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'waterfall' ice climbing v. 'alpine' ice climbing

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'waterfall' ice climbing v. 'alpine' ice climbing

Postby whiteknuckles » Sat Jul 17, 2010 6:04 am

How relevant is waterfall ice climbing to alpine ice climbing? Is the same range of anchors used: vthreads/ice screws/wrapping natural features, etc? How similar are the climbing techniques, etc? What are the differences/similarities between the two?
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Postby brokesomeribs » Sat Jul 17, 2010 8:59 am

Waterfall ice is generally "shorter" in that it's often cragging. Even at Ouray, the tallest climb is what... 100' tall? I tend to protect it better and climb at a higher grade. I'm not especially concerned with weight. I'll carry the exact same rack, but climb substantially less distance, i.e. I'll be able to protect better.

I've slung a couple icicles here and climbing WI, but it's much more common on AI. Also using "terrain belays" - weaving around or threading through large boulders, spikes, etc. Essentially laying the rope so that it might catch a fall. Don't think I've ever done this on WI, only in the alpine. Watch out for sharp edges and constrictions that will catch your rope though.
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Postby Dow Williams » Sat Jul 17, 2010 2:45 pm

brokesomeribs wrote:Waterfall ice is generally "shorter" in that it's often cragging. Even at Ouray, the tallest climb is what... 100' tall?


If you are a tourist top rope climber, I suppose you are right...otherwise, Ouray (and real waterfall ice climbing) deserves a bit more respect from snow sloggers.
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Postby mconnell » Sat Jul 17, 2010 8:38 pm

brokesomeribs wrote:Waterfall ice is generally "shorter" in that it's often cragging. Even at Ouray, the tallest climb is what... 100' tall?


The ice park is basically gym climbing. Leave the park and there are plenty of much taller waterfall climbs in the Ouray area. The tallest climb I can think of in Ouray is 1200'.
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Postby Dow Williams » Sat Jul 17, 2010 8:53 pm

mconnell wrote:
brokesomeribs wrote:Waterfall ice is generally "shorter" in that it's often cragging. Even at Ouray, the tallest climb is what... 100' tall?


The ice park is basically gym climbing. Leave the park and there are plenty of much taller waterfall climbs in the Ouray area. The tallest climb I can think of in Ouray is 1200'.


I wouldn't divulge anymore my friend, dude not worthy of anymore detail than that. Cheers.
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Postby wallspeck » Sun Jul 18, 2010 3:11 am

One situational difference that all the WI experience possible will not help with. While alpine climbing, an encounter with asphalt hard "black ice" has to be experienced to believe. With no pro possible (you'd have better luck drilling a bolt into the stuff than an ice axe) it will be your mind that pulls you through.
Afterwards, you will appreciate the importance of the single malt.
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Postby Dow Williams » Sun Jul 18, 2010 3:43 am

To be clear if you get around someone who climbs a bit. When we reference alpine climbing, many times we are discussing big technical routes on big mountains that actually require hard rock and/or ice skills in combination to trodding up steep snow slopes. There is a an alpine grade. In the Canadian Rockies, if we climb 5000' on a route that is technical in any shape way or form, we tend to label that an alpine climb whether we encounter any snow and/or ice or not. It comes with an alpine and rock grade. For example this one I added last week, Gargoyle. You would hear us refer to this as an alpine rock route (there typically is no snow or ice on approach). A more classic alpine climb and included in the 50 North American Classics as defined by Roper and Steck would be the East Ridge of Mount Temple where we carry and use our rock gear and crampons. Same with the Bugaboos, we cross glaciated terrain in crampons to climb granite spires. All those routes come with an alpine and rock grade. Some even come with an alpine, rock and ice grade.

There are many snow/glacier climbs that most of us view as low grade alpine, they pull an alpine grade, but no corresponding rock or ice grade. This is what you are no doubt mostly referring to as alpine climbs. They are mostly humps with crampons and alpine ax in hand for self arrest purposes. Some of us prefer to solo them, others sew them up with conventional snow and ice protection. The most important advice for such climbs, is either solo them or place adequate pro. Don't ever let anyone suggest that you rope up, but not place "adequate" pro. Depends on the grade of slope, but the majority of the time, you will only be able to self arrest your own fall, and would most likly be incapable of arresting a greater force (your partner's fall which includes velocity).

Waterfall ice climbs many times involve alpine grades as well, i.e. Polar Circus which not only involves 1000's of feet of hump gain, but has multiple hard and steep waterfall ice pitches.

So an alpine snow route, labeled say Alpine II or III or IV, is completely different than climbing Polar Circus which would carry an Alpine V, WI 5 grade. The later requiring a much higher skill set obviously.

As far as Ouray goes, yes, it is famous first and foremost for its hard and long backcountry ice routes (as the lower 48 goes), the ice park was an afterthought to bring the International comps to town.
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Postby whiteknuckles » Sun Jul 18, 2010 8:50 pm

Alright, thanks for the responses.

I did an introductory mountaineering course recently, glacier walk-ups in the Wapta Icefields, and want to progress beyond what I learned. However, I live nowhere near mountains and at best I might be able to access some local waterfall ice and rock climbing on weekends.

I asked about the differences between waterfall and alpine ice climbing because I want to know to what extent the skills learned ice climbing relate to steep (primarily non-rock) alpine routes. I assume, accurately or not, building an anchor is building an anchor (equalize and isolate), belaying is belaying, moving on steep ice is moving on steep ice (even if its a different kind of ice with waaay more exposure and slightly different equipment), etc. Basically, and maybe it seems obvious, I'm trying to figure out whether waterfall ice climbing is a reasonable starting point to learn skills for the goal of climbing, non walk-up, glaciated peaks...given that I don't have access to mountains.

It probably would have been more direct for me to ask does waterfall ice climbing teach you some, if not all, of the skills that you need for steep alpine ice routes? :lol:
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Postby whiteknuckles » Sun Jul 18, 2010 9:05 pm

double post
Last edited by whiteknuckles on Sun Jul 18, 2010 11:31 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby mconnell » Sun Jul 18, 2010 11:00 pm

Dow Williams wrote: the ice park was an afterthought to bring the International comps to town.


Actually, I think the comps were an afterthought. Bill gave me the impression that it was a way to get his rooms filled up. Before the ice park, there weren't enough climbers (or anyone else) going to the area to keep Bill in business in the winter.
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Postby Damien Gildea » Sun Jul 18, 2010 11:14 pm

whiteknuckles wrote: ... does waterfall ice climbing teach you some, if not all, of the skills that you need for steep alpine ice routes? :lol:


Yes, some, but not all. On WI routes most, maybe all, your anchors and pro will be pure ice, either ice screw or Abalokov ice-thread. On alpine routes you may have rock placements (nuts, cams, pitons etc), snow (pickets, deadmen) as well as ice. Of course Abalakovs are only good in very hard ice, like water ice or glacial ice, so may not be used on a lot of alpine routes.

As for the actual climbing, if you can comfortably climb decent WI routes, say, WI3 and above, then the non-rock sections of most alpine climbs will feel relatively easy - technically - in comparision. Your tools and feet go in further, so you feel more secure, the angle is usually less, so you feel less like you can just drop off. 60 deg is very steep for a big traditional alpine route (as an average angle, some steps may be much more) but obviously most WI routes are of more sustained steepness than this. But having experience leading plenty of WI3-4+ routes means that you won't get spooked on the easier-angled sections of steeper alpine routes, so you can move faster, maybe unroped or moving together placing pro. Pitching is too slow.

But most big alpine climbs are about more than the technical qualities. You need to be fast and safe over moderate, maybe loose, ground - not the steepest tech ground. So this means good crampon technique on exposed icy slopes 30-45 deg, good rope management, use of natural pro like running the rope between gendarmes, good balance along and down ridges etc, and you need a good degree of physical fitness, especially legs and lungs, to keep moving without stopping. Much more than for just waterfall ice routes.

D
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Postby Dow Williams » Sun Jul 18, 2010 11:53 pm

I usually don't respond to such threads, because good folks normally come in and do a great job with the answer, like below....vs the garbage above! Thanks.

Damien Gildea wrote:
whiteknuckles wrote: ... does waterfall ice climbing teach you some, if not all, of the skills that you need for steep alpine ice routes? :lol:


Yes, some, but not all. On WI routes most, maybe all, your anchors and pro will be pure ice, either ice screw or Abalokov ice-thread. On alpine routes you may have rock placements (nuts, cams, pitons etc), snow (pickets, deadmen) as well as ice. Of course Abalakovs are only good in very hard ice, like water ice or glacial ice, so may not be used on a lot of alpine routes.

As for the actual climbing, if you can comfortably climb decent WI routes, say, WI3 and above, then the non-rock sections of most alpine climbs will feel relatively easy - technically - in comparision. Your tools and feet go in further, so you feel more secure, the angle is usually less, so you feel less like you can just drop off. 60 deg is very steep for a big traditional alpine route (as an average angle, some steps may be much more) but obviously most WI routes are of more sustained steepness than this. But having experience leading plenty of WI3-4+ routes means that you won't get spooked on the easier-angled sections of steeper alpine routes, so you can move faster, maybe unroped or moving together placing pro. Pitching is too slow.

But most big alpine climbs are about more than the technical qualities. You need to be fast and safe over moderate, maybe loose, ground - not the steepest tech ground. So this means good crampon technique on exposed icy slopes 30-45 deg, good rope management, use of natural pro like running the rope between gendarmes, good balance along and down ridges etc, and you need a good degree of physical fitness, especially legs and lungs, to keep moving without stopping. Much more than for just waterfall ice routes.

D
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Postby CClaude » Mon Jul 19, 2010 4:03 pm

Dow Williams wrote:
brokesomeribs wrote:Waterfall ice is generally "shorter" in that it's often cragging. Even at Ouray, the tallest climb is what... 100' tall?


If you are a tourist top rope climber, I suppose you are right...otherwise, Ouray (and real waterfall ice climbing) deserves a bit more respect from snow sloggers.


I'm on board with Dow on this. While everyone is different and approaches technical climbing in a different manner, if you are planning on doing more modern alpine climbs (as opposed to slogging volcano's and F/PD routes- and there is nothing wrong with that) being competent on technical ice will be beneficial.

While alpine climbing the ice can be quite crappy, it can be while ice climbing also. I've seen 1/2" verglas, detached verglas, typical chandelier,..... As for protecting climbs while ice climbing, you better be ready for a wide variety both in rock and ice. I brought a climbing partner who was very experienced on technical routes in Peru, out technical ice climbing, and at first the routes totally intimidated him. Then when he got good, his ability to handle the harder routes in Peru when way up.

As for the ice park in ouray being totally pedestrian, maybe if you are toproping, but if you are leading, especially anything in the Lead Only Area, you better not be falling unless you are on mixed with good gear.
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