With both ice axes and my left foot firmly planted, I strike the ice with the crampon attached to my right boot. Increasing pressure, I feel my foot slip. No, that isn’t going to work. I strike the ice again in a different spot. This time it is good. I transfer my weight to both feet as I remove my right ice axe. Reaching higher I strike the ice as a chunk the size of a softball drops to the ground forty feet below. “Ice,” I yell warning my friends belaying below before attempting to strike the ice again.
The cold January air blows across the exposed skin on my face, but I don’t feel a thing. I am focused. Focused on the last five feet to reach the cowbell signifying I made it to the top of the ice tower. For those of you who have never tried ice climbing, it is a great winter workout. You’ll find muscles in your arms and hands you never knew existed. Another realization is ice is hard. Obvious, right? You would think so until your knee slams into the ice and a surge of pain shoots through you as though you’ve just stepped on an old, rusty nail. That’s when you know ice isn’t just hard, it’s solid.
I ring the cowbell as I look out across the snow-covered countryside. I did it! I climbed my first ice tower. Then, I look to my left. A taller, fiercer climb awaits me, but I won’t conquer it today. The success of that one beckons for my return.
Whether you have the opportunity to climb a frozen waterfall or a constructed ice tower like me, I encourage you to give ice climbing a try. If you are nervous about it, try rock climbing in your local climbing gym first. It will allow you to understand the gear and maneuvers in warmer temperatures with less gear. If you decide ice climbing isn’t for you, then consider trying cross country skiing or snowshoeing. Whatever you do, go explore this winter wonderland before it melts away.