Midwest Ice Climbers Ice Festival, 2011

Last weekend I got to try ice climbing out at the Ice Pit near Green Bay, Wisconsin.  It was a very cool setup, sort of an outdoor ice climbing gym in an active quarry.  Normally you must be a member to climb there, but for the festival it was just $20 for the whole weekend.  I did the trip with five other guys, all rock climbers, three of which also work at the Lab.

I found the climbing itself surprisingly difficult, despite my (at least modest) rock climbing abilities.  According to others that I spoke with at the festival, most of the routes that we were climbing were in the WI3-WI4 range, all about 100 feet high.  The hardest part was getting accustomed to the crampons and really trusting my feet.  When I didn’t trust my feet enough, I would put too much weight on my hands which led to totally pumped out forearms after 100 feet of ice.  We were each able to get three climbs in each of the two days, which was enough to tire me out pretty effectively.

There was a fair amount of demo gear to borrow from various vendors, including boots, crampons, and ice tools.  However, we got in touch with Down Wind Sports (in Michigan’s UP) via email before the festival and arranged to rent gear from them on Friday evening instead.  That way we were able to save a lot of time each morning and were certain that we would have gear that fit.  Bill @ Down Wind Sports was extremely nice and helpful, I’d do business with them again without hesitation.  For $40/person we had boots and crampons for the whole weekend.  Ice tools were easy to come by as demo gear, and someone in our party already had a set as well.

Overall it was a very enjoyable trip.  I might do a little easy ice climbing in the future as the opportunity presents itself, but for now I’m not planning on picking it up as a regular hobby.  I already have too many hobbies as it is, and this isn’t the cheapest or most accessible hobby around.  A brand new set of top-rope ice equipment (boots, crampons, tools) adds up to $800-$1000, while a used set is probably half of that plus more time hunting for a decent deal.  And northern Illinois isn’t exactly teeming with waterfall ice to climb.

You can find a few more photos of the event on my Smugmug page.