Ice Climbing: Scaling Frozen Cascades

Ice Climbing: Scaling Frozen Cascades – The drive to my home town takes me past the Mt Iron embankment on one side of the road and the maze on the other, with the “Leaning Tower of Wanaka”. I ski the hill and as always scan the mountains for signs of life. For a moment, before the east face of the Black Peak disappears behind trees, I see what I consider life: ice. On this day, when the air is stunned by winter, it slides in bright white lines down the bare slopes. Even though they are 30 kilometers apart, I know these lines are frozen waterfalls. A mixture of fear and a desire to climb the petrified cataract seeps into the car for the rest of the journey.

My friend Dave Vass shares my feeling for the ice. After a gentlemen’s breakfast at a lakeside cafe, he and I board a helicopter and fly straight to the currents I saw on my way into town. As we get closer, they grow and fill our view through the Plexiglas bubble. The pilot lands, one skid on a rock, with the gentle touch of a dragonfly. Vas and I duck out and cower in the snow as our taxi pulls out. We are at the foot of a stream of 200 m of ice that slopes at an average of 80 degrees. In places it is vertical.

Ice Climbing: Scaling Frozen Cascades

Vas takes the “sharp end” of the rope – the lead position – and ties it to his harness. The remaining 60 meters of braided nylon is fed through a safety device on my harness, which will act as a brake in the event of a fall, clamping the rope tight and preventing it from coming out. During the climb we will be joined by this umbilical cord, in which we both have absolute faith. Vas will be like an astronaut on a space trip, going into the unknown. I will be his mother ship, his anchor.

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A pair of ice axes, like metal claws, are the main tools in the ice climber’s trade. In addition, crampons with sharp teeth allow the boots to grip the smooth surface while the helmet protects against falling debris. Thus equipped – along with balaclava clothes and snow for warmth – the author contemplates the next ascent.

Vas begins to climb the ice, which is glacial blue in color. His boots, inches above my head, are close enough for me to study the pattern on the rubber soles. Strapped to his boots are knife-sharp crampons that will instantly cut my face and arms if he falls.

The two front spikes of the crampons stick out from the toe of each boot. With a lazy swing of the knee, he stabs the ice with those vampiric fangs to gain a foothold. In his hands he wields two 55cm long ice axes. He grips the handles with the steel grip of someone hanging from the window ledge of a 20-story building. He alternately throws the axes, sinking them with a flick of the wrist at the end of the swing. They bite with satisfaction

He occasionally uses rock climbing techniques to take the weight off his arms. He puts the heel of his boot on a small, resting block of ice.

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It stops below a section of unconsolidated snow that lies between us and the more solid water ice beyond. The snow did not have enough time to metamorphose into something that would support a 75 kg person. Metamorphosis in this context is the process in which snow crystals are compressed, and the air between them is expelled, to create a dense and compressed substance called snow-ice. To sink an ice climbing tool in snow ice is to model perfection.

Vas’s hiatus threatens to turn into an unplanned vacation. Unable to ascend or descend, he is more than just physically paralyzed; He is temporarily frozen with fear. There’s nothing I can do for him, so I focus on managing the rope.

Finally shaking off his inertia, he drives an ice bolt into the crystalline wall at his waist. His breathing sounds and occasional curses seem amplified by the cold. I watch as the hollow titanium screw, with a sharp thread on the outside and a crown of teeth on the end, eats into the ice. With cold fingers wrapped in thick gloves, Vas struggled to thread the rope through the carabiner attached to the bolt. He succeeds and we both breathe easier. Now he can only fall as far as the screw, not on the ground or on me.

Not that he intends to fall, but ice in the form of frozen waterfalls is one of the least safe surfaces to climb on, and a fall sometimes happens without warning. Entire waterfalls have been known to detach from the mountainside – with climbers attached. Vas and I are sure it won’t happen to us, as it usually happens under the glow of the sun, and we are deep in the shade.

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With renewed confidence, Vas raises his legs in front of his body, a position called hanging monkey. In the pose, he releases one of his axes and with a quick and fluid movement he stands up and plants it on top of the rotten patch of snow.

As he leads the way, I study my surroundings. On either side hang sparkling tubes of clear ice like ballroom chandeliers. A solid straw of ice drips slowly in front of my face. The perfect ball of a drop of water vibrates at the end according to the rhythm of my breathing. Tire, neither water nor ice, he collects a head, then falls. Another takes his place, trembling. With my hand, I shield it from my breath and it solidifies with the speed of the Superglue setting. It seems a process of endless mystery to the point that the scientific explanation is almost disappointing, like learning that the North Island is not the big fish of Maori legend but the result of a collision of tectonic plates.

Ice cubes perfect for chilling a drink rattle against my helmet and break my gaze. It’s time for me to climb to join Vas, but before I can I need to warm my hands. In the shade, when the temperature is lower than normal for storing frozen meat carcasses, they became numb. With vigorous shrugs—a technique taught to me by a rugby coach at school—I force blood back into my fingers. The pain associated with capillary refill is excruciating. The “screaming bars”, as the experience is called, make you cry. But you don’t, because concentrating on anything other than the pain is impossible. Blood circulation slowly returns and the pain recedes; Frostbite was beaten.

Frozen snowmelt on surfaces above the Remarkables ski field provides a thin but adequate climbing surface for the author and Will McQueen.

Intro To Ice Climbing

Vas anchored himself at the top of the track, and the rope stretched as I climbed, removing the ice bolts as I went. All around us the landscapes expanded to embrace jagged peaks and dazzling snow fields.

With an easy descent back to the valley floor, we relax and revel in the success of a climb that had it all: hard climbing, ice conditions that kept us guessing and the ultimate: a new route. We agree on a name for the track – “Huge!” – and head home.

The earliest people are known to have climbed ice is 1574. Alpine herders used primitive crampons—horseshoe-shaped, three-pointed crampons—and alpine sticks—long iron-tipped poles—to climb the steep slopes of their mountainous homeland.

In 1936 he climbed one of the most famous mountain faces: the north face of the Eiger. A photograph shows Andrel Hekmeier using a short ice ax with a prominent downward curve to the pick. This simple feature gave it a tenfold safety advantage over those using the standard straight pick, which would snap out unless an outward pull was maintained on the shaft.

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The curve was then lost, until the American mountaineer Yvon Chouinard rediscovered it in 1966. He changed the straight pick to a curve matching the swing arc of the axe, revolutionizing steep ice climbing.

The author demonstrates a classic ice climbing pose, the “monkey hang.” With the help of crampons, the climber puts himself into a bend. Then, with a sudden movement, stand up to place the ice ax in a new position, usually over an obstacle or patch of bad ice. While crouching, the climber’s total weight is supported by the arms.

In 1971, Bill Dantz and Brian Foley used this curved pick to climb the steep Balfour face of Mt Tasman, introducing the technology to New Zealand. Since then, the curve has been tweaked to become an inverted curve, making it even more effective. All this effort made Vas and I have more fun today than is strictly legal.

We celebrate our adventure at the pub with a beer. I look at how it blends. The liquid is kept cold as it exits the buzzers by a thick coating of opaque frost. When no one is looking I reach over the bar to stroke the block of ice on the pipe. I am fascinated that it survives in a room of 20 degrees Celsius. It’s wet and smooth, almost

The Country Of Winter: Nitassinan, Quebec

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