Post originally written for Fayettechill Mountain Company.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
I tied into the rope and my friend Kathy started lowering me into the icy canyon. About 50 feet down, it dawned on me— I had no idea what I was doing. I had been climbing rocks for nearly four years, but ice climbing was an entirely new ball game.
A while back, when a friend of mine asked if I would ever consider ice climbing, I immediately laughed off the question with a quick shake of my head. As a southern climber, ice climbing seemed like something only for crazy western state dwellers. Fast forward two years and I was agreeing to join my boyfriend in Ouray, CO, for the annual Ice Festival.
At the 50-foot mark, I knew I couldn’t remain a petrified lump at the end of the rope. I immediately began hacking away at the ice, hoping to hurry myself to the top before panic sunk back in. I made it up to a small cave where I wedged myself in, trying to regain feeling in my fingers, alleviate the stress in my forearms, and calm myself down. Being hauled up was too embarrassing an option, so I decided to continue my hacking and sliding efforts. Eventually I would get to the top. Attempting to escape the cave, I managed to dislodge a fist-sized hunk of ice. It dropped onto my face. I began laughing as my head has been a frequent victim during more “daring” climbing escapades (once, just before my first multi-pitch climb, I walked into a protruding boulder without a helmet). With laughter came a sense of excitement and, in turn, the ability to get psyched on this new, scary, and adventurous puzzle. When I finally reached the top I was exhausted and bloody, though still smiling. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my boyfriend was also bleeding and smiling, both of us buzzing from an exhilarating new adventure.
The Ouray Ice Festival was an experience unto itself. Similar to my first experiences rock climbing, everyone was encouraging and willing to share routes, belays, and advice. You don’t have to be a 5.12 climber in order to try ice climbing— I frequently chuff my way up a 5.10 rock route outside. With demo gear to sample and clinics to help you understand the basics, there was something for everyone at the Ouray Ice Festival (including much deserved hot chocolate & free giveaways). If you’ve ever wanted to try ice climbing, do it. It’s an experience worth having; don’t let fear keep you from it.