How To Ice Climb: Ice Climbing Basics


When winter sets in and rock climbing routes become inaccessible due to thick layers of ice, most climbers ditch the backcountry for plastic holds at the gym. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. 

If you are looking to extend your climbing season without necessarily being around the gym, you can try ice climbing. Sites like icefalls, volcanoes, and frozen waterfalls can present amazing ice-climbing opportunities for climbers of all experience levels. This post gives you tips on how to ice climb to make your first time not only memorable but also safe.

How To Ice Climb: 5 Tips To Get You Started

Whether you are new to climbing or have been doing it for years, ice climbing will take your experience to the next level. Here are 5 amazing tips to get you started. 

1. Master The Art

To be able to scale monstrous icicles, you need to first familiarize yourself with ice climbing basics. Take a lesson from a guiding service, watch ice climbing tapes if you must hang out with people who have experience in ice climbing – anything to help you learn the ropes!

There is an upside to seeking help from a professional service; in addition to mastering the art, you will also save some cash on equipment. You see, most agencies provide climbing harnesses, climbing boots, climbing ropes, climbing helmets, crampons, and other climbing equipment. 

If you were learning how to ice climb on your own, acquiring appropriate gear alone would get you demoralized because none of these pieces comes cheap. And given that you might not know how to use the equipment properly, your first time on the icy cliffs could also be your last. 

2. Get The Right Equipment

Assuming you will fall in love with ice climbing after taking your first few lessons, sooner or later, you will need to start figuring out how to get your equipment. If you are already a rock climber, you probably have a harness, helmet, and a pair of rock climbing shoes. Check with your guide or other climbers what you need to look for in ice climbing shoes. 

You probably also have a climbing rope, but when it comes to ice climbing ropes, dry heated ones are more recommended because they are waterproof. Again, check what others are using to see what works. 

There’s more; your climbing backpack needs to be big enough to carry all your equipment and extra layers. If you can get one with tool loops and compression straps, you can even attach some ice tools on the outside. 

3. Dress Appropriately 

Learning ice climbing basics and investing in proper equipment is essential, but as with all snow sports, dressing to the occasion is equally important. Layer up so that even if when your body temperature changes, you can easily remove or put some clothes back on. The most basic layering system will include a base layer to wick away moisture, a mid-layer to trap body heat, and an outer layer to keep away snow, rain, wind, and other elements. 

4. First Day Out On Your Own

Once you have learned how to ice climb and are ready to face the icy crag by yourself, look for a place to go. You can ask around at a local climbing gym or from other climbers.  Make sure to go in the company of experienced climbers. They will help you perfect your newly developed skills. Plus they would probably know the best sites to adventure in winter. 

Also, Mother Nature seems to be quite unfriendly during winter and she might release chunks of ice off the cliff. If you don’t want to get hit, wear a helmet, even if you don’t wear one when you go rock climbing. 

Additionally, don’t forget to tell someone where you are going, who you are going with, and when you hope to return. 

5. Check The Weather

Only go ice climbing if the atmospheric conditions are favorable for the sport. The ideal temperature to create ice that can support climbing is between -10 and -1˚ C. The colder the temperature, the quicker the ice will form, creating an extremely hard surface to climb on. 

Climbing in the sun even if the ice is well below the freezing point is a risky plan. Read weather forecasts to know what to expect. Climbing with experienced folks frequently could help you understand how different weather conditions affect climbing conditions.  



Q: How Dangerous Is Ice Climbing?


Ice climbing is extremely dangerous and can result in serious injuries. With sharp pieces of ice breaking off the cliff and falling all around climbers, there have been cases of broken limbs, deep lacerations, and even death. Also, if you are not layered up properly, your fingers and toes (essential for climbing) could easily get numb.

Q: What Do Ice Climbers Use To Climb?


The most essential equipment pieces for ice climbing include a rope to get you to the top, a helmet to protect your head from falling elements, a harness to keep you from falling if you lose your grip,  and crampons to improve traction. You will also need a belay device, warm boots, quickdraws, ice axe, ice screws, and carabiners.

Q: Where Do You Ice Climb?


Where you go ice climbing will depend on your experience level. If you are just getting started with ice climbing, the best place to go would be a climbing gym. For experienced ice climbers, valleys, volcanoes, and frozen waterfalls, would all offer spectacular adventures.

Q: How Much Does Ice Climbing Cost?


The actual cost of ice climbing varies widely based on where you are doing it, your equipment choice, training, and other factors. All in all, ice climbing is expensive. The estimated cost could be around $500 for beginner climbers and $5000 plus for expert climbers per day. 

Q: Is Ice Climbing Harder Than Rock Climbing?


No, ice climbing is way simpler because you will just be swinging your tool. And since you can have your holds placed wherever is convenient, learning how to ice climb is relatively easy. Sometimes holds in rock climbing can be very inconveniently placed, making the technique much difficult to master.

Q: What Do You Do In Ice Climbing?


In ice climbing, you simply ascend inclined formations of ice. Usually, the activity involves climbing features such as frozen waterfalls, ice falls, and rock slabs and cliffs covered in thick sheets of ice frozen from melted snow. It may also involve indoor climbing where climbers ascend high manmade ice walls.

Q: What Do I Need For Ice Climbing?


For ice climbing, you will need a dry-heated climbing rope, harness, warm ice climbing boots, helmet, crampons, ice axe, belay device, carabiners, quickdraws, and ice screws. You will also need to learn ice climbing basics, know how different ice routes are graded, dress to the occasion, and climb only when ice conditions are favorable.

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Ice climbing is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors in winter. Though more dangerous than rock climbing, with adequate training, proper equipment, and the right clothing, you can have a safe and enjoyable adventure. 

Practicing regularly in the company of an experienced friend will help you perfect the skill, which will further enhance your safety during your ascents and descents, and make the whole experience more exhilarating.

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!