by Jullie

September 23, 2021

What Is Ice Climbing

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. 

What Is Ice Climbing?

Who Can Practice Ice Climbing

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.

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, 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.

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 place 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 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 is 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.

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About the author 


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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