Winter is a time of year when temperatures drop and most people—at least in the Northern Hemisphere—hunker down indoors with hot chocolate and plenty of blankets. But there are those intrepid souls who venture out of doors, knowing that adventure awaits those willing to brave wet gloves and a cold nose.
One of those adventurers who makes it fun to be outside in the snow and ice is my long time friend, Matt Shove. Matt runs Ragged Mountain Guides, a service that teaches rock climbing, ice climbing, alpine skills, and guides climbers on objective climbs in numerous mountain locations nationwide. Matt opened RMG in 2009 after ten years of working for other guide services, and as an American Mountain Guides Association Certified Rock Instructor, he is well qualified to lead the hundreds of climbers he does year round. (Incidentially, RMG is named after one of Matt’s favorite climbing locations, Ragged Mountain, in Connecticut) At this time of year, ice climbing is on Matt’s docket, and his plate is full for the entire season.
Axe me a question
Getting into ice climbing is not as difficult or scary as one might think. Matt guides people of all ages and abilities, from six year old newbies to 80 year old pros! Getting involved is as simple as finding a guide in your area, though Matt recommends you do your research and find an AMGA certified guide. A one day class will get you a good taste for the sport, while longer trips will help on more complex and difficult cliimbs. Matt likes ice climbing in New England due to its reliable conditions from early December to early April.
Ice climbing can be physically (and sometimes mentally) challenging, and it’s not without risk. The risks, Matt says, can be effectively managed with knowledge, an open mind for awareness, and proper clothing and equipment. Clothing is your responsibility, but when you climb with Ragged Mountain Guides, all the equipment—harnesses, ropes, axes, crampons, helmets, etc—are provided for you.
Part of the Adventure
As Part Time Vagabonds, we may only be in a location for a short period of time, meaning our ability to join in a long ice climbing trip may be limited. But Matt says not to worry. “A one to three day program is a good place to start… vacationers often travel to mountain areas that have nearby ice climbing venues.” Taking a day or two from your ski trip for some ice climbing can add variety and adventure to your winter activities.
Most ice climbing guide services, including RMG, offer both private ice climbing sessions and larger group adventures, ranging from 1 day up to a week or more. Private sessions tend to offer more personal coaching and individual attention, giving you the ability to really work on a section of ice or a technique that has you stumped. Group climbs are great for moral support.
While the barrier to entry for ice climbing is fairly low, it pays to keep some things in mind when prepping for an ice climbing adventure. Proper clothing is essential, as you’ll be playing in the snow and ice all day, with shelter likely a long way off. Eating a big, high calorie, healthy breakfast will help keep you fueled and warm for at least part of the day, and lots of snacks, a full lunch, and warm drinks are recommended.
Even though it’s cold out, you’ll be expending a lot of energy all day with the physical demands of ice climbing, so staying well hydrated is key. Bring lots of water. An extra pair of gloves will keep your fingers from freezing when the gloves get wet—and they will get wet. Matt also recommends that you always keep a relaxed but solid grip on your ice axe, and always keep moving. Stopping makes you stuck. And finally, Matt recommends that you call your guide as far ahead of time as you can, since ice climbing season books up pretty fast.
“Ice climbing is a fine way to enjoy a winter day,” says Matt. And with the right gear and the right guide, you’ll have the adventure of a lifetime.
Have you ever been ice climbing? Tell us about your adventure in the comments.