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For a long time ice climbing has kept this mysterious allure for me. I didn't know much about it, but seeing pictures of guys halfway up these frozen waterfalls with nothing but a couple short spikes holding them up looked terrifying and stupid. I wanted to try. 


Rock climbing was the natural stepping stone for me to get to this place, although they are completely different in many ways. While rock climbing in Wyoming last year I made a new friend who ice climbed in the Winters. He was gracious enough to invite me along on one of his outings to Hyalite Canyon outside Bozeman, Montana. A mecca for ice climbing. 

I rented boots and crampons (the spikes that attach to your boot) from a local shop and mooched the rest of the necessary gear from those in our party. While they hauled backpacks full of climbing gear, my pack was stuffed with camera gear. I'm curious how some people do both.


Our hike from the car started flat on a trail, but was short lived before we started scaling straight up the side of the mountain covering approximately 1.5 miles and 1000ft vertical gain. I made the beginner mistake of starting with too many layers on resulting in a solid sweat on the hike up. Once we reached the icefall in the shadow of the mountain, the sweat backfired and chilled my whole body. Temps were in the mid teens Fahrenheit, perfect for ice climbing, bad if your clothes are damp.

In case you don't know how ice climbing works let me give a brief explanation coming from a beginner. You start at the bottom of the waterfall with crampons on your feet, a harness on your waist and ice axes in hand. A rope is tied to your harness and fed by someone on the ground as you climb higher. You scale by simply jamming your feet and axes into the ice one at a time making sure they are secure in the ice before moving on. After a certain distance has been made, you pull an ice screw off your harness and manually crank it into the ice (these can be 8 inches long). Once secure in the ice you hook your rope through the carabiner attached to the ice screw and press on going up. In rock climbing you anchor into the wall about every 5-10ft. If you're 10ft above your last anchor that means you'll fall 20ft. In ice climbing they would sometimes screw anchors after 20-25ft! When I asked why they space out the screws so far they replied "Rule #1 in ice climbing...don't fall". Fair enough

Ice climbing might look like a thrill seekers sport, but you won't get much of an adrenaline rush. Not if you're doing it right. If you like playing golf you might like this too. It's a slow movement. 3 points of contact at all times. Sometimes you get the ax to stick the first swing. Sometimes it takes several. It's picking the right line. Holding just the right grip. You have to have a sensitive touch. Be strategic and focused. And of course we can't forget a shoutout to the unsung heroes. The belayers.