September 23, 2021

What Is Ice Climbing and What to Wear for Ice Climbing

by Jullie

Moving up a frozen waterfall doesn’t sound like a good idea for fun. It sounds weird and scary, right? Well, give it a try one day, and you will be glad you did. 

It is breathtaking and fun! Smashing up glittering ice in impressive scenery is an activity many outgoing people would enjoy. This guide dives into what is ice climbing, what to wear for ice climbing, as well as how dangerous is ice climbing. 


Table of Contents
Who Can Practice Ice Climbing
What is Ice Climbing?

Related Article: Is Ice a Mineral?

What Is Ice Climbing?

Ice climbing, or ice on rock climbing, is a form of rock climbing that takes place on frozen waterfalls. Ice climbing is not simply an ice version of alpine mountaineering. Climbers use different techniques on ice than they do when rock climbing on dry rock.

The art of ice climbing has been around for centuries but only became popular in the last few decades. The number of climbers using this sport has grown massively since 2007, with more than 500 new routes being established every year.

Rock climbing and ice climbing have several similarities. The only difference here is that instead of climbing on a rock, you climb on ice or a frozen waterfall. Ice climbers use ropes, picks, crampons as well as other gear to ice climb. 

For several decades, ice climbing was part of rock climbing and other climbing adventures. Initially, when ice climbers reached a section with ice on a mountain, they would traverse the area to continue moving upward. 

However, the challenge and thrill of moving up on ice caught on with time, and the mountaineering activity was born. Today instead of ice being a hindrance, it is an adventure in itself. 

You can practice ice climbing independently or as part of an expedition. Frozen and Glaciers waterfalls are the most popular ice climbing destinations on the planet. 

Some ice climbers also engage in mixed climbing, a mountaineering activity that involves climbing on snow, rock, and ice. Just like most climbing sports, ice climbers work in groups pairs. One person climbs while another one acts as an anchor and vice versa. 

When Can You Practice Ice Climbing

Crampons are attached to the boot to secure foot placements, and ice picks or ice axes are used to secure hand placements as you move up, ice kicking and swinging on inclines. Ropes keep climbers safe, and a lead climber or guide uses ice screws for protection as they ascend. 

Tip: Read our entire guide on how to lead climb with safety in mind, plus the 2022 UIAA Ice Climbing European Cup Season.

Now though it sounds easy, smashing the ice to lodge your crampons and ice tools requires a bit of skill so as to make it easy and conserve energy which is vital in ice climbing!

Because the environment that ice climbing takes place in is a bit scary, many people consider it an extreme sport. Besides being outdoors in freezing temperatures for several hours, an ice climber is exposed to adverse weather conditions, crevasses, bergschrund, and avalanches. 

Nonetheless, for the adventurous, such risks and experiences only augment the thrill of ice climbing. Glacier trekking is a good alternative if you find ice climbing too extreme.

That said, ice climbing varies around the globe depending on the climate and terrain. It can range in height from a few meters to hundreds of meters; you can get soft, plastic, and even hard ice.

Related Article: Is Ice a Rock?

Who Can Practice Ice Climbing?

You do not need to have previous mountain climbing experience or be a fitness enthusiast to ice climb. But keep in mind that it is a physical sport, so some fitness levels will be advantageous. 

What Ice Climbing Is

There is no age limit, but it is almost impossible to find crampons for people who wear less than size 36. Keep that in mind when planning a family ice climbing escapade. 

Also, it is a bit technical, and you must learn how to crampon as well as place ice axes properly. It is also important to know how to choose an ice axe.

It is also crucial to learn rope work, such as abseiling, belaying, and placing ice screws. Understand different types of ice and how stable they are for safety purposes. 

What to Wear for Ice Climbing?

The equipment required: ice axes and climbing crampons. In most cases, you can hire them in most ice climbing venues. Some guides and operators also provide the gear. 

That said, there are many types of crampons and ice axes available, depending on the type of ice, personal preference, terrain, and level of skill. 

An ice-ax is designed with a double-sided head, where one side has a sharp chisel-like tool and a sharp pick on the other. So, when climbing, a climber swings the pick into the ice and then uses it as a grip as they pull up. 

On the other hand, Crampons are metal spikes on a frame that clip on boots and grip into ice as a climber walks or climbs over it. In terms of safety equipment, ice screws, rope, helmets, ice climbing pants, and harnesses are important. Most guides or tour companies also provide safety equipment. 

What to Wear for Ice Climbing

Also, you will need a good pair of mountaineering boots that will connect with the crampon. Most of them are very expensive, but again they are usually available for hire in most ice climbing venues. 

You will require multiple layers of clothing because you generate a lot of heat when climbing, and you may be required to remove some layers. 

Then when you stop, you add the layers again to keep warm. The right gloves are also necessary. Go for ice climbing gloves that have a grip and are flexible. They will make it easy for you to hold ice axes. They may also get wet, so several pairs are a good idea. 

Getting over gloves is important too. They will come in handy when waiting or resting in the cold. The outer layer should be waterproof and stretchy for easy climbing. A buff or a balaclava is nice for wearing under the helmet for heat conservation.

How Dangerous Is Ice Climbing?

As long as all the safety guidelines are adhered to, it is safe to ice climb. Of course, there are always accidents and mishaps here and there in all types of sports, but this one has the lowest rate. 

The gear and equipment used are designed to help you throughout the process as well as protect you. Beginners usually start on top of a rope, meaning the rope moves to the anchor above, so if you fall by mistake, the rope catches instantly. 

How Dangerous Is Ice Climbing

When Can You Practice Ice Climbing?

The fascinating world of icefalls is normally accessible only during certain months of the year. However, there are areas where ice climbing is done all year round! Yes, you got that right. 

Glaciers are a good example of a venue where ice climbing is done throughout the year. Similarly, most climbing activities to high altitudes usually involve mixed and ice climbing.

You can also engage in rock climbing during the off-season to keep yourself fit. This is an amazing way to stay busy and during summer as the skills and strength you acquire will help you on ice climbing when the time comes.

What are the Different Types of Ice Climbing?

The different types of ice climbing are vertical ice, mixed climbing, dry tooling, and ice climbing. Dry tooling is a type of mixed climbing where the climber uses a pair of metal picks to climb up the ice. Vertical ice is used for general mountaineering, where the climber ascends on pure vertical ice. Mixed climbs are used for high mountain routes.

Ice climbers use two tools to ascend on this type of vertical ice: an axe and an adze or hammer. The adze has a one-sided blade that gives more control than an axe when it comes to cutting steps in the snow and protecting them with immovable objects like rocks or deadman anchors.

How Do I Start Ice Climbing?

Ice climbing can be a fun and challenging adventure for anyone. It is a sport that you must prepare for. 

  • The first thing you will need to do before you start ice climbing is finding out about the different techniques, equipment, and safety measures. 
  • The second thing is to be prepared for the cold when ice climbing. You will need winter clothing such as wool or fleece clothes or clothing with an insulated lining such as down jackets, boots with good grip, and non-cotton socks. 
  • The third most important thing to climb an ice wall safely is proper technique and safety gear – the rope, harness, and belays device (ice screws). You should never try to climb any mountain or cliff without proper training or experience.

Why Should I Go Ice Climbing?

Ice climbing is a sport that has been around for more than 100 years. It is also one of the most extreme winter sports. The first documented ice climb was done in 1882 by S. E. Childs, who climbed what would become known as “Child’s Route” on the frozen American River near Sacramento, California. Ice climbing can be done anywhere there is ice – mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and even big cities like New York City!

There are many reasons to go ice climbing, but I will focus on three of them:

1) Adventure: Ice climbing is an adventure sport like no other; you need to really want it to do it! This means you need mental toughness and physical endurance to go through with it – you really want it!

2) Closer to Nature: Ice climbing is a great way to experience the power of nature.

3) Achievement: Ice climbing gives a sense of achievement when you finish an ascent and the feeling of being in control due to its simplicity.

Is It Difficult to Climb Ice?

It is actually not that difficult to climb ice. The tricky part is to find the best direction for your ascent. The top 10,000 feet of the mountain are usually covered with ice and snow. This region can be divided into three zones: the lower, middle, and upper zones.

The lower zone is where most people will start their ascent of an ice mountain. It is also considered easy because it has a moderate slope of about 45 degrees, and there are many footholds on the surface of the ice.

Middle Zone: The middle zone has steeper slopes than any other region on an ice mountain with grades that range between 55-75 degrees. The route may be tricky, but it is possible to find your way up these slopes if you are careful enough when choosing your footholds.

What Gear Do You Need to Ice Climb?

Different ice climbing gear is required for different ice climbing conditions. Some climbers may find the need to invest in more than one set of gear, depending on what type of routes they are planning to climb. This article will cover all the essentials needed for ice climbing, as well as some optional equipment that can make your experience much easier and safer.

  • Ice Axes: Ice axes are crucial for stability on steep slopes and to anchor oneself when traversing across a slope. While there are many types of axes, two-sided axes with curved picks offer the best functionality.
  • Crampons: Crampons clip onto the front end of an ice axe to provide grip and prevent slipping on wet ice or snow-covered slopes. They usually come in pairs, which you will need if you travel with your partner.
  • Helmet: Like the rest of the climbing gear, ice climbing helmets are designed to protect your head from falls and sharp objects. Ice climbing helmet is built for a single purpose – to protect your head from falls and other accidents while ice climbing. It’s essential if you want to avoid injury and headaches. At the same time, it’s relatively expensive because it has to meet various safety standards and requirements.
  • Harness: The harness is a key piece of equipment in ice climbing because it secures you and prevents you from falling when climbing up the ice wall or descending from the top. You can keep your gear in the harness, which is large enough for most gear, and also has attachment loops for carabiners.

What are the Safety Precautions for Ice Climbing?

Ice climbing is an adventure sport that can be dangerous for beginners. If you’re new to the game, it is important to know that in order to stay safe, you should always follow these safety precautions:

  • Always use a helmet.
  • Always bring extra clothes in case you get wet and cold.
  • Know how to tie yourself onto the rope and belay correctly, so you don’t fall down the mountain.

How Do You Choose a Route to Climb that is Appropriate for Your Skill Level?

This guide is designed to inform climbers about the different climbing routes and where they converge so that climbers can choose a route that is appropriate for their current skill level.

Climbing routes are either technical or non-technical, and they vary in grade and length. Routes may be found in gyms, single-pitch crags, or remote areas. The type of climb chosen should be appropriate for the climber’s skill level as well as the desired physical demands.

What is the History Behind Ice Climbing?

Ever since the invention of the ice axe in 1866, ice climbing has been a popular recreational activity.

Ice climbing is an outdoor wintertime activity that combines rock climbing with the use of ice axes and crampons to ascend steep iced faces. The goal is to reach the summit or top of a frozen waterfall or ice cliff without falling to one’s death. It is typically less dangerous than attempting to climb an icy slope using crampons and what are called “ice tools” because there are no ropes involved.

Ice climbing originated in Norway in the late 1800s when people would use hot water bottles on their hands and feet to protect from cold temperatures. Later on, they were able to use axes instead of just their bare hands for protection against falls.

What is the Best Way to Climb Ice?

The best way to climb ice is by using ice axes and crampons. Ice axes and crampons can be used to ascend ice while also providing protection from the ice’s surface. Ice axes are used for balance while ascending, while crampons provide traction on the iced surface.

What are the Dangers of Climbing Ice?

The dangers of ice climbing can be from factors that include ice conditions, snow and rock quality, weather conditions, sudden storms, avalanche danger, and equipment.

Ice climbers often wear a harness to prevent a fall from the top of the ice pillar. Ice climbers may also wear crampons or spikes on their boots for traction and safety.

Why Do People Climb Ice?

There are many reasons why people choose to climb ice. Some of them are because it is a challenge, while others believe it is an opportunity to see the beauty of nature in an entirely different way. No matter what the reason is, climbing ice can be a dangerous activity, and it should not be underestimated.

People want to challenge themselves and learn new skills in order to grow as individuals. There are many different types of activities that can help people with this goal, such as rock climbing or mountain biking. Climbing ice might seem like an unusual activity, but there are a few reasons why people might choose this one in particular:

  • It is a challenge for both your physical and mental capabilities.
  • It offers a way to experience nature differently.
  • Some people believe that climbing ice can be an enjoyable activity.

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About the author 

Jullie

Jullie is a professional indoor climber. She loves speed climbing competitions. This style makes her feel like she's flying. Maybe because her other passion is flying airplanes. Obviously, high speeds are her thing.

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