March 3, 2010

Ice Climbing: Winter Wonderland for the Daring

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I’ve done a lot of crazy things in the past few years in and around Ithaca. Many of them involve climbing or hiking, most involve crazy-endurance fests, and practically all of them make my mother very unhappy. But ice climbing is the craziest activity I’ve picked up as of yet –– by far.  Think about it: You strap a total of 26 sharp, pointy spikes onto your body and smash them into a (mostly) frozen waterfall, all while simultaneously avoiding hypothermia and falling ice daggers.  Sounds like a blast, eh?

With all that said, there is much more to ice climbing than simply dressing like a Viking raider, complete with battle-axes, helmet and a big furry coat. If you ask me, it’s the actual act of climbing a frozen waterfall that makes ice climbing such an appealing, albeit crazy, sport.

Ice climbing requires endurance, technique and an affinity for the cold. Master these elusive skills, and your eyes are opened up to a literal winter wonderland to explore. The ultimate goal of ice climbing is to take the activities into the mountains — the Rockies, the Andes, even the Himalayas. While these exotic ranges are a bit beyond the reach of the average college student, a far more mellow group of mountains lies a mere five hours away — the Adirondacks. With the proper amount of experience and training, this enormous park holds more than a lifetime’s worth of opportunities for frozen adventure.

Ice abounds much closer to home as well, if you care to look for it. If you’ve ever peered out into the frozen gorges while walking to class, you have no doubt noticed the proliferation of gnarly-looking icicles, daggers, seeps and falls clinging to the rock walls. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were some way to see these amazing features up close and in person? Unfortunately, personal experience has taught me that the Cornell Police frown upon ice climbing on University property. Fortunately, while the gorges’ particular features are off limits to climbing, there are other areas in the vicinity where it is possible to try your hand — err, axe, that is — at climbing.

Cornell Outdoor Education offers introductory ice climbing courses in the Finger Lakes region, at locations a mere stone’s throw from campus. These courses offer basic instruction from highly trained outdoor educators, as well as the unique opportunity to climb waterfalls inaccessible to most other climbers. The Cornell Outing Club offers a host of enthusiastic and experienced ice climbers as well, and is another way to try out the sport.

Legal ice can be found at Tinker’s Falls and Salmon River Falls, about 45 minutes and an hour and a half away, respectively. Tinker’s offers a beginner-friendly arena close to the car, whereas Salmon River offers long, steep routes in a gorge very similar to the ones seen on campus. Again, while ice climbing is an unique and fun-filled activity, please respect the sport’s extreme nature and do not try to “pick it up”  on your own — take a course or find an experienced friend. Whichever you choose, I wish you the best as you tiptoe through the frozen wilderness.

Original Author: Guy Ross