I will tell you that, if you have ever considered ice climbing, do it, don’t wait, sign up for lessons today. I’ve had it in mind for a few years now, but always put it off as something I would one day do. This Winter, my plan was to attend the Michigan Ice Festival and take a beginner’s course there, but it just didn’t happen. With warm weather coming (60 degrees forecast today!), I signed up with a local group for a unique experience – learning to ice climb on a silo!
That’s right, a silo. Nice Ice, a group affiliated with Vertical Adventure Guides out of Baraboo, WI, create ice on a silo that’s only about an hour southwest of Chicago. No cliffs, so we make our own fun here in the Midwest. After driving through some busy areas, I hit farmland and, not long after, got my first glimpse of the silo – exciting and a little freaky at the same time. It was really going to happen, I was going to learn ice climbing.
After introductions, Joel (my instructor) and I got down to brass tacks, getting on gear necessary to climb: crampons (with appropriate boots), a climbing harness, and a helmet (all the gear you need is available for rental). Add in the technical tools, ropes, and ice screws, and that’s all you need to go ice climbing, along with the actual ice of course (check out my ice climbing 101 article for more). Joel had me walk around in the crampons for a bit, feeling like Gene Simmons in his dragon boots, wicked cool (not sure what younger folk think of, but probably not KISS).
Safety instructions followed, then practice with the technical ice tools, no easy feat for someone who has never done it. After a few passes up the silo (not very far, but hey, I’m a beginner!), it was time for a break. While not particularly difficult from a cardio standpoint, doing the technique incorrectly, as I was, is incredibly stressful on the arms and hands – I was pumped after a very short time. Like many things, being tense and holding on too tightly makes it more difficult, not easier.
Once I got the hang of the technique, though (after several tries and several rest times), I felt good and managed to get up probably halfway or maybe a bit more. The problem was that, even though I felt good going up, my arms were just too fried to keep going. Once I felt like my technique started to slip, I decided to be finished for the day. Better to finish on a high note, in my opinion.
One thing I’m really looking forward to is seeing the video that Joel creates using GoPro footage he shot during the lesson (hopefully he got my good side). Once I get that in the next few weeks, I’ll be sure to share it all over, haha.
There is definitely ice climbing in my future, though the entry to the sport is steep, with the specialized tools being quite expensive, though no more than a basic ski set up. I have the Ice Fest on my schedule for next year, and hope to connect with these locals to get down and climb in Starved Rock State Park, a family favorite for hiking. The beautiful waterfalls freeze and afford good ice climbing in many years.
I really had a great time learning to ice climb – If you want to go ice climbing near Chicago, this is a unique nearby experience I highly recommend. I will say, that though the lesson was top-notch, the actual lead-up was a bit perplexing. Nice Ice has their own website, but you need to go to the Vertical Adventure website to sign up for a lesson. Then, you can only sign up for a day, but not a time, so you don’t actually know when the lesson can be. I’d like to see that changed to signing up for a specific time and then adjusting if needed. If you’re flexible with time like I am, no worries, but if, like most people, specific plans need to be made, that would be a great improvement. Registration issues don’t take away from the experience, however, so don’t let it stop you from getting out there and learning to ice climb. You’ll be glad you did.