Why You Need to Attend an Ice Climbing Festival

It’s early February and meaning it’s mountaineering competition season in chilly, mountainous areas round North America. Developing February 12-16 is the annual Michigan Ice Fest, the oldest event of its kind within the U.S. From Feb. 14-17 is the Valdez Ice Festival, which John Krakauer writes about in his e book Eiger Dreams. Then Feb. 21-23 is the Festiglace de Pont-Rouge in Québec, as soon as “the largest climbing gathering on the planet.”

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The writer on the Bozeman Ice Fest climbing with Renny Jackson, writer of ‘A Climber’s Information to the Teton Vary.’ Courtesy Chris Van Leuven

Like many budding ice climbers, I, too, discovered the ephemeral sport of mountaineering at a competition. Almost 15 years in the past, again once I labored at Climbing Magazine, I received an opportunity to go to the Michigan Ice Fest. Invoice Thompson, who nonetheless immediately abroad the occasion, shared the whole lot I wanted to know: the place to keep, who to climb with, which routes had been in greatest situation, and which overcrowded areas to keep away from.

Reminiscences from that journey are nonetheless vivid, just like the time I rappelled an overhanging cliff to climb Dairyland. Situated proper over Lake Superior alongside the Higher Peninsula’s Pictured Rocks Nationwide Lakeshore, Mountain Mission calls the famed 150-foot frozen waterfall “the biggest, fattest, and most inspiring climb to look at and climb in the park.” As we climbed, huge units of waves rolled towards the shore beneath. We knew that one false transfer—like dropping an ice device—meant it might disappear into the drink. Frigid temps and blowing snow froze my eyelids as I fought for buy within the chandelier ice with my crampons and instruments. By the point I reached the highest, I used to be exhausted each mentally and bodily, prepared to head again to Munising for the occasion’s countless social gathering. That I can nonetheless recall each element speaks to the complete vary of such a memorable expertise. What a blast to push limits, strive some new, unbelievable climbing, then end with night packages that includes the game’s greatest athletes, plus demos offering an opportunity to check out the newest gear.

All that, mixed with the hospitality of individuals like Thompson make occasions like these much more well worth the time of any adventurer, no matter climbing ability.

Within the years since attending that Michigan Ice Fest, I’ve frequented a number of others, together with the Ouray Ice Fest (Jan. 23-26) in Colorado, the Bozeman Ice Fest (Dec. 9-13) in Montana, and the Smuggs’ Ice Bash (Jan. 24-26) in Vermont. I’ve volunteered as a co-instructor with North Face athletes together with Heidi Wirtz and the late Jess Roskelley, the place we gathered in small teams and labored with freshmen who had been taking their first swings. And there have been a lot, as many people we met had been attempting the game for his or her first time. They may barely make it off the bottom, however they nonetheless liked the expertise. (When it comes to mountaineering, there’s a sure sound to study that signifies a good ‘stick.’) Different climbers lapped close by traces as we cheered them on.

It’s all enjoyable and video games till somebody loses an eye. Scott Bennett and Stefanie Kamm on the Ouray Ice Fest. Chris Van Leuven

Ice climbing festivals typically embody competitions, the place the world’s greatest collect to contend in problem and pace challenges. Lately, Tyler Kempney of Boulder, Colo., took third place at this yr’s Ouray Ice Fest. The USA Ice Climbing Team member positioned on the rostrum proper behind knowledgeable Russian climbers Maxim Tomilov and Alexey Dengin.

“As always, I had an amazing time in this one-of-a-kind Ice Park,” Kempney posted on the Ouray Ice Fest, celebrating its 25th yr. The occasion attracts a whole lot of spectators and climbers who fill the bars, eating places and pack the accommodations within the sleepy mountain city. “It is an incredible and unique resource that helps build community and spread the love of ice climbing.”

Night occasions draw a packed home at ice festivals. Above is a Chicks with Picks occasion. Chris Van Leuven

Go to the UIAA’s event calendar for more information and a schedule of upcoming ice fests.

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