions very treacherous. Rock, on the other hand, is much more stable.

For these reasons, ice climbing is generally considered to be more dangerous than rock climbing. Therefore, only experienced climbers should attempt it.

Is Ice Climbing Harder Than Rock Climbing?

There is no easy answer to this question as it depends on several factors, including the specific route, the conditions, and the climbers’ abilities.

Ice climbing is generally more physically demanding than rock climbing, as it often requires pulling oneself up using only one’s arms.

The cold weather conditions and slippery conditions can make ice climbing even more challenging.

The Ice Climbing Sport

why do people ice climb

The UIAA is the international governing body for mountaineering and climbing, and one of its focuses is on ice climbing. They have set up rules and regulations for the sport and certification programs to ensure climbers are safe and competent on the ice.

For the past 20 years, the UIAA has organized ice climbing competitions and seen the sport’s growth worldwide. Ice climbing is a demanding athletic endeavor that combines skill, speed, precision, and excitement over the winter months.

The popularity of ice climbing among youngsters is evident by the number of international competitors who attend each year’s World Youth Championships in Ice Climbing.

Lead Climbing Discipline

The lead discipline in ice climbing is similar to rock climbing Lead Climbing. The climber starts at the bottom of the route and climbs until they reach the top, clipping into pre-placed anchors along the way. As with rock climbing, the difficulty of routes is rated using a numerical scale.

The main difference between lead climbing on rock and lead climbing on ice is that when leading on ice, the climber will place their ice screws as they climb. This requires a higher level of skill and experience than rock climbing, as the climber needs to be able to judge the quality of the ice and place the screw properly to ensure it will hold.

Speed Climbing Discipline

Speed climbing is a relatively new discipline in ice climbing. In speed climbing, two climbers race each other up a fixed route. The routes are often shorter and less complicated than those in lead climbing competitions, focusing on speed rather than difficulty.

Speed climbing is exciting to watch, as it tests raw speed and power. It is also a good way for climbers to train for lead climbing competitions, as it requires similar movement patterns.

Brief History of Ice Climbing as a Sport

2002 was the first year that UIAA World Cup competitions under new UIAA rules took place in Val Daone (Italy), Pitztal (Austria), Kirov (Russia), Quebec (Canada), and Saas-Fee (Switzerland).

Before the International World Cup (IWC) began, there was a European competition schedule that included events in Courchevel (France), Cortina (Italy), Pitztal (Austria), and Kirov (Russia). The very first competitive ice climbing standards appeared in 1998.

The first International World Cup was held in 2000 by a private German company. They were responsible for the event until 2002, when the UIAA’s International Ice Climbing Commission took over.

The UIAA arranges an annual World Tour that includes World Cups, World Championships, and other competitions. 1912 was when the first ice climbing competition took place on the Brenva glacier in Courmayeur, Italy.

What Gear Do You Need for Ice Climbing?

what gear do you need for ice climbing

If you’re serious about ice climbing, you’ll need to invest in high-quality gear. The essential pieces of equipment are your ice axe and crampons. Your ice axe is used for both ascending and descending, and your crampons attach to your boots to give you traction on the ice.

Here’s a list of all the gear you’ll need for ice climbing:

  • Ice Axes: Technical ice axes are essential gear for ice climbing. They are used to help you ascend icy slopes and also to help you control your descent if you fall. When choosing an ice axe, you’ll need to consider its weight, length, and shape. You’ll also need to decide whether you want a straight or curved axe. Curved axes are more versatile but can also be more challenging to use.
  • C3 Crampons: C3 crampons are the most popular type of crampon. They are designed for use on ice and snow and offer excellent traction. C3 crampons have 12 points and are attached to your boots with three straps.
  • B3 Boots: B3 boots are the most popular type of ice climbing boot. They are designed to provide warmth and support in cold, icy conditions. B3 boots have a stiff sole that helps you kick into the ice and a waterproof upper that keeps your feet dry.
  • Climbing rope: When icy conditions are present, rope between 8.5mm and 9mm thickness is recommended for winter use. Any thinner ropes make it more difficult to ice climb effectively. For most situations, 50 to 60 meters is advisable.
  • Helmet: A standard climbing helmet will be fine.
  • Harness: A regular climbing harness with at least four gear loops will suffice.
  • Belay Device: The Grigri is not advised for use in freezing weather because ropes tend to ice up, making it difficult to manage with an assisted braking device. As a result, a manual braking device such as the Petzl Verso, DMM Mantis, or Black Diamond ATC is suggested.
  • Quickdraws: A minimum of 12 quickdraws is recommended, but more may be needed depending on the length and difficulty of the route. Make sure they are 25 cm in length, consisting of two snap-link carabiners linked by a tape sling.
  • Ice screws: Each ice screw is placed in the ice to protect you while you climb. The most common sizes are 16 and 19 cm, but other lengths may be needed depending on the conditions. A minimum of eight screws is recommended, but more may be required depending on the route.

What Are The Climbing Techniques For Ice Climbing?

French Technique In Ice Climbing

The French Technique is an ice-climbing method developed in the early 1900s by French mountaineers.

The French Technique involves using one’s crampons and ice axe simultaneously to ascend the ice face. The climber digs the crampon points into the ice and then swings the ice axe above their head, using the momentum to pull themselves up.

German Technique in Ice Climbing

The crampons are used in a German approach, with the front points of the crampons only lightly touching the ice on inclines. Cross-body ax placement is ideal for difficult angles since it keeps the ax securely planted in the ice as you travel.

Notable Ice Climbers

Will Gadd

Will Gadd is a Canadian hard ice climber who has made the first ascents of some of the most challenging routes in the world. He is also an accomplished rock climber and mountaineer.

Ines Papert

Ines Papert is a German solid ice climber whose achievements include completing the first solo ascent of the North Face of the Eiger and making the first ascent of the world’s tallest ice column.

Alexander Huber

Alexander Huber is an Austrian climber who has made the first ascents of some of the most challenging routes in the world. He is also an accomplished mountaineer and BASE jumper.

Maciej Berbeka

Maciej Berbeka was a Polish climber who was the first person to climb all seven summits, including Mount Everest, without using supplemental oxygen – and is also known for the love of climbing up a frozen waterfall now and again.

Where Should You Ice Climb?

where should you ice climb

There are many excellent ice-climbing destinations around the world. Some of the most popular include:

  • Chamonix, France: Chamonix is home to some of the most challenging ice climbs in the world. It is also a popular destination for mountaineers and skiers. Known for its Alpine ice, Water ice is a frozen form of water. It comprises several layers of frozen precipitation and is found in mountainous regions.
  • Whistler, Canada: Whistler is a popular destination for ice climbers and mountaineers. It is home to many challenging routes, as well as several glaciers.
  • Ouray, Colorado: Ouray is known as the “Switzerland of America” and is home to some of North America’s most popular ice-climbing routes.
  • Iceland: Iceland is becoming a popular destination for ice climbers due to its unique and challenging routes, especially up frozen waterfalls.

How Do You Ice Climb for Beginners?

For beginners, taking an ice-climbing course with a certified instructor is recommended. These courses will teach you the basic techniques and safety procedures.

Once you have completed a course, you can attempt accessible routes on your own or with a partner. However, climbing with an experienced partner who knows the area is always best.

Summary of Ice Climbing

Ice climbing is a challenging and exciting sport that is growing in popularity. However, it can be dangerous, so taking a course and learning the basic safety procedures is essential before attempting any route.

Many excellent ice-climbing destinations worldwide offer something for climbers of all levels. With the proper protective gear and safety precautions (as well as the right guide), ice climbing can be one of the most exhilarating and rewarding outdoor activities. Thanks for reading!

FAQs – Ice Climbing

Is Ice Climbing Dangerous?

Like all forms of climbing, there is a certain amount of inherent risk involved in ice climbing. However, the risk can be minimized if you follow proper safety procedures and use the appropriate equipment.

Ice climbing can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Make sure to take an ice-climbing course with a certified instructor before attempting any routes on your own.

And always remember to use the proper safety equipment, including a helmet, harness, and ice screws.

Can You Fall While Ice Climbing?

Yes, you can fall while ice climbing. Unfortunately, it’s common to fall at least once while ice climbing. The key is not letting the fall discourage you and learning from your mistakes. Also, be sure to wear the proper safety gear to help prevent serious injuries if you fall.

How Do You Not Fall When Ice Climbing?

The best way to not fall while ice climbing is to be very careful and use good technique. Use your Ice Axes and Crampons properly, and always be aware of your footing. If you start to slip, try to self-arrest as quickly as possible.

What is The Hardest Part of Ice Climbing?

The most challenging part of ice climbing is getting started. It can be pretty daunting to look up at a sheer wall of ice and think about how you will climb it. However, getting a feel for the techniques becomes much easier once you start. The most important thing is not to give up and to keep practicing.

How Do Ice Climbers Get Down?

There are several ways that ice climbers can get down from a climb. The most common method is simply to rappel down using your rope and ice screws. Alternatively, some climbers may walk/scramble down if the route is not too difficult or dangerous (if this is even possible).

What is an Ice Bollard in Ice Climbing?

An ice bollard is a piece of climbing equipment used to create an anchor point in the ice. It is inserted into a drilled hole in the ice and can be used to attach your rope for belaying or rappelling. Bollards are generally made from aluminum or steel and come in various sizes.

Is Ice Climbing a Sport?

Yes, ice climbing is considered a sport. It is governed by the UIAA, which sets rules and regulations for the sport. Ice climbing competitions, including World Cups, World Championships, and other events, are held annually.

Who Invented Ice Climbing?

It is believed that the sport of ice climbing started in Europe during the 1800s and was an extension of mountaineering.

In 1908, the first significant advancement came about when Oscar Eckenstein designed a claw tooth that fits onto the bottom of a boot – this innovation is now known as a crampon.

In 1932, Laurent Grivel attached two front pointing to all crampons, enabling climbers to kick into the ice for stabilization while allowing them to scale steeper inclines.

In 1966, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, began experimenting with ice axes and produced what is now the standard ice axe.

Recent Posts