Ice, Ice Climbing, Baby
Winter is coming… bringing the ice climbing season with it! Whether you’re a seasoned multi-pitch ice climbing veteran, or if all you know is that it looks pretty rad and you want to try it for the first time, the national parks provide a wonderful frozen playground for ice climbers of all experience levels.
To learn what you need and where to go, just keep reading!
First, make sure you learn the ropes. Ice climbing is an inherently risky sport that catches even the most experienced ice climbers off guard. The best way to get started safely would be to take a class, hire a guide, or go with well-trusted, very experienced friends. What’s best about going with a guiding service is that, especially when you’re just trying it out, renting gear will be a fraction of what it would cost to commit to buying your own.
Having the Right Gear
Speaking of gear, here are just some of the things to consider having while ice climbing:
- Mountaineering boots
- Ice axes
- Climbing rope
- Ice protection (known as ice screws)
- Backpack to carry all your gear, food, water, and extra clothes!
- Make sure you are dressed properly for the conditions. This means scarves, gloves, mitts, and warm layers.
What Do Those Numbers Mean?
When you look up what places you want to go ice climbing, you’ll see that ice routes (WI for Water Ice) are graded by difficulty from WI1 – WI7. Here’s a quick rundown of what these letters and numbers mean:
- WI1: Low-angle ice requiring no tools
- WI2: Low-angle (about 60°) ice that can be done using only one ice axe
- WI3: Steeper ice that is at a sustained 70° angle, with occasional bulges of 80°-90°
- WI4: Near-vertical ice that requires good technical skills with occasional resting points.
- WI5: Near-vertical technical ice with few good resting opportunities
- WI6: Completely vertical with no resting spots
- WI7: Ice that is mostly overhanging
Where Can I Go?
Now that you’ve figured out your instructional and gear needs, where can you go? There are remarkable national parks across the country that provide ample opportunity for pure ice climbing. Most of these have frozen waterfalls to climb only in the winter, but a handful of them have glaciers to climb, even in the middle of summer!
- Acadia National Park: In this winter wonderland, water dripping down cliffs and through narrow gullies freeze into icy cascades and curtains to kick your crampons into.
- City of Rocks National Reserve: With a name like “City of Rocks,” it’s hard to imagine that this national reserve in Idaho gets any ice but in the winter, this rock-climber’s haven gives visitors an opportunity to climb ice with more of an alpine feel.
- Glacier National Park: This landscape has opportunities for summer glacial ice climbs and challenging winter climbs.
- Rocky Mountain National Park: If you’re looking for a good concentration of both less-committing introductory routes and long and technically-challenging climbs in an alpine setting, this Coloradan national park is the place to be.
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: This other-worldly frozen landscape has a multitude of frozen waterfalls and curtains and columns of ice to climb in the winter.
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve: In the summer, you can go on an ice climbing adventure on your own or with a guided group that is licensed to operate in the park.
- Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: Depending on the conditions, the waterfalls around the park provide challenges for all levels of ice climbers
- Kenai Fjords National Park: Exit Glacier provides good opportunities to throw your ice axe into glacial ice in both the summer and winter seasons
Now that you know what to take and where to go, your next ice climbing adventure awaits! After you turn in the voluntary climber’s registration form available at ranger stations, or after you’ve made a reservation with a licensed and accredited guide service, it’s time to kick some ice and throw some axes.