Ice climbing is pretty stupid.
Non-climbers, I know what you’re thinking: Duh, any idiot can see that it’s a ridiculous sport. Non-climbers lump ice climbing in with other relatively stupid activities, like deep-water scuba diving into a cave with sharks, or pretty much anything Bear Grylls does in your average episode of Man vs. Wild: Now, the last thing you want to do in this situation is get wet or hurt, but I’m going to jump into this raging river of freezing glacial meltwater and dodge sharp boulders to reach the other shore. Once there, I’ll catch a poisonous snake and eat it raw, and bend a tree over a cliff and slide down it to execute a sketchy descent that I don’t really need to risk.
Climbers: You think it’s perfectly normal to climb ice. But ice climbing is stupid, and you’re in denial if you think otherwise.
First off, it’s freaking cold out there. It has to be–no ice to climb without freezing temperatures. Much like skiers, when the thermostat dips below 32, ice climbers rejoice. They dream of climbing and conveniently forget about the crash of sitting motionless (except for chattering teeth) in 20-degree temps while belaying their climbing partners. They forget they’ll have the screaming barfies in their hands and feet when they climb again. No, selective memory dominates, and a good freeze-thaw cycle makes ice climbers itch all over and methodically sharpen ice tools and crampons in preparation for an infusion of their crack.
This sharpening of the already pointy tools of the trade is the next reason why ice climbing is stupid. Your chances of self-inflicted stabbing are high. Despite my best efforts and caution, I poked numerous crampon holes in my gaiters and pants in one short season. While mixed climbing a week or so ago, I dropped an ice tool while holding it directly over my head. Fearing serious bodily harm, I swung out of the way but for some reason instinctively reached out to catch it–and succeeded in grabbing it by the shaft, not the pick. Witnesses were impressed by my reflexes, but this incident could have ended in a puncture wound rather than in cheers. I was lucky.
Reason number three is the obvious problem with ice: ice breaks. Regularly. Ice climbing almost always results in some amount of ice breaking and falling. Dodging falling ice is a sport unto itself, and here in Colorado, where ice climbing is fairly popular and thin smears draw a crowd, there are some losers in the game.
Lastly, I have proof from the insurance industry that ice climbing is stupid. If you’re a rock climber, State Farm probably will insure you. Rock climbing can be relatively safe, and since most rock climbers are fit, educated, and extremely committed to safety, we can get life insurance. During my underwriting interview with the company’s climbing guru, I was passing his questions with flying colors.
“Do you take classes?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Do you do any high-altitude mountaineering?”
“Climb big walls and sleep on a portaledge?”
“Wear a helmet?”
Then he said:
“Okay, here’s where I lose most people. Do you ice climb?”
The stupidity of ice climbing really hit home when we were out with a guide recently and he told us that when rock climbers ask him about ice he says, don’t do it. Later, stretching for a divot in the rock with my ice tool, I complained about being short and he said, “Well, I’d remind you that you’re taller than Lynn Hill, but she’s smart and doesn’t ice climb.” Then, this uber-experienced, safety-obsessed guide proceeded to juggle my ice tools and nearly stab himself when he dropped one.
I gazed at us standing in the snow, freezing, sharp objects everywhere, ice on the ground, all having a blast putting metal to rock and ice and laughing at the juggling antics. For the first time, I realized we all had a screw loose.
(That’s another thing–ice screws for protection? Crazy.)
So if you’re not already an ice climber, please, heed my guide’s warning, don’t do it. It’s stupid. It’s dangerous. The screaming barfies hurt, but not as much as falling ice or ice tools.
But if I’m too late to stop you, I’ll see you out there next weekend with my freshly sharpened tools, hot tea in my backpack, and helmet securely fastened to my stupid head.