Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In



Tis’ the Season for Ice Climbing, I Guess

A lot of people love ice climbing. This one is for those of you that don't, but go anyway.

Enjoy unlimited access to Climbing’s award-winning features, in-depth interviews, and expert training advice. Subscribe here.

It’s that time of year. A white cloak blankets the forest floor, feathery pillows adorn the pine boughs, and the snow dampens all sound, transforming the wilderness into a winter wonderland. It’s terrible. All the rock is either too wet or too cold to climb, and this shit goes on for, like, three months. That’s right—now is the season when you might as well go ice climbing. What else are you going to do? Weave through kids on leashes at the ski resort? Suffocate in a sauna? Snuggle with your significant other under a warm blanket, next to a crackling fire, eating Nutella with a spoon while binge-watching that new HBO series? Those all sound really nice, but you should still go ice climbing, I guess.

You are a “climber,” aren’t you? That’s enough to feel obligated to like ice climbing. Sure, when you climb vertical ice, there’s no direct connection with the medium, gymnastic problem-solving, or reliable protection, but both ice and rock involve going up and include the word “climbing.” What are you going to do, climb in the gym all winter? As the pundits on climbing forums agree: Nothing rad happens indoors. The gym is for mutant children and people on first dates who bought Groupons. If you want to be rad, you must go outside, and in winter that means ice. I’m sorry; you don’t have a lot of options.

Think of it this way: If you were locked in a room for three months and all you had to eat were Milk-Bones, you’d eat the Milk-Bones. In this metaphor, winter is the room, Milk-Bones are ice climbing, and rock climbing is real food—which is locked in a much nicer room down the hall.

God willing, global warming will end this winter nonsense soon, but until then dig your gear out of that big Tupperware in the closet. You’ll need a solid evening to sharpen your tools and sand the rust off your ‘pons. This is the best part—you get to feel tough and cool while rubbing metal things together, but you don’t have to be scared or cold. Be sure to Instagram this. What do you mean you can’t find your tools? They’re right where you left them: under your bed in case of a home invasion.

Now to recruit a partner. Find someone who’s way more psyched than you lest the whole thing fall apart. You know, that nutjob friend of yours who’s been checking condition reports since October 1 and wears mountaineering boots to the gym.

It’ll be worth it—trust me. Set your alarm for 4 a.m. Yes, it does seem extreme to wake up that early for something you don’t like that much, and no, you don’t wake up that early for rock climbing, which you love. But if you allow yourself to sleep in until the sun comes up, the pillar you’re climbing may collapse, killing you and your partner.

You’ll thank me when you’re sinking picks into that plasticky blue waterfall goodness. No, “exciting” isn’t the right word. Remember, you’re not allowed to fall, unless you want a pick through your cheek or a spiral fracture in your tibia when you catch a crampon. Ice climbing should feel monotonous. Swing, swing, kick, kick, swing, swing, kick, kick, etc. We’re aiming for a solid 3 out of 10 on the fun scale. But no toproping! As a climber, you’re supposed to want to lead. It’s only a true adventure if you lead. That includes the dumpy, picked-out 25-foot WI 2 flow above the train tracks.

Yes, it will be cold. It will at least be cold enough for ice to exist, possibly colder. Belaying is a desperate dance for warmth while you dodge frozen basketballs. But it will be worth it, briefly. You will brave the elements like a true adventurer for two hours—long enough to feel like you’ve done something—and then you and your partner can go to a diner for lumberjack breakfasts.

I know what you’re thinking: Ice climbing is cold, the gear is expensive, and it’s not that much fun—why the hell should you leave your cozy bed for that? There’s just one reason: In photos, ice climbing looks like the raddest thing ever. It will make your Facebook friends think you’re a mega-badass, and that’s just barely worth going out two to four times a year for.

Or, if your job lets you work remotely, spend the season clipping bolts in Potrero Chico and skip all this nonsense.