This is a part of our ongoing ‘We Tried it’ series where we test out weird and wonderful things to do, eat or see in Colorado. Go here to see what else we’ve tried. Comment below and let us know what we should do next.
We know ice climbing may seem like an extreme and dangerous sport, but with the right supervision, anyone can scale an icy mountainside. Front Range Climbing Company (FRCC) took us to their handmade ice wall which contains various degrees of difficulty. If you’re concerned about anything like seriously hurting yourself, don’t worry. The first question I asked our guide was if there had been any injuries or deaths at the wall, luckily he laughed and said, “no.”
Front Range Climbing Company offers rock climbing in the summer and ice climbing in the winter. In the winter, the company partners up with Camp Alexander — a boy scout camp located just outside of Colorado Springs. The camp has a giant rock formation which makes for the perfect spot to set up an ice wall. As temperatures drop in the late fall, FRCC staff runs hoses to the top of the formation and uses recycled water from the camp’s swimming pool and also an underground well. They pump water uphill and cover the rocks for hours, acting as a waterfall. In turn, the rock formation becomes iced overnight, resulting in an ice wall. They repeat this process over the course of the entire season to preserve the ice and keep it strong. Due to the nature of the formation and slope, the wall presents different degrees of difficulty that lets you test your limits.
What you need to wear when ice climbing: thick socks, waterproof clothes, waterproof gloves, sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses or goggles for eye protection. Obviously, you need to dress for the weather, but waterproof clothes and eye protection are very important since you’re, of course, are dealing with ice.
When I arrived at the ice wall, it wasn’t anything what I expected, since it was a lot bigger and wider. I was just expecting one ice sheet section that we would have to climb. Next to the ice wall are a group of cabins that the boy scouts use in the summer. One of the bunk rooms is converted into a gear room for FRCC. We were instructed on a few general safety tips and how to properly use all the equipment, then suited up with harnesses, helmets and boots. The boots are stiff and fit like a pair of hiking boots, except they are specially made to allow crampons to be attached to them. Clamping on the crampons is almost like a telemark ski binding. This needed a little muscle to ensure everything was tight. After I got suited up with the basics, I was given two ice tools and directed over to the wall which had multiple sections to climb up. Each section had a different level of difficulty, so obviously we started at the easiest one.
The coolest part about this whole experience was that our instructors supervised us and let us belay each other so we were actually learning how to ice climb on our own. Kevin Dlugos, our ice guide, taught us not only how to belay our partner, but also how to tie a figure-eight knot onto the climber’s harness to secure the rope. He gave us some useful information with the ice tools that included using as little strength as possible on your arms since most of the climbing will use your legs. Kevin also said that, for beginners, “one of the biggest learning curves is to learn to trust the equipment, especially when attempting to focus on utilizing your feet to climb when everything in your mind screams at you to focus on holding tight with your hands.” He was right, because every time I tried to depend on the ice tools to hold me up, I ended up falling or getting extra tired.
A portion of the of the ice wall involved climbing straight up the frozen waterfall. This was hard for me since it required a lot of strength, and I had to take multiple breaks. I had to learn to direct my foot straight into the wall to get a good grip and balance-compared to rock climbing when you want to use the side of your feet to climb. My favorite section of the ice wall involved climbing up and over the top of the waterfall where you could stand at the summit before hitting your ice tool on the carabiner, signifying you had made it to the top. Standing over the top and seeing everyone below was its own kind of reward.
Overall, I would definitely go ice climbing again. The staff we were with was very friendly and knowledgeable, and it was nice that the company lets you take a hands-on approach to it. It was a challenge that required a lot of focus, and the time flew by so fast that before I knew it I was there for four hours. I did fall multiple times, and one of the times I got bruised up since I fell on my knee. However, the sense of accomplishment I felt is why I would definitely go back. I would like to try more courses in the future, but of course I don’t think I could do it without a guide.
For more information on ice climbing with Front Range Climbing Company click here. They offer full day and half day options as well as night ice climbing where the wall is lighted up with LED strips.