Do One Thing: Ice Climbing

Do One Thing is an occasional series based on the well-known idea: “do one thing everyday that scares you”. These posts will explore fear and the subsequent outcome of trying something new.

As I hiked along the snowy trail in Provo Canyon, Utah, I looked up at the wide wall of ice above me and wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Actually, I wasn’t so much afraid of climbing up it as I was worried I might freeze to death halfway through the day.

In January, I’d registered for a one-day Intro to Ice Climbing clinic with SheJumps, a non-profit that encourages women to try new outdoor activities. While I was familiar with climbing rock outside, ice was a whole new challenge.

In fact, in the days leading up to the clinic, my main concern was warmth. I really hate being cold. And it wasn’t enough to just dress warmly. I was told I’d get hot while climbing and cold while belaying, so I needed appropriate layers worn in the correct order.

When I stepped out of the car that morning, the whipping winds and blowing snow didn’t reassure me. I kept my reservations to myself, but I was seriously wondering how long I’d last before running back to the car.

Our group of ten donned our harnesses, strapped on our crampons, and secured our helmets below our chins. We started up the steep, snow-covered slope to the ice formations and eventually arrived at a crest adjacent to the ice walls.

SheJumps Ice Climbing in Provo Canyon

Arriving at our climbing spot, near Bridal Veil Falls. Photo: Spenser Heaps

The wind had picked up again and was blowing at a brisk pace. My toes already felt like small, frozen ice cubes. I was having trouble keeping my fingers warm. I again questioned why I had signed up for this clinic as the group gathered along the wall.

After a short lesson on how to swing an ice tool and how to best jam crampons into the ice, our guide set up the ropes. My mind began to finally focus on the real reason for today’s excursion: climbing! I hadn’t signed up simply to spend 8 hours sitting on a frigid mountainside, after all.

Suddenly things felt a bit more ordinary. I tied a familiar figure-eight knot into my harness and checked my partner’s belay device. Ice tools in hand, I kicked my way up the snow drift until the metal spikes hit ice. “Here goes nothing,” I thought, fervently hoping I’d be able to make any sort of upward progress.

SheJumps Ice Climbing in Provo Canyon

Serious concentration face, pointy things in hand. Photo: Spenser Heaps

I flicked the metal tool at the ice. Its teeth scuffed the surface and skidded downward, catching on nothing. I hit it again with more force. This time the tip wedged itself solidly into the smooth curve of ice. I pulled on it and took a step up, jamming my crampon into the wall.

And so it continued, a couple thwacks with the ice tool, pull down, kick my feet into the ice until they stick, stand up. Wiggle the tool free and throw it at the ice again, higher. Thwack, pull, kick, stand, wiggle.

This pattern repeated itself until my arms were burning. Ice climbing is exhausting if you’re not used to it, and the skills required to move up the wall are nothing like rock climbing.

Halfway up the pitch, I took a moment to silently appreciate the fact that I felt safe in my harness, and that despite the frozen surroundings, it felt quite comfortable to be hanging off a rope on a tall, vertical surface.

Ice climbing was hard, sure, but also kind of fun. And without a doubt, totally badass. When I finally reached the top of that pitch, with a smile on my face and aching, numb fingers, the last thing on my mind was the weather.

SheJumps Ice Climbing in Provo Canyon

Almost to the top! Photo: Spenser Heaps

Would I do it again?

Definitely, but I’d wait for better weather! Even one of our guides, the owner of Red River Adventures, said that he’d never been out ice climbing in such gnarly weather. I imagine that climbing up ice walls would be a lot more enjoyable on a sunny day.

Besides for feeling like a total champ at having just scaled walls of ice with sharp pointy things, the highlight of the day was coming together with other women to try something new. Most of them had more experience than me handling the cold – several were big skiers or had mountaineering skills – but we all came together in a supportive atmosphere and had a great time trying out a new sport.

It’s always easier to do something when you’re not the only beginner, so I encourage you to check out local organizations that offer classes or clinics that align with your interests. You may just fall in love with a new hobby!

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The whole crew post-ice climbing. Photo: Spenser Heaps

Photo note: Not everyone is lucky enough to have a photographer document their first time ice climbing. Our group was accompanied by Spenser Heaps, a local reporter who wrote a story about SheJumps and our event. Check out his article in the Provo Daily Herald here.

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