A first attempt at Ice Climbing – by Beth Lloyd

After exploring vertiginous Via Ferrata routes and taking in the fantastic backcountry that the Italian Dolomites have to offer, Beth Lloyd tried her hand at something completely different – Ice Climbing:

I regard myself as a winter enthusiast. I’m a competent skier, I enjoy snowshoeing and I can get from A to B on a board. If there’s snow around I’m usually at home. That cannot be said for its more condensed sibling however… ice. Whoever said skiers make good ice skaters can think again! Or at least I can confirm that I’m the exception to the rule. I’ve struggled to stay on my feet more times than I can count when the pavements ice over mid-winter and like many I’m also particularly cautious when my skis approach that translucent blue sheen of an ice patch and tend not to try anything too adventurous when crossing.

Despite this I’m always up for trying something different and whenever the chance to try my hand at a new skill arises I’ll give it a crack. So when I had the chance to try ice climbing for the first time this winter, it was with excitement and a certain amount of trepidation that I went along to give it a go. Was it to be another ice-related difficulty?

Ice climbing is exactly what it says on the tin. With axes in hand and crampons on foot, the climber scales a wall of ice, usually a frozen waterfall. They attach themselves into the ice using metal screws and then hope that they’ll hold if a fall happens (essentially falling is discouraged).

The ice climb I was about to attempt however was artificially made. Not far from where I was based for the winter in Corvara in Italy, a strong metal tower and frame stands just on the outskirts of the town, easily accessed by car or foot. When the temperatures are low enough water can be sprayed on to create an enormous tower of ice. At the very top of the structure, top ropes are attached, meaning the climber is safely secured in the case of a fall. This sounded like a safer option to get started with.

 

Ice Climbing 3

Climbing at night makes for a spectacular photo opportunity!

 

It was a desperately cold evening which was great for the ice, not for me. I danced around on the spot waiting for the owner of the wall to find me a spare helmet. I watched as a competent climber, I assumed he was a regular at the wall, confidently tapped his way up the enormous structure. He lodged his axe firmly and calmly swing after swing and used the toe points on his crampons with precision. I couldn’t tell if the fact that he was making it look so easy made me feel better or worse…

Eventually, the owner returned with a helmet for me to use and so it was my turn to scale the wall. After securing the crampons to my boots and wearing possibly every layer I own, I felt the weight of the axes in my hands and approached the wall. I quickly found out that its tricky knowing how hard to hit the ice. Not hard enough doesn’t feel secure but too much and the axe becomes wedged in and is hard to get back out -tough work for tired arms! Also, each swing sends shards of ice shattering the ground – climbers and belayers alike should be wearing helmets.

My ascent started clumsily, ice flying here there and everywhere, but slowly I became more confident with the technique and I progressed on from the initially easy gradient to something a little steeper.

 

Ice Climbing 2

Progressing on to something steeper was a great challenge and the artificial ice wall was perfect for this as you can see the gradient slowly increase

 

For my first attempt, I got roughly three-quarters of the way up before I decided to come down and rest. I made the apparently common beginner’s mistake of gripping the axes too hard and was suffering from achy hands and arms as a result.  Second time around, despite having a few wobbly moments, I had a talking to myself and made it to the top! An awesome feeling! I was buzzing to have overcome my nerves and finally given ice climbing a go! It hadn’t turned out as bad as ice skating had and that was enough to make me want to try it again someday.

Afterwards, we went for a well-deserved bite to eat and to warm up in a local pizzeria. I was pleased to have tried it and to have survived. Maybe now it’s time to try the real deal…

If you want to try the ice tower in Corvara for yourself then visit www.eisklettern.it/ for more info and check out the video below to get a sense of how the pros do it!

 

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