Ice Climbing Stairway to Heaven – Cold

I am going to be ice climbing at the Ouray Ice Fest 2013 next week, so I’m trying to get my groove back on by ice climbing as much as I can in between work and family activities. I climbed solo on Thursday Because of the weird wet dripping ice coating the rope I experienced gear failure in my self-belay system so bailed after only one lap.

hiking to the ice climbing routes on Stairway to Heaven

On the Provo Canyon Trail toward Stairway to Heaven

I had decided to climb every other day if I can until I leave Thursday. Today (Saturday January 5) I was going to go up to climb solo again. My usual ice climbing partner Ryan had other plans that day. My wife suddenly decided she wanted to go again. It’s been a while since I’ve been out with her, because of her figure skating competition training and injuries. It was great to hear she was going to go ice climbing with me.

ascending to the ice climbing routes near Provo Utah

The ascent gully to Stairway to Heaven

We had a new babysitter to tend the kids, so we were free to both go ice climbing for about 6 hours. We took off for the Nunn’s Park parking area, put on our boots, harnesses, and packs, and walked to the gate on the trail. It’s a wide access road for Provo City Utilities, but unmaintained so it’s snow covered. We put our crampons on, and I handed her one of my trekking poles to ease the stress on her knees and back. I set a very mild pace up the steep access gully. There were plenty of other groups ice climbing today, but there is plenty of terrain. We’ll be fine.

preparing for ice climbing

What next? Ice Climbing in Provo Canyon

Ice Climbing in Provo Canyon

I raced up the ramp to the shelf and set up a toprope anchor on the same chains I used on Thursday. This time I used a sling to extend the rope away from the chains and hopefully divert some of the water runoff. I also brought a super-duper-dry rope (in climbing terms a dry rope is one that’s treated to repel or shed water – if you do a lot of ice climbing you’ll need one). I found the black ink mark for the center of the rope, clipped it into the lockers, passed it into my belay device, and tossed the rope down. A lot of rope. Oh. That was the “Twenty Feet Left” mark. I grabbed the end of the rope where it lay by my feet and tied in to my harness and undid one side from my belay device. Instead of rappelling I’ll just lower myself [note this is a technical rope application and unless someone has shown you how to do it and approved your technique you should never try this at home folks].

ice climbing on a crowded wall

My wife ice climbing amid the crowd at Provo Canyon

I let my wife try her hand at ice climbing first, since she’s been off the ice for a couple of years. It’s fun watching and belaying her. A great family togetherness thing. During the summer I take the kids out rock climbing, and now one is about old enough to try ice climbing, but I’d like to wait for it to warm up a little bit first. A funny note. While belaying, I heard the yell “HELMET” and looked to see a white helmet plummeting from a few shelves up and land on the ice uphill and skittering between the belayers toward me. We all made a grab for it, hopefully with full attention on our climbers. I managed to kick it into my rope pile. It was a white construction helmet. We talked about it off and on for the next couple hours. No one claimed it. You wouldn’t want to be ice climbing in it. For sure.

Ice Climbing Photos

We each did some laps. It was a ton of fun. I got to experiment with different footwork and tool placements and sticks. Ice climbing is really a mental game sometimes. It’s good to know a lot of different pieces to the puzzle. I climbed out the top on my last lap and tossed the rope down. It stayed pretty dry overall. The slings I used for the anchor were stiff and coated. I had to chip ice off the lockers to get then to unscrew. I had to dig out my back-up ice screw. But the rope stayed dry.

done ice climbing for the day

Packing up the ropes and gear

While climbing our water bottles had frozen shut at the lid and required work to open. They were full of slush. Some of the people ice climbing near us also had issues with their bottles too. It is cold! We packed up, said our goodbyes, and hiked down the steep gully. There’s a pretty good trail right now for access to the ice climbing. A few weeks ago it was still dirt and rocks and a bit tougher going. We hiked down the road to the Nunn’s Park parking area. A car was stuck in deep snow and revving the engine to get out. Be careful parking here. While the different pull-off areas and wide spots are flat enough they don’t always plow them out well. Also there are signs in front of the gates for no parking and the city trucks do use the road now and then.

hiking out after a day ice climbing

Hiking out after a day ice climbing

We took off our crampons and walked out onto the pavement. It’s always a weird feeling to make that transition. We walked down the road to the car, unlocked it, and set our gear into it. I drank a protein shake. I’m in “training to suffer” mode at the moment. Very limited food and drink on these adventures. On the way past I noticed the car was gone so they obviously made it out. I would have stopped to push otherwise. It was a great day ice climbing. I’m looking forward to more.

ice climbing couple

Happy after a great day ice climbing

About Charles Miske

Author, Climber, Mountaineer, Publisher, Athlete, Fitness

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