Beginner’s Guide to Ice Climbing

Ice climbing is more demanding and thrilling than any rock climbing adventure that you have ever taken. It is similar to rock climbing, but it is done on waterfalls, glaciers and icefalls using special equipment. What makes ice-climbing more challenging is the nature of the ice that is continuously changing its structure and you can never be sure about the conditions you will meet on snowy mountains and glaciers. To master the skill of ice climbing, you need to learn how ice formation takes place and how it transforms. Here are the some basic things you need to know before you even think about starting on this adventure.

Ice climbing with lightest backpack

Agnes Sauvage;Dana Couloir - Mt. Dana, California

Know your gear

When it comes to ice climbing, you cannot afford to be wrong about gear. One mistake can put you in potential danger. Wearing the wrong type of shoes, using unfit crampons, bringing ice tools that you do not know how to use, and not bringing along the right backpack are some of the most common mistakes.

Crampons are the most important gear to purchase and will vary dependent on the route you plan to take.

  • If you are simply going for snow walking, get a crampon that is made of steel or aluminum, with horizontally fixed front points and a strap on.
  • If you are going for general mountaineering, glacier, or snow climbing, you will need special mountaineering boots, which are made especially to suit the harsh surface of the mountains. For this purpose, get a steel made crampon with a horizontally fixed front point, a step in or strap on option, and semi-rigid construction. Horizontal front points are suitable if the surface is relatively soft.
  • If you are going for waterfall climbing or mixed climbing, then purchase a crampon that has modular vertical front points because of the hard surface of the ice. With vertical front points, it becomes easier to get hold into hard ice by kicking your foot in. Make sure you keep the weather conditions in mind because when the ice starts to melt, the vertical crampons will make it very easy to cut into the ice and loosen the grip.
  • Have an expert train you before attempting to do it on your own!

Ice is dynamic in nature, and you cannot master the art of ice climbing without learning about the ice first. You’ll need to learn how to use the gears, how to sharpen your tools and crampons, and how to protect the ice using the ice screws. Given the ever-changing nature of ice, you cannot start without learning it from an expert first. You need to have a mentor or a guide who you can accompany on a trip and follow him so you learn how to be safe. You cannot simply assume that ice climbing is an easy activity. It has too many technicalities involved, which is why you need the guidance of an expert before you decide to go on your trip. Every ice climber should learn few basic techniques properly.

Tying in – This is the technique where you attach the rope to the harness you will use to climb up. Commonly used tie-in knots are figures of eight, stoppers, and bowlines.

Belaying – Belaying is the technique that is used to exert pressure on the rope to prevent falling off too far when climbing.

Abseiling – Also known as rappelling, this technique is used for getting down from the top after a climb.

Lowering – This technique is also used to come down from shorter and steeper walls.

Thank you for reading and we hope this post was informative! For your next ice climbing trip, be sure to check out some of Light Hiking Gear’s comfortable backpacks which are specially designed for extreme outdoor activities, including ice climbing!


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