Now that the ice climbing season is in full swing, a lot of Ouray visitors are enjoying climbing our beautiful Rocky Mountains. Ouray has been blessed with amazing ice climbing opportunities.
We have an entire ice park dedicated to ice climbers of all levels and backgrounds: Ouray Ice Park has some amazing ice-related adventures for all members of the family. With many climbs of variable difficulty, it caters to all ice climbers, from beginners to experienced ones.
However, before testing your ice climbing strengths and abilities, let’s take a look at the key elements ice climbers should keep in mind.
Ice climbing for beginners
Going ice climbing on your own, without having the proper training, is highly dangerous and could lead to injury—or worse. Ice climbing instructors will train you and share essential knowledge with regards to ice climbing. Always get a professional lesson before you begin.
It is even better if you hire a trained guide throughout your ice climbing adventure. Professional guides know everything about climbing routes and weather conditions. They will also gauge your physical strength before endeavoring into an ice climb. They will know what to do in case of an emergency. And they will remind you of any precautions you might forget in your excitement about ice climbing.
There are many experienced and trained ice climbing instructors and guides in the Ouray area. Finding one will make your whole ice climbing experience more enjoyable and safer. You can reach out to the Peak Mountain Guides or the San Juan Mountain Guides for training seminars and courses and guides as well. The American Alpine Institute also has local instructors and guides.
It’s good to remember that ice climbing is not a solo sport. Ice climbers always go in pairs; while one person climbs, the other person belays the rope, i.e. holds it steady and acts as an anchor, keeping the rope straight and tight.
Observe your surroundings
Unless you’re climbing at the Ouray Ice Park, it’s good to be aware of your surroundings. Even if you have a guide, observe the weather and notice any sudden changes that could endanger your ice climbing experience or put your life at risk.
When climbing in the Backcountry, remember that ice is not stable. It moves at its own pace and at the most unexpected of times. Be alert and avoid standing in designated fall zones (zones where ice falls from previous climbers or because of its slow movement). Remember that avalanches do happen, therefore check for avalanche forecasts in the area you are planning to ice climb.
You are bound to get hungry
Cold weather will increase your metabolism, as will all the exercise involved with ice climbing.
Keep an energy or chocolate bar in your pocket in case you need a quick energy boost during your climb.
This will save you time from unpacking your bag looking for something to eat. Is there a better way to eat a chocolate bar than watching the view from an ice climbing peak?
If you’re running low on provisions, a quick stop at our local market, Duckett’s Market, will get you everything you need.
Be in constant communication with your climbing partner. It’s important to be aware of falling tools or debris and the location of your partner in relation to yourself at all times.
As your partner climbs while you are belaying (meaning you are lower than your partner), ice chunks are bound to fall on your head. Wear a helmet and glasses to protect your head and face from falling debris.
What do ice climbers use to climb?
Proper gear will make your ice climbing experience safe and enjoyable.
Insulated gloves, ice picks, screws, crampons and axes, proper boots that fit well, a helmet, and ropes are all necessary gear to start climbing on ice.
You will be climbing in sub-zero conditions, so stay warm and have isothermal clothes. Because small accidents can happen and you might get wet, it’s good to have a spare of everything you are wearing. Being wet and frozen is a very miserable situation to find yourself in!
Some common equipment you will need includes:
If you’ve done any rock climbing before, you already know how important harnesses can be and maybe already have one of your own! If you’ve never done any climbing before, though, know that it’s incredibly important to keep you from falling. Be sure to buy or rent one before going out on the ice. Just make sure it fits over a heavy coat!
It’s vital to keep your head protected in case of any accidents. Bits of falling ice or a slip that causes you to hit your head could result in a major head injury. Just be sure to use a size that’s big enough to fit a warm hat underneath.
There are specialized boots for ice climbing and mountaineering that are often plastic and able to fit into crampons. They are often lightweight, but sturdy. Be sure to wear warm socks beneath!
Your ice climbing guide will likely provide you with a set of crampons. Some are for general use where others are more specialized, but crampons basically help improve mobility when climbing on the ice.
Ice tools (or ice axes) are specially formed for ice climbing, as mountaineering axes are generally much longer. Ice axes are shorter, curved, and allow for a more efficient swing and pick placement. There are several other tools such as ice protection tools that a guide may provide you with.
Ice climbing ropes are not much different than other climbing ropes. There are quite a few different diameters, but you will need to ensure that your ropes are dry-treated. Ice climbing guides may provide you with the necessary ropes.