I finally got to go ice climbing for real, not going through the motions on glacier ice in the summer, and MAN are those two things different species of climbing! Despite the fact that they are completely different experiences, in the summer I really enjoyed the experience and found it totally different from rock climbing. Something about the precision, focus, process, and the cool shiny tools just drew me in and I have been waiting for things to freeze since August.
I went to a ‘sniffing’ course, direct translation from German but it sounds so much cuter than taster course, offered by Grindelwald sports in Grindelwald Switzerland. This was my second guided/course experience outdoors, and this guy was GREAT. Not only was he a pro on the ice and with his tools, but he was a really good teacher. He started with the basics and built on each level gradually making sure we had took in what he was teaching, we all progressed at different levels but he made sure to spend individual time with each of us which is really hard, and important. All in all, an excellent day, and an experienced and qualified guide.
We ended up climbing two short top rope routes, somewhere around III and III+, partnered up. We were three students and one guide, I ended up partnered up with another Zurich resident who was a supportive and encouraging belay partner, I hope he felt the same about me, but he moved like a natural!
First off, there is nothing similar about glacier ice and frozen waterfall ice. To the experienced of you, you’re probably saying ‘Duh’, but this was a bit more of a difference than I expected. That shit is rock solid. I mean rock solid. The cool thing is you only need a fraction of your crampons or ice axe in the ice for a solid base, but the feeling is very different than feeling the whole of your front points sink in and bite. The guide kept repeating it was a lot about trusting your equipment, and I think that’s true. We were all great very close to the ground, but the higher we got, the harder it was not to dwell on the smallness of what was holding us onto the ice (top rope excluded), and I admit that whenever I got frazzled I would try to climb it like rock climbing, which resulted in way too many bruises, but apparently stubbornness can get you to the top if you have a patient belayer!
When I focused on the movements and the technique, my brain just zoomed in and it was a wonderful flow. I loved the technical challenge, the intense experience, the amazing sense of accomplishment and achievement getting to the top. I loved having a new terrain to explore, a vertical element to a season I always loved, a skill that relies more on technique and precision than brute strength, and spent the whole week afterwards daydreaming about it, thinking about how to do it better, going over and over the techniques in my head.
I have a two day course coming up after Christmas and I am super pumped to keep learning and practicing and getting to explore this fun, hard, challenging, rewarding, vertical world!