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The Thrilling Sport Of Ice Climbing

Ice can be dangerous. If danger puts you in your element, then ice climbing is a sport that you would love. The risks are many but the rush of adrenaline as you scale ice and the joy of reaching the top make the risks worth it. Ice climbing branched out from mountaineering when people started taking bigger risks. Ice climbing wasn’t looked at as a sport before, it was mainly a discipline that was a part of mountaineering. If scaling ice sounds easy to you, I must warn you the devil is in the detail.

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Image credit: “Eisklettern kl engstligenfall” by Bernhard – Own work.


Ice climbing traces its roots in the history of 19th century European mountaineering. Ice climbing evolved when Laurent Grivel created a pair of crampons which had two protruding front points to it. With the help of these front points, you could carve yourself steps in the ice. This eliminated the need for chopping the steps by using other means. This made ascent quicker and easier. When ease combined the risks of ice climbing, it resulted in the desire to attempt more challenging routes.

The modern tools utilized in ice climbing came into existence during the 1960s. Yvon Chouinard and Charlet Moser are usually credited for the creation of the first short-shaft ice tool. The ice axes made ice climbing even easier and armed with shorter axes, and lighter tools, climbers began exploring world of frozen waters. This gave birth to the thrilling sport of ice-climbing.

Where To Ice Climb?

From frozen waterfalls to steep ribbons of ice and everything in between, ice-climbing can be done at any place where there is vertical ice. Your ice-climbing pursuits will vary depending on the type of ice you will be climbing. Ice is not the same everywhere.

The types of ice will vary and it will change the way you climb it. There is ice that is soft, rotten, serac, glacier rime, hoarfrost and firnspiegel. Additionally, ice can also be brittle, blue, black or plastic. You then have the type of ice which breaks like plates and those that fall off like a chandelier.

With so many options to consider, ice-climbing has garnered the interest of many people who have an eye for thrill. The extent of its popularity has introduced routes with artificial indoor ice in North America.

The best ice is found in the coldest corners of the world. Canada has some of the best ice-climbing routes hidden in the Rockies and in Quebec.

Route Ratings

The North American ice routes are currently graded between WI1 to WI8. WI is short for Water Ice. Beginners should consider WI3 to start their ice climbing journeys. WI4 makes things difficult as it approaches vertical and WI5 ups the difficulty level with extended sections of vertical ice.

As routes get tougher, you will find fewer chances to rest as you scale the ice. The routes become steeper and more technical. Tough routes also minimize your protection and you are more prone to accidents as the routes get difficult.

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Gear you need

The two crucial equipments of ice climbing are ice tools and crampons. A helmet and warm clothing are also considered to be essential for the climber. A lot of other equipment like climbing harness, rope, belay device and slings are also utilized. You will find climbing gloves to be very helpful as well. Make sure you choose gloves that allow you to grip your tools with ease so that climbing does not get difficult for you. The tools you will be using for climbing are much shorter than the traditional ice axes. It is important that you set out with all the equipment to ensure safety while you climb. The equipment must also be checked for faults to ensure that you do not meet with any problems when you are halfway through.

Dangers of ice climbing

The sport of ice climbing requires a clear head and sound decision making. There are a lot of dangers when it comes to ice climbing. Some unpredictable ones are falling ice and avalanches. Another thing to worry about is the fact that a fall is not as simple as you hitting the ground, but with all the tools falling down with you, there is a possibility of greater injury which may be fatal.

Final Word

Finally, the sport inarguably has its own charm to it. To be out in the forest and mountains blanketed with snow, surrounded by beauty and silence, a landscape immersed in snow and the reflections of the sunlight create an experience that you could hardly pass on.

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Thrill Girl Cotti Daniels

Header image credit: “Canadian Rockies – Oh le tabernacle” by brunolebivic

Background image credit: “1982 expedition to Tartu Ülikool 350 (30)” by Jaan Künnap

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