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How did you learn to climb ice?

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How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby Flattlander » Wed Jun 29, 2011 1:52 am

This is a question for ice climbers out there: How did you learn? How did you get to the point where you could go out and climb waterfalls and gullies? Classes? More experienced friends? Just doing it?

The reason I ask is that I started learning last winter by taking classes. It was great experience, and I learned a lot and climbed some cool stuff in a controlled environment, with a guide on the sharp end. Then winter ended. I'm now thinking about this upcoming winter and asking myself, "How the heck am I going to continue my ice climbing education? I have no friends who climb ice, and I still have a lot to learn."

As I think about what my next move should be, I'm interested in hearing your stories.
Last edited by Flattlander on Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:41 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby ExcitableBoy » Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:29 am

I met a friend in college with similar inexperience as myself. We taught ourselves how to climb by reading Freedom of the Hills and then going to the crags to pratice. We did this with waterfall climbing as well, daring each other up leads. This is not the fastest way to learn.

Looks like you are in a good spot for waterfall climbing with your proximity to New Hampshire and Lake Willoughby, maybe put up partner wanted ads in the local gear shops, college outing clubs, internet forums etc. Be upfront about your training and experience and offer to belay and drive experienced partners who would be willing to lead.
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby mconnell » Wed Jun 29, 2011 3:54 am

A couple of experienced friends/acquaintances taught me what little I know.
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby SKI » Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:38 pm

Travel to Ouray, CO and spend lots and lots and lots of time TR'ing water ice falls. Lead easy WI3's and learn efficiency. Unlike rock climbing, ice can be mastered fairly quickly. Unlike rock climbing, however, there is no room for flailing.

You have to be on ice whenever possible to be comfortable leading anything above a WI4+. Laps and laps on variable ice several times a week will have you sending harder falls and features in no time.
Ice climbing is about being smart, understanding the dynamics of ice, knowing what you can and cannot climb through (in terms of endurance) and most importantly, preserving strength through good technique.

Are you a decent rock climber? There are several ways that good rock climbing technique compliments ice climbing such as principals of stemming, footwork and balance. It is important however to note that there are express differences between the two, as highlighted in Will Gadd's Blog.

I was in your same exact shoes last year and by getting after it, reading as much as possible and finding good friends (no one climbs real ice in Reno) elsewhere, I was able to push my leading ability a grade higher on WI (which still isn't great!).

Until ice season starts up in the fall, stay stoked with cool videos like the Palenville Coronary.
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby jrisku » Wed Jun 29, 2011 3:19 pm

Personally I've done many things. Here's a short round up:

1. I took couple of basic courses and went top roping with a friend I found from the course for couple of years
2. Then we moved on lead climb practices, did a few "simulated" leads, i.e. top roping, but dragging another rope and placing protection, after a few trials we moved on easy leads, i.e. WI3 + plenty of gradually more difficult top roping
3. Then we went on multiple days climbing trip and climbed quite a few easy multi-pitch leads, as well as some slightly harder multi-pitch lead, i.e. very long WI4
4. Then i took couple of advanced courses + plenty of easy leads + plenty of top roping + participated climbing trips organized by our local climbing association
5. Red a few ice climbing / mountaineering books (I can dig out the titles and ISBNs too once I'll get back to home)
6. Went on gradually harder + longer leads + plenty of top roping + participated climbing trips organized by our local climbing association

I've also made plenty of questions to more experienced climbers when ever I had a chance to. I have also learned great deal by following blogs of Will and Dane. Also writing my own blog has made me to find out and learn quite a few things. For me writing about it has been good way to learn too. I've been really lucky because there is a local climbing association with several ice climbers, we're even running our own artificial ice climbing tower (old construction crane next to quarry).

Quite honestly, the problem for me has been the fact that previously I haven't done much anything else than ice climbing, i.e. I kind of lost the climbing touch each summer --> The amount of climbing is really the key while working out the grades and improving yourself. According to my experience it takes about 20-30 days of ice climbing per season to reach comfortable / secure lead on WI4-5 and perhaps 10-20 more on WI6.

- Juho Risku / http://www.climbingextreme.com
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby ExcitableBoy » Wed Jun 29, 2011 3:51 pm

SKI wrote:Travel to Ouray, CO

Why? The OP already lives near some really great water ice venues.
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby Vitaliy M. » Wed Jun 29, 2011 4:37 pm

I think SKI was saying traveling to Ouray worked for him.
BTW...Aaron we should make a trip to ice climb somewhere (Ouray/Canada) this winter....I will need to improve a lot to do Cassin ridge. : )
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby fatdad » Wed Jun 29, 2011 5:57 pm

My first time climbing ice was leading Horsetail Falls at June Lake. However, I had a good 15 yrs. of climbing under my belt, climbed hard trad (at the time), had done big walls, lots of peaks, including a fair bit of steep snow, etc. I just read up on it a bit and it all went fine and felt very doable. That's me though.

Given where you live, before investing in a bunch of gear and going for it, I'd suggest taking a class or two. Go with a reputable guide, not the first chump they throw at you. I've seen some really lousy, inexperienced guides out there. You'll bump up your learning curve significantly and also get a good sampling of what kind of gear you like/don't like, etc., before you dump some serious coin for your set up. There's a pretty thin margin of error climbing ice. I was lucky in that I never got hurt, etc., but it could have easily gone the other way.
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby epicclimb » Wed Jun 29, 2011 7:01 pm

i think mountain skills are best honed by finding a mentor who will put up with your intitial flailing. you learn SO fast from someone who climbs much harder thjan you and will teach u techniques instead of u trying to figure them out. i did this when i started bouldering. climbing with people who were so much stronger made my level jump faster than i could imagine. u see their tricks and techniques and emulate them. plus, with mentors, you will get to see their favorite places which are often epic favorite adventures and this makes things reallly fun!!!

i have only climbed ice a few times, but everyone i talk to says 100s and 100s of long laps on TR is the ticket to learn it rigght (place like ouray is perfect) or just following someone up long easy routes in canada maybe?
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby fatdad » Wed Jun 29, 2011 9:22 pm

epicclimb wrote:but everyone i talk to says 100s and 100s of long laps on TR is the ticket to learn it rigght (place like ouray is perfect)

Two points. One, you're not going to become a competent leader any time soon if you only focus on TRing. Some thirty years ago, Yvon Chouinard wrote in Climbing Ice that someone can learn in a day how to climb hard ice. The hard part is learning to do it safely. That's still true today. In other words, you don't suddenly get better always TRing stuff. You just become a wuss. Learning to lead ice is a skill that you have to learn, and you don't get that TRing. Are you really going to learn something TRing the 101st time that you didn't the first two or three? If you're answer is 'yes', you need to invest more concentration in the process, not more time.

Second, ice is a pretty finite resource with the exception of places like the Ice Park. You shouldn't have a long set of lines clogging up routes that you're incapable of leading when others who are capable are waiting to do so. It's not the gym; it's outside.

If you need to TR shorter stuff to learn to climb safely, do it. No one wants to see someone get busted up. But you also need to sack up so you can start swinging leads on those long, beautiful climbs.
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby kozman18 » Wed Jun 29, 2011 11:51 pm

I learned in the Whites and in Smugglers' Notch. You are a stone's throw from some great areas to train. The Notch is perfect for starting out on a TR, then progressing to lead. The Whites are a great place to climb in an awesome setting. NE Ice is a good resource for current conditions and to find local climbers. Sunrise Cafe near Jeffersonville is another place climbers congregate. The Ice Bash is an annual event in the Notch to test gear and meet guides/climbers. Lots of stuff going on near you.
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby Flattlander » Thu Jun 30, 2011 2:56 am

kozman18 wrote:I learned in the Whites and in Smugglers' Notch. You are a stone's throw from some great areas to train. The Notch is perfect for starting out on a TR, then progressing to lead. The Whites are a great place to climb in an awesome setting. NE Ice is a good resource for current conditions and to find local climbers. Sunrise Cafe near Jeffersonville is another place climbers congregate. The Ice Bash is an annual event in the Notch to test gear and meet guides/climbers. Lots of stuff going on near you.


Yes, the classes I took last winter were through the North Conway EMS. They have some really great teachers over there. I got to learn from three different teachers, all with different styles and insights. We climbed at Frankenstein Cliffs and up Lower and Upper Hitchcock Gully on Mt Willard. That gully climb was probably the most fun thing I've ever done. This is a great area for so many reasons. Anyway, if you ever want to meet up and climb at Smuggs or something, give me some pointers, just name your price in Switchback Ales or Misty Knoll chicken or whatever. I also used to live in Burlington, but I live in Johnson now, which is like the Old North End if the rest of Burlington wasn't attached to the Old North End.
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby nartreb » Thu Jun 30, 2011 3:07 am

Same way as rock climbing: TR, follow, place pieces while on the ground, mock lead (lead while also on TR), go for it (on a climb you know already, and is well within your ability). My first lead of any kind was on ice: Standard Route on Frankenstein cliff. On low-angle ice I have a lot more confidence than on low-angle rock. I always *know* whether I've got a good tool or crampon placement (you can hear it), and on thick ice I can place a screw wherever I want rather than having to plan my route around available protection (or spending time finding the right piece for the size crack in front of me). Combined, those factors take a lot of the fear away. (Thin, steep ice is a whole other ballgame...)

Lots of places to find partners in the Northeast: Neice.com, neclimbs.com, the AMC climbing section, Meetup groups, college clubs...
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby Flattlander » Thu Jun 30, 2011 7:08 am

Thanks...Standard Route on Frankenstein Cliffs is something I followed last winter as part of a class. Easy and fun...got to watch Kevin Mahoney climb that day, too, which was neat. I will post in all of those forums you mentioned. And, of course, if you want to meet up and climb (since you live near me), let me know.
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Re: How did you learn to climb ice?

Postby Flattlander » Thu Jun 30, 2011 7:17 am

fatdad wrote:Given where you live, before investing in a bunch of gear and going for it, I'd suggest taking a class or two. Go with a reputable guide, not the first chump they throw at you. I've seen some really lousy, inexperienced guides out there. You'll bump up your learning curve significantly and also get a good sampling of what kind of gear you like/don't like, etc., before you dump some serious coin for your set up.


Yes, ice climbing gear is insanely expensive. I have some of it, and will get the rest as time goes on. Like I said, I have taken classes--three to be exact--with three different guides. They were all fantastic teachers with their own styles. One of them told me stories of how he learned technical climbing--by trial and error. He didn't recommend it. Experiential learning is great, even when it is hazardous. As a student of both climbing and education, the responses on this thread have been great.

In the end, all I really need is someone who know what the f#*k they're doing to humor me and climb some s@*t with me.
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