Blue cold water drips off the fang of ice and winds its way down the shaft of my axes. I swing over the bulge, trusting the feel of my pick’s bite, my tools invisible in 6 inches of new snow. Two distinct crunches and my feet are positioned. I stand tall and mantle. Tapping up lower angle ground towards the belay I feel the buzz of exhilaration. A relative beginner on ice, the energy of discovering upward movement through sheets of frozen water fills me.
Max on the season's first ice: fat 'n easy on The Goatee
The last few weeks have been a frenzy of swings and kicks, snowy hikes, and moderate alpine climbing. I call it base building. I remember one of my early mentors, Taylor Roy, telling me I should do every 5.11 at the crag before trying a 12a. Build a foundation through habitual action and experience. Essentially climb everything you possibly can so as to engrain the feeling of upward movement into your deepest being. The movement becomes a part of your natural reaction to the vertical world, making those daunting steps between grades less significant. And so for now, I am swinging my axes at any good, bad, pretty, or ugly ice that will support my weight. Every time my tools are wielded I become increasingly comfortable, my technique more focused and sure.
Max on Chair Peak
When I drive through the canyons near my home I strain my neck to check the progress of those ever changing sculptures of hard water. Each day they take on a different shape and beauty. When a climb looks ready we swing the car to the shoulder, tighten our boots, and shoulder our packs. A beginner’s nervousness grips my throat just the way I like it. Before long we hang our weight from tools, placing total trust in those metal extensions of our arms. Every day I feel less separation from the ice I climb, my gear becoming a part of my body, allowing me to tune into the intricacies.
Chair Peak fun
Yet as much as I love waterfall climbing, it is no end all for me. My focus lies in high peaks and alpine adventures. Learning to climb ice is the next step in my development as a mountaineer, filling the empty spaces of my skill set. A peek out my front door shows rain and slop. Heavy snow falls in the high places. But when it clears and stable conditions return (they will, they must!) it will be time to take the experience of the past few weeks and apply it to the winter’s goals of hard peaks cloaked in their toughest armor.