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Chad Peele’s Ice Climbing 101
Posted on June 26, 2009

Chad Peele

Written by T-Dawg on June 10, 2009
Awesome video and photos, Chad! How long have you been ice climbing? Also, how much training does a beginner have to do to qualify to do ice fall climbing heights that you and Althea were attempting?

Answered by Chad Peele on June 26, 2009
T-Dawg, thanks for the interest and response. I could best answer your questions by getting you out on the ice, but I’ll do my best to answer your questions with my confuser, I mean computer.

First, I started ice climbing in the late ‘90s on snow-free glaciers in Alaska. Glaciers are a great place to learn about the sport, including the gear, the ice and the correct body positions. If you don’t have glaciers nearby (it’s OK, most of us don’t!), frozen waterfalls are the next best thing to learn on.

In regards to how much experience does one need in order to climb waterfalls similar to the ones in the video, it depends. I’ll lay out two options and you can see which one might suit you the best.

Option one is that you already have a solid background in rock climbing, including anchor construction, equipment and safety, but you lack specific ice climbing equipment and knowledge. If this is you, please make sure that you find an experienced partner to give you a solid ice climbing introduction and read some good books on the subject. For “how to” books, I would recommend checking out the Mountaineers series in your local outdoor shop or bookstore, as they have really good specific info regarding ice climbing.

For ice climbing equipment for option one, you would need technical ice tools and crampons in addition to the standard supply of universal climbing equipment (harness, helmet, climbing rope, belay device, etc.). The technical tools are generally shorter in length (55cm), have an aggressive mid-shaft bend for clearing ice bulges, and a murderous-looking reversed curve pick. Nowadays, most ice tools come “leashless” with a wrist leash option, and I would encourage you to boldly move forward without wrist leashes. Leashless climbing brings greater diversity in your climbing style and allows you more opportunities to let go of the tool. This relaxes the muscles and allows greater blood flow, which helps prevent cold and fatigued hands. Trust me when I say this is not a trend but an advancement in gear and efficient technique!

The crampons are similar to mountaineering crampons but generally have a more aggressive look with the addition of vertical front points. Vertical front points allow for easier penetration into hard ice, while horizontal points allow for greater stability and surface area into less hard snow. Most technical crampons will also come with the option for the user to choose between dual or mono (two or one) front points. This is an option for climbers depending on their preference and/or ice conditions. Personally, I prefer mono points as I believe they allow me greater diversity and movement on ice and mixed (rock) terrain, although if you’re not sure where to start, I would recommend dual points until you establish a preference.

If using this option and venturing out on your own, please make sure that you are climbing on established ice routes and that they are well-formed and solid. Remember, you are climbing frozen water: warm temperatures and running water on the surface or underneath the ice are all dangerous signs! Other than continuing to be safe and using good judgment, start slow, have fun, and you’ll be there in no time!

Option two is to hire a climbing Guide, rent equipment, and see for yourself if ice climbing is for you before dropping a lot of coin-or worse-getting in over your head. Most states that experience winter (this would rule out Florida!) will usually have numerous guide services that offer instructional classes in ice and mixed climbing. If hiring an independent guide, please make sure that they are in good standing with the climbing community and are legal in regards to liability and land use permits. If you are open to traveling, I would highly recommend visiting Ouray, Colorado, for the annual ice festival which occurs every January. Here you can demo (for free!) the latest gear from all major companies, as well as sign up for extremely cheap clinics that cover the full range of intro to advanced techniques. You can also hire your own private guide through numerous permitted guide services for as short as a half day to several days depending on your time and desires. Option two is what I do in the wintertime in conjunction with San Juan Mountain Guides, and I would be honored to climb with you, or anyone else for that matter, anytime!

In regards to training and fitness, I would say the more the merrier but everybody begins somewhere. Personally, I would place attitude and desire being most important with fitness second. All levels can and should enjoy climbing, although the more fit and coordinated you are, the faster you will progress and the more enjoyment you will have. In the First Ascent video, Althea and I showcased the climb “Pic of the Vic,” which is a long and steep classic climb in Ouray. Usually when I teach a two-day intro to ice climbing course, we will end day two with a climb on this line. Just to give you an idea of what is involved in a two-day course, I’ll give you a quick rundown. Day one involves focusing heavily on body movement, crampon kicks and ice tool swings. Basically, this is ice movement 101 with the addition of basic rope work, belay and anchor skills. On day two we focus on greater efficiency and steeper ice climbing techniques with more tips and tricks for anchors and basic self rescue. Although this is personal preference, I like to end my course with a celebration climb on Pic of the Vic. Every climber I’ve ever been with has had success on this line, although some feel more confident and climb “smoother” than others.

So to sum it up, T-Dawg, if ice climbing looks like fun and you have an outgoing and adventurous personality, you could be climbing the same waterfalls in the First Ascent video in a couple of days!

Keep it chilly,
“Ice Pick” Peele

Author: - Friday, June 26th, 2009

  1. T-Dawg

    Dude! Thanks for the feedback, “Ice Pick.” I’m trying to build up some endurance by doing some walking and hiking in my neighborhood and in the Black Hills. I need to loose some pounds and then get some strength training in. Working at Eddie Bauer and taking advantage of the “Outside” program and watching you and the rest of the First Ascent Team have really inspired me to get more active with my life. When I accomplish my goal fitness level and weight I think I may have to take you up on your offer for a guided climb, and see if I have what it takes.
    Thanks again Chad for your info. and if you are at Rapid City, SD stop by for a hike in the Hills.
    Tracy “T-Dawg” Owens R-400

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