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Learning Ice Climbing
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By Jace Mullen
From Oceanside, Ca
Sep 21, 2011

Hey all!

I've been trad climbing for a few years, I have done some winter mountaineering here in SoCal and eventually I want to start doing some winter Alpine Climbs in the sierra.

So how do I learn ice climbing with the intent of alpine climbing? I feel like taking a class 1.) costs money (that I don't have) and 2.) will only teach my top-roping and such where lead climbing and such would be more important.

I do realized however, that I should probably start on top-rope.

Anyone want to take me out or know of any other way of learning?


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By Eric Fjellanger
Sep 21, 2011
Me on top of Chianti Spire

If you're a solid trad climber, and mountaineer, I don't think there's anything wrong with finding someone else with your same experience, getting some gear, and throwing a top rope on some ice to teach yourself. Read about techniques in a book (like Freedom of the Hills, for one) and just start doing it, it's not really black magic.

I don't live there, but I have ice climbed in Lee Vining Canyon on the east side of the Sierra. It seemed like a great place to learn (and it really seemed like everybody else thought so too... if you can go on a weekday it might be more fun), there are climbs you can walk around and set up a top rope. I believe the ice is reliably good and there are a variety of difficulties there.

Unfortunately I have heard from more than one person that it is the only ice in the Sierra. I am not sure what alpine ice you will be climbing there in the winter, my impression is that there are a few steep alpine ice couloirs you can climb in the springtime. My impression may be wrong.


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By Jace Mullen
From Oceanside, Ca
Sep 21, 2011

As I think about it, I think you are right, there are no alpine ice climbs in the Sierra.

What spurred this (not the wanting to ice climb, but this post) was a video I saw recently which as some shots of some epic looking climbs.



Around 2:15 specifically but pretty much the entire video got my psyched to go ice climbing.


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By Rocky_Mtn_High
From Arvada, CO
Sep 21, 2011
Lamb's Slide

Start by reading Will Gadd's blog , in particular his 22 March 2011 and 25 Mar 2011 blog posts.

I was especially struck by this advice: "Toprope. I keep writing this, but I do not think it's possible to have much understanding of ice until you have done at least 150 pitches of it."

After reading that, I am putting away my ice screws and Screamers for a while until I make a few more trips to Ouray...


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By BryanV
From Fort Collins, CO
Sep 21, 2011
Ouray Ice Park

Yes. Top rope for seasons before you start leading anything. Ice climbing is not like climbing on gear and it is nothing like sport climbing. If you listen to anything, listen to Will Gadd. The man has climbed ice for 3 decades and i think he says he has only fallen on ice once or twice. Maybe not at all. Technique is stupid important, physically as well as mentally, knowing ice conditions is paramount, knowing how to use gear and know how to retreat...the list goes on as to what an ice climber needs to be an expert about before taking to the frozen mountains and climbing vertical ice.

This Will Gadd blog post explains everything that is wrong with people who think they can ice climb anytime, anywhere. Ice conditions, capabilities, techniques, weather conditions, experience...everything comes into play anytime you get on ice.

gravsports.blogspot.com/2011/03/ice-climbing-is-not-rock-cli>>>

With all this being said, come on out to Colorado and get on some of the "ice cragging" areas and see how you stack up. Also, ice climbing is as much about temperature regulation as it is climbing ability. I hope this helps.

bv
white-knuckled.blogspot.com/


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By Crag Dweller
From New York, NY
Sep 21, 2011
My navigator keeps me from getting lost

"I have done some winter mountaineering here in SoCal"

is that really possible?


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By Jack Ziegler
From Golden, CO
Sep 21, 2011
me

Yes, Mount Baldy 10200 ft. 45 min drive from LA.


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By Crag Dweller
From New York, NY
Sep 21, 2011
My navigator keeps me from getting lost

Jack Ziegler wrote:
Yes, Mount Baldy 10200 ft. 45 min drive from LA.


i had no idea...


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By Eric Fjellanger
Sep 21, 2011
Me on top of Chianti Spire

Will Gadd is a smart man and a brilliant climber, and I wouldn't want to argue specifically with anything he has to say. He's unquestionably an expert.

I do believe that for a typical, weekend-warrior climber, the idea of spending several YEARS toproping ice before starting to lead is not very realistic and not very necessary.

It's true that it's much more complicated and much more dangerous than trad climbing. But I've heard the same advice about trad climbing- "you should follow for years before you start leading"- and I don't believe in that either. It sounds like people trying to make the sport sound more impressive and difficult and exclusive than it really is.

Know your own limits and stay well inside of them. Understand the medium and the tools you have to use. Have a healthy respect for the consequences of a mistake. Be safe.


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By Crag Dweller
From New York, NY
Sep 21, 2011
My navigator keeps me from getting lost

Eric Fjellanger wrote:
Will Gadd is a smart man and a brilliant climber, and I wouldn't want to argue specifically with anything he has to say. He's unquestionably an expert. I do believe that for a typical, weekend-warrior climber, the idea of spending several YEARS toproping ice before starting to lead is not very realistic and not very necessary. It's true that it's much more complicated and much more dangerous than trad climbing. But I've heard the same advice about trad climbing- "you should follow for years before you start leading"- and I don't believe in that either. It sounds like people trying to make the sport sound more impressive and difficult and exclusive than it really is. Know your own limits and stay well inside of them. Understand the medium and the tools you have to use. Have a healthy respect for the consequences of a mistake. Be safe.


+1

I think one VERY important piece of advice Will Gadd offered after the '150 laps' comment was to never get over-pumped and know how to clip into a tool and hang from it before that happens.

Whatever you do, don't fall. Stay well within your limits and know what to do when you find yourself outside of them.


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By BryanV
From Fort Collins, CO
Sep 22, 2011
Ouray Ice Park

I agree that years of top roping ice is not for everyone and if you progress and feel comfortable then you could jump into leading and feel perfectly comfortable (i did this). The only thing i would warn about is ice conditions and understanding that whole dynamic. Going into Eldo or Lumpy and jumping on a climb is the same day to day and year to year...typically. Ice changes hourly, daily and definitely yearly. Climbing at Ouray and then going to Loch Vale in RMNP are completely different. I have walked up to certain ice multiple times and not thought twice about leading it because of the conditions (airy, stepped, layered, etc.). This is the only thing i would warn about.

Yes, have fun and be safe. Read all that you can and then get out and chop some ice.

bv
white-knuckled.blogspot.com/


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By PAS
Sep 22, 2011

Become one with the ice !!!! I believe it most important to have the ability to read the ice, and knowing how conditions (ambient temp, rock behind the ice, water flow, rain, feed source, and growth stages) effect the integrity of the ice. Slab ice to pillars to free hanging ice all have there own characteristics as well as their own techniques for climbing them and often there are opportune zones inside a 24 hour day to climb.
I also believe that a climber using screws and rope should save one screw for a roll over top out, have the ability to build a v- thread, and clip into tool or drape rope over tool in a emergency situation.
For technique, time on ice, and instruction (book, guide, or friend) will suffice. A fall on ice will likely end end the days climb. Enjoy !!!!!


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By Copperhead
Sep 22, 2011

Who said anything about years of toproping? He said 150 pitches. That is like 15 days max. I think if it will take you years to climb 150 pitches , you are the guy Gadd was talking about.

Although I agree that 150 is a lot and pretty conservative (I did 4 or so before leading my first 30 ft WI 3), but if you can't crank out 10 laps a day, you may not be ready to lead either.


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By Zach.Moore
From Minneapolis, MN
Sep 22, 2011
Laceration Jam

Copperhead wrote:
Who said anything about years of toproping? He said 150 pitches. That is like 15 days max.


Agreed.


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By Jordan Ramey
From Calgary, Alberta
Sep 22, 2011
What was left of the rack when I topped out on the last pitch of Snake Dike on Half Dome.

www.supertopo.com/tr/Tahquitz-Ice-Climbing/t10528n.html

SoCal get's some "Scottish" style ice climbing in every so often on Tahquitz! Although, after climbing real ice in Canada this past winter I can assure you that the Tahquitz "alpine" climbing was harrowing in comparison to good ice.


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By Crag Dweller
From New York, NY
Sep 22, 2011
My navigator keeps me from getting lost

PAS wrote:
...clip into tool or drape rope over tool in a emergency situation...


i've never heard of draping the rope over a tool. is that safe? don't most tools have a fairly sharp edge along the top of the pick? i know mine do.


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By Jordan Ramey
From Calgary, Alberta
Sep 22, 2011
What was left of the rack when I topped out on the last pitch of Snake Dike on Half Dome.

Crag Dweller wrote:
i've never heard of draping the rope over a tool. is that safe? don't most tools have a fairly sharp edge along the top of the pick? i know mine do.


It's for an old style axe that had a rope notch in the head for just that reason. Maybe not such a good idea with a new model super sharp tool.


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By Steve Powell
From Alhambra, California
Sep 26, 2011

Plenty of alpine ice routes in the Sierra.
Dana couloir, Ice nine, left, and right couloirs on North peak, Checkered Demon, etc.


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By Topher42
Sep 27, 2011

Took Ice 1 Class From Sierra Mountain guides last season, after reading both the Gadd book and Leuben book several times, although it was top roping it was worth while I felt to get into the sport. However if you can find a good mentor even better I could not. Hoping to get lots of TR this Season in Tahoe.
Good luck
Oh FYI I found leash less climbing to be the way to go not a single newbie in the clinic chose leashes when given the choice, I think we were on WI3 and WI4. but to each there own.


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