All in all, ice climbing is, indeed, quite different from rock climbing. But the good news is that most of your rope gear, experience, and overall climbing prowess will carry over onto those frozen surfaces you’ll grow to love so much. There’s a lot to learn before you gear up though, so be sure to check out these 5 tips for a smooth transition.
When you’re out there pushing yourself, you don’t want to think about how frigid your digits are. Comfortable, warm hands and feet are hugely important for ice climbing. On ice it really doesn’t matter how fancy or rad your boots are; the most important thing is that they fit properly. Same goes for gloves. It’ll likely take some time to find just the right pair of gloves, but as you climb, you’ll realize what you like and what you don’t like when touching ice. A good starting place for gloves is the Alpha FL Glove by Arc’teryx, or M14 Glove by Rab. Simply put, you want a hard-hitting performer that keeps those fingers toasty.
Good rock climbers exhibit different styles of climbing: strength, finesse, balance, endurance, you name it. But climbing on ice usually requires a combination of these. While rock climbing has lots of different moves and positions, ice climbing can be largely understood as a series of repetitive movements from a similar stance. Don’t plan on using the same moves on ice as you’re used to on rock … you’ll end up hoping your belayer is really paying attention! It takes diligence to climb properly on ice, and often, recognizing that what feels ‘natural’ may not actually be best is important.
“Rock strength”, which usually comes from the legs, hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, and back, isn’t necessarily the type of strength that translates best to ice. Ice needs particular strength in the calves, core, forearms, and hips. If you’re planning to take your climbing to the nearest icy wall, be sure to start working on these body parts in the gym! You won’t regret it.
Training on ice is very much “on the job”, as standardized environments like those provided for rock climbing in a gym setting don’t exist! When you first hit the ice, getting out there with someone who really knows what they’re doing is critical. From there, take lots of top roped, easy laps. That takes the pressure out of the ‘freightening factor’ (it is ice, after all), and will let you see best how the medium of ice behaves.
Ice isn’t usually the best place to push yourself, especially in those beginning, learning stages. Falls on ice are rarely clean, and there is ample opportunity to pull gear, impale yourself (sorry, it’s true!), or break limbs. This is not to say that you shouldn’t climb hard, but rather knowing your strength and experience level is essential for a successful climb.
Special equipment, an ever-changing surface, and, of course, the consistent cold of the icy outdoors … it’s all part of ice climbing. And while there are many similarities between rock and ice climbing, the two sports are very much their own entities, and it’s important to treat them as such. So grab a teacher, some gear, and we’ll see you out there.