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How To Ice Climb With An Axe

What is ice climbing, you wonder?

Well, it is the act of ascending inclined ice formations. These formations can be steep snow-covered mountains or frozen waterfalls.

Ice climbing combines physical strength with psychological strength. It would help if you had technical knowledge and agility to participate in ice climbing.

But how can one climb ice?

Over the years, climbers have perfected the art of ice climbing. The technique requires tact rather than strength.

With the help of an axe, rope, and a crampon, you can begin your great climb. Adventure companies take groups of ice climbers for a thrilling experience up the mountain.

Ice climbing uses burying the axe in the ice and pulling yourself up. You are tied to a safety rope.

Apart from the axe, a device called a crampon is attached to your shoe. This device helps you grip the snow with your feet.

With substantial foot holding, you can place yourself firmly on the ice. The axe is then dug into the snow right above your head. With the help of an axe and crampons, you can begin to ascend.

The safety rope is strong enough to hold you in case you slip. Although with the correct technique, it is unlikely that you will fall.

What is ice climbing?

ice climbing

Ice climbing experts scrutinize the age and thickness of the snow before climbing.

There are two types of ice-climbing – Alpine Ice Climbing and Water Ice Climbing. When you climb mountains covered with ice, it is known as Alpine Ice Climbing. Some people love the transcended beauty of frozen waterfalls.

Climbing these frozen water bodies is known as water ice climbing. In alpine ice climbing, the snow is old and frozen over several years. Water ice climbers climb on newly frozen waterfalls that freeze at specific temperatures. The ice on these waterfalls is thinner and newer than on a mountain.

Expert climbers prefer water ice climbing over alpine ice. Either way, both climbing experiences are mesmerizing. Climbing the glistening snow is an extraordinary feat. The intricate frozen design made by waterfalls is breathtaking. Snow-covered mountains are equally gorgeous. It would help if you were physically fit to undertake this adventure.

People with weak cardiovascular muscles will not be able to pull themselves up with an axe. Not to mention the freezing temperature. Earlier, you had to be a sportsperson or a professional snow climbing athlete. But now you have to be physically and mentally fit. Adventure sports companies all over the world take beginners out on the ice. You can book a tour and start your exciting ascend.

The first-ever ice climbing expedition was undertaken in 1912. Since then, the tools and equipment have become far more advanced. You can purchase all kinds of ice climbing equipment online. They are specifically designed to provide grip, balance, and agility. It is imperative to have the right gear for ice climbing.

The risks are much higher in this sport. The first-ever Ice Climbing World Championship was organized in 2000. Since then, ice climbing has become a world-renowned winter sport. Officials are now trying to include ice climbing in the Winter Olympics. That being said, ice climbing is not just for the experts.

People who love adventure sports can also participate in ascending inclined ice structures. Provided they understand both the advantages and the dangers of ice climbing.

How dangerous is Ice Climbing?

how difficult is ice climbing

Ice climbing is dangerous for climbers who do not have the right climbing gear.

If you are a beginner, it is better to go with a group or an expert climber. Ice climbing is like rock climbing but with snow.

It isn’t simple like trekking or camping. To climb inclined frozen water structures, you need to have the proper guidance and the right equipment.

The axe used for ice climbing will fit perfectly in your hand. It would help if you swung this axe above your head and hit the ice above you. The ice is so strong that just a centimeter-long hole can give you a firm grip.

If you are a beginner, it might take you a few tries to get the axe into the ice. Remember, the trick is to learn the technique rather than use strength.

You need to save up the strength to pull yourself up. So, it is important to swing the axe and stick in the first go.

With suitable gloves, the axe remains intact in your hand. It will not slip away and fall. The safety ropes are robust. They are built to survive on ice while carrying a person. You will need to hold the rope with one hand and the axe with the other.

You might feel this is dangerous, but the well-equipped safety gear reduces the risks. Another essential ice climbing gear is the crampon.

These devices provide substantial foot holding. Crampons have spikes on them. These spikes pierce into the snow and give you a firm grip. If all your ice climbing gear is in check, the climb becomes far less dangerous.

A seasoned ice climbing guide is also necessary. These professionals are well versed in the sport and the ice formations. They can navigate you through the rock-solid ice.

If the ice is weak, your ice axe won’t stick, and you will not be able to go up. Knowing what kind of ice is formed in which areas are essential.

If you are a beginner or new to the site, you might want to take help from an expert. Climbing frozen structures without supervision is extremely risky.

No matter how experienced you are, it is always better to take guidance from the locals. Also, make sure to study the age and thickness of the snow thoroughly. An ice axe, rope, and crampons are the most prominent ice climbing equipment.

To undertake an ice climbing adventure, you must have additional ice climbing gear. Let’s see what these gears and equipment are.

Ice climbing equipment

equipment for ice climbing

An ideal ice climbing checklist will include the following equipment – an ice axe, insulated ice climbing boots, crampons to fit your shoe, climbing helmet, climbing harness, ice screws, carabiners, belay device, ropes, Gore-Tex gloves, sunscreen, and sunglasses.

Ice axe

An ice axe is the most critical piece of equipment used by ice climbers. Climbers hook their ice axe into the snow and pull themselves up.

This upwards movement is impossible without an axe. Ice axes have curved shafts. You can also use them to stop yourself from falling. In case of a slip or a mishap, the ice axe can be a valuable tool for protection.

You can carry your ice axe or use the one provided by your tour guides. Either way, make sure you check the strength and agility of the ice axe before ascending ice.

Insulated climbing boots

boots for ice climbing

You cannot use your hiking boots for ice climbing. You will need to purchase well-insulated climbing boots for this adventure. They should be made out of stiff leather with a removable inner liner.

You can also buy climbing boots made out of plastic or synthetic materials. They need to have a high top and should have a snug fit. The climbing boots also need to fit a crampon on top.

The right climbing shoe should have all the above qualities. They need to fit well and provide you with optimum comfort. Some climbers also advise you to buy boots that are a size bigger. This gives you space to add a few layers of woolen socks.

Crampons

Crampons are steel alloy devices attached to your show’s bottom. Their primary purpose is to provide traction and grip. Ice climbers use crampons to dig their feet into the snow while using their ice picks to pull themselves up.

Crampons have steel spikes attached at the bottom. You can attach them to your climbing boots using a binding system. The most commonly used binding systems are semi-rigid.

If you are a regular ice climber, then purchasing crampons is advisable. You can also rent crampons from a sports adventure company. They maintain their gear well and guide you on the right size and fit.

Climbing helmet

When you plunge the ice pick into the ice above your head, small pieces of ice fall off. Climbing helmets are essential as they protect you from these pieces of snow.

Climbing helmets cost less than other equipment, and you can easily purchase them online. You can also rent them out from a touring agency or a sports adventure company.

Climbing harness

harness for ice climbing

Safety is the most important quality of a climbing harness. These harnesses are made of nylon or other synthetic materials.

These materials prevent the harness from shrinking. A climbing harness is wrapped around your waist and your feet. A good quality harness must have padding and attachment loops. These loops help you attach all the other gear to the harness.

Ice screws

Ice screws are 10-23 cm long cylindrical screws made out of Chromoly steel. They are used to create a running belay on steep surfaces.

They are also used to secure climbers on high icy surfaces. Make sure to buy ice screws with changeable tops. It will increase the longevity of your ice screw.

Carabiners

Carabiners are made out of steel. They are metal loops with spring-loaded gates.

Carabiners are used to attach and detach the rope to the harness.

Belay device

A mechanical device that allows the climber to exert tension on a climber rope is called a belay device.

These devices are made out of metal. The primary purpose of the belay device is to keep the climber from falling.

Rope

rope for ice climbing

Climbers use two ropes for climbing – static rope and dynamic rope. Dynamic rope is more elastic, whereas static rope is stiff.

You need 60 meters for a safe ice climbing experience. Climbing ropes should be 8-10 mm in diameter.

Gore-Tex gloves

Gore-Tex gloves are made out of a particular fabric. This fabric provides dexterity and breathability.

It is waterproof and keeps your hands warm and dry throughout the climb. Ice climbing requires you to move your hands for multiple things.

Gore-Tex gloves provide you with freedom of movement. They are great for gripping and climbing.

Sunscreen and sunglasses

Even though you are climbing icy peaks, the sun is out. The reflective light coming from the snow can hamper your view.

It is essential to wear a pair of sunglasses. They should fit well so that they do not fall off. Sunscreen protects you from harsh UV rays.

These are the essential pieces of equipment needed for ice-climbing. You can add additional gear like a backpack and water bottle. Make sure to keep the load light and only carry essential equipment.

Ice climbing techniques

climbing on ice waterfall

Ice climbing requires proper techniques.

The two main types of ice climbing techniques are – squat, stand and swing.

Squat

While using the squat technique, you need to keep your upper arm straight.

Push both your feet together so that they create strong footholds. Both your feet need to move together, or else your lower crampon may slip, causing you to lose balance.

Make sure your knees are below your hips. Move your feet sideways and take one step up.

Stand

The standing technique requires you to place the axe 12-14 inches above your current placement.

Once you’ve figured out where you will be plunging the ice axe, do a squatting movement. Push your body with your legs and spring up. Pull yourself up using the ice axe.

Swing

The swing technique is the most commonly used ice climbing technique.

Ensure to keep your elbows near your ears and then plunge the ice pick into the ice. Check if it is firm. Once you’ve got a firm grip, start moving upwards.

Solo Ice Climbing Vs. Group Ice Climbing

solo vs group ice climbing

Both solo ice climbing and group ice climbing have their advantages.

Going ice climbing with a group is far safer than going alone. But this reduces your speed. Solo ice climbing is faster but far riskier. If a person gets injured in a group, there is plenty of help available. It might not be the case if you go solo.

If you are an expert, then solo ice climbing is for you. Beginners must always go with a group of ice climbing experts.

Conclusion

Ice climbing is a thrilling adventure.

It is something you should put on your bucket list. Before you head out for your ice climbing expedition, make sure you are physically and mentally fit.

Don’t forget to pack all the essential ice climbing equipment. If you are a beginner, then it is advisable to book a tour or climb with a group of experts! Stay safe and enjoy the scenic view of frozen waterfalls and icy mountains.

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