Ice Climbing Adventures

By: Sophie Herrmann

The outing club on campus is marvelous; I highly recommend it. That was my plug. I’m done and I’m proud. During the month of March, actually Lepre-con weekend, I signed up to go ice climbing somewhere in the mountains. Saturday came and I woke up promptly at 5:45, to get to the atrium at 6 a.m. sharp. I was super excited to do this crazy thing, but I distinctly remember feeling dread in my stomach and thinking about how tempting it would be to just stay in my deliciously cozy bed-cocoon.

Alas, I did indeed make it to the meeting spot (and I have to say, I was rather underdressed). I wore my sky blue nano puff Patagonia jacket. Let me tell you something: the outing club people, they know their puff. Like seriously the puff, the nano puff, it’s pretty hot stuff. I got a “Nice puff,” to which I said “Thanks.” 

We hopped in cars and drove to the Rock and Snow parking lot to meet our mountain guide for the day. We pulled up next to a van, out of which emerged the coolest mountain dude I had ever seen. He had a graying ponytail, was very tan for winter and called everyone “man.” His name was Doug Man. We followed Doug to our site in the mountains. Doug Man drove fast. 

When we arrived at the base of the climb spot, Doug Man got out, looked us all up and down and said that we were not prepared. Sh*t– I was bundled too! Then he instructed us to put on these things that looked like the inside of a rollerblade over our boots. They were like the part you can take out and can wear as a strange shoe. So, we strapped on crampons and special boots. I remember thinking, “I really have to pee.” I asked Doug if I could go in the snow bank over there. He said, “Excellent,” I said “Great.” Check. To get to the climb spot we needed to hike up the base of the mountain. My calves felt like someone was pushing their thumb into the very fibers of my calf souls as we were going up, and I thought we had reached the end. I was getting very cold and panic was setting in because walking up a mountain of ice and snow with crampons is awesome but stressful… but still awesome. 

Everyone else in the group seemed calm so I proceeded in being calm. Our spot was glorious. The parts we actually climbed were large cascades of ice that were nestled into the sides of a cliff. They were massive and beautiful. Also, as a side note, were highly reflective. I got a sunburn that day.

 Once Doug had successfully lead us up the mountain, we were then given instructions on how to ice climb. The key is to get a great hold with your picks which are pretty heavy for a person with rather meager arms. You hold the pick firmly, drop it back behind you, inline with your shoulder and eye a spot that you like. Then, with gusto, you thrust the pick into the solid ice. Check. Next, your feet. You have big pointy spikes strapped to them called crampons and these basically assist you in successfully defying gravity and yoinking yourself up the mountain side. There are spikes on the soles but the big daddios are in front. The mountain felt like stairs. You would just pick up your toes and plant then into the next step as forcefully as possible. Super fun, but super exhausting, man.  

You are also wearing a harness and have to be belayed by someone; we all had helmets too.  I climbed twice. I started with the least steep route, but there were people in the group who did these crazy climbs that just really went straight up. The feeling of literally climbing an icicle is amazing. The feeling after you have conquered that ice dagger, then belayed down and look at what you just climbed is just as spectacular. Doug Man was my belayer. He called me Soph and really helped me out with where to place the picks. Not surprisingly, he is a huge Dead and Phish head. That morning he told us that he went for a run at 3 a.m. 

We were all doing well and feeling good. I was watching my friend do a run when she came down and said “I think I chipped my tooth with my pick!” She definitely chipped her tooth– the front one, too! It was glorious. I told her at least it was a worthy endeavor. Like, one of the worthiest. I highly recommend this experience if you are able to go. I also highly recommend the Phoenicia diner; excellent frittatas.


A version of this post originally appeared in “Tenacity” The Teller October 2019 Issue #7

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