Scarpa North America Blog

5 Tips For Early-Season Ice Climbing

Nov. 8th 2016

It’s inevitable at this point, we’ve got many months of wintery weather ahead. The colder nights and shorter days of fall remind everyone that soon–very, very soon–we will be playing on the worlds coolest, natural ice sculptures. Some start the pilgrimage early hunting for those first ice flows and hoping the next bend will reveal a hidden gem that has yet to be discovered. Others head to the crag to hang like puppets off their tools in rock caves and faces in preparation for the overhead icicles that will soon loom from above. Once you’ve experienced the movement of mixed climbing or the feeling of a one-swing stick, you’re likely hooked, literally and figuratively. Ice and mixed climbing is contagious and spreading in a winter environment near you!

Here are 5 tips for early-season ice and mixed climbing, training, and preparation to light the fire on the season from SCARPA athlete Sarah Hueniken.

Sarah Hueniken and Will Gadd gear up to climb at Zao Mountain, Japan.

Sarah Hueniken and Will Gadd gear up to climb at Zao Mountain, Japan.

Spend a night or day getting your stuff organized.

Almost every year, I excitedly sign up for a day of early ice “hunting” only to be somewhat glad that is found because I forgot to pack my crampons! It’s amazing how easy it is to forget about all the things you need, or might need for the early ascent. A winter pack is very different from a summer one. Extra gloves, socks, a thermos, a tool and crampon repair kit, to name a few items are easily missed. Be sure to check the condition of your boots, laces, insoles, etc. Time for an update? Happy feet are critical. It’s little things like forgetting that you moved your tool grip to a smaller size for mixed climbing last spring might prevent you from being able to fit your thick gloves in the handle!

SCARPA Phantom Tech | Next Level Mountain Footwear from SCARPA North America on Vimeo.

Remember that fresh ice is very different then late season ice.

Maybe last year you finished off with your personal best lead. Wicked! Just remember that ice grades can differ greatly based on the amount of travel, and a WI5 in early season conditions, without months of traffic, can be much harder and more tenuous.

Build your tool strength at home.

These days all you need is a place to hang your tools and some motivation and you can really build and develop grip, core, lat strength, endurance, and power. Of course it isn’t as fun or as real thing, but what training lacks in glamour it more than makes up in benefits on those first couple climbs of the season.

Sarah monkeys around on a downday in Japan. Gotta stay sharp.

Sarah monkeys around on a downday in Japan. Gotta stay sharp.

Be patient.

Every year, the excitement of the changing seasons takes over people. Don’t forget that winter is long. Hazards can be more real than ever early in the season. Avalanches with fresh snow and changing temps, rock fall, thin and unconsolidated ice, and even the odd late-to-hibernate bear may still await the early ice and mixed climber. Those hungry for getting in shape can also have the tendency to overtrain and get injured before the season even begins. Time is on your side as a winter climber. :)

It’s all fun.

In the end, despite how serious ice climbing can be and how engaged and consequential one can feel in the moment, the main reason most of us do this crazy sport is because it’s fun! Find the best people to get out with, give long and supportive belays, bring extra chocolate and hot tea, and always praise a hard lead. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, in what style, with whatever gear, you’re the one winning. :)

Learn more about the new Phantom Tech, Sarah’s ice boot of choice!

The Award-Winning Phantom Tech.

The Award-Winning Phantom Tech.


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