A Frozen Ascent

A Frozen Ascent

A Beginner’s Guide to Adirondack Ice Climbing

Throughout the Adirondacks, adventurous explorers enjoy the art of scaling frozen waterfalls and ice-covered cliffs in frigid temperatures. Ice climbing, which relates to the art of rock climbing, allows adventurers to discover the beauty and challenges of the ever changing conditions of our environment.

Ice climbing in the High Peaks could be considered a dangerous winter activity, that is if you do not have the proper training and equipment. For many trained ice climbers, this is a fun and safe activity to do on the weekends between the months of December and late March. 

Most beginners start off at a professional instruction service or with a well-seasoned ice climber. Great Range Mountain Guides in Elizabethtown, New York and Rock and River Guide service in Keene, New York have instructors who can show you the ropes. During the instruction session, instructors go over what all the equipment is called and how to properly use it. 

Ben Rosenburgh is a student in the SUNY Plattsburgh expeditionary studies program with practice in ice climbing. Throughout his climbing journey, he has gained in-depth knowledge on this topic.

“Ice climbers use ice axes, crampons, and ropes on a belay system to ascend vertical or near-vertical ice formations. The ice axes are used to grip the ice and create anchors, while the crampons, which are spikes attached to the bottom of the climbing boots, provide traction on the ice,” Rosenberg said. 

This is all information beginners need to understand before stepping foot on the mountain. The tools used when ice climbing are not ordinary equipment seen in everyday life and play a crucial role in ensuring safety. 

Casey Henley, a seasoned ice climber as well as an expeditionary studies professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, has all the advice a beginner climber would need.

“Many times we have students walk around with the spiked crampons so they can practice not getting the sharp edges caught on anything,” Henley said.

The new learners then go on their first ice climb with the instructor, who leads the way, making sure all instructions are being followed.

 In most cases, ice climbers often enjoy rock climbing. Ice climbing will come more naturally if you are experienced in rock climbing, as the concept is extremely similar. 

“In ice climbing, the ice tool is not the hold. Many ice climbers grab their tools too high as they would in rock climbing. This will alter the direction you are going in and make it difficult to keep your grip,” Henley said.  

 Ice climbing is basically rock climbing, except now with the danger of ice and freezing weather conditions. Many times ice climbers must worry about being swept off an ice climb if something breaks or an avalanche of snow hits, making this type of climb much more risky. Many specialized climbers that have grown up in the Northeast have transitioned into ice climbing. 

Ice climbers are members of a community who share a passion for this challenging sport. Climbing can provide a sense of camaraderie and shared experience and allow you to meet new people who share your interest, especially at a guide school or in a college program such as the expeditionary studies major at SUNY Plattsburgh.

There are many benefits to taking on the challenges of this sport. Ice climbing is more than an activity to do with your friends, but will actually prepare you for struggles you may face in your day to day life. Being on the ice while worrying about the dangers of what could happen next fosters quick decision making skills and helps develop problem solving techniques. 

“The crazy thing is the ever-changing conditions. You constantly have to check if the ice will hold, is it facing the sun and melting, is the wind too strong. Every climb is a unique experience with its own list of concerns,” Henley said. 

There are many places to climb throughout the Adirondacks, but a widely popular place is Cascade Mountain. The Cascade is known for its beautiful hiking trails, lakes and stunning mountain vistas. Climbing a frozen waterfall and looking out over many lakes and the snow-capped mountain tops is a great addition to anyone’s bucket list.  

Another scenic area to ice climb is the Chapel Pond Slab, a classic Adirondack mountain climb located in the town of Keene, New York. This pond is at the bottom of 3,070-foot Round Mountain and provides not only a view, but safe, clean climbing slabs with a moderate incline. 

Unlike many other sports, ice climbing is a fairly small community of people. Scaling mountains with nothing but a rope and some specialized shoes can be viewed as intimidating, although much like Henley and Rosenburgh, the people who do know how, love every second of it.

 The best piece of advice any instructor can give you is: “Don’t be too confident, seek a guide service that can help you start up. Also, never ice climb alone,” Rosenberg said.   

Beginners Guide to Climb:

  1. 1. Know your gear: You will need specialized and specific equipment such as ice axes, crampons, a climbing harness, ropes and other safety equipment. It is recommended to invest in high-quality gear that fits properly and is appropriate for your skill level. These tools are helping you stay alive so investing in the higher end brand is not a bad idea. 
  2. 2. Learn the basics: Don’t try to ice climb on your own. Take a course or hire a guide to teach you the basics of climbing. The instructors enjoy doing this and want to teach new people. 
  3. 3. Practice: Start with easy and safe routes that are within your ability level. This will allow you to gain confidence and experience before attempting more challenging and dangerous climbs.
  4. 4. Build strength and endurance: Ice climbing requires a high level of physical fitness, including upper body and core strength, as well as endurance. Cross-training with activities such as rock climbing, weightlifting and even cardio exercises can help improve your fitness for ice climbing.
  5. 5. Be aware of safety measures: Safety should always be your top priority when ice climbing. This includes checking the weather and ice conditions, using proper safety equipment and knowing how to stop yourself from falling, if it is necessary.
  6. 6. Climb with a partner: It is important to always climb with a partner who can help you in case of an emergency. You should also practice communication and teamwork with your partner before attempting more challenging climbs.

Story By Abigail Passafiume, Photos provided by Cal Seeley

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