Climbers swarm North Conway for 26th Ice Fest – The Union Leader

NORTH CONWAY — For a 26th consecutive year, the Mount Washington Valley overflowed with ice climbers participating in what has been called “the biggest, baddest climbing event on the East Coast.”

“We had 450 people in three days and 99 percent are going away very happy,” Bradley White said on Sunday from his office at the International Mountain Climbing School, which was beginning to rock with the Ice Fest après party.

The school is located in the same building on Route 16 as International Mountain Equipment — whose founder Rick Wilcox started the Ice Fest as a way for ice climbers to climb, compare notes and socialize.

White said climbing clinics were full each day, adding that some 40 people had to be turned away on Saturday.

Born and raised in Newport, White was a multi-sport standout for the Newport Middle-High School Tigers. He came to North Conway not sure of what to do after graduation.

Skiing was definitely on his to-do list then, but soon so was ice climbing, thanks to a visit to Cathedral Ledge which, White noted, “has some great ice flows.”

Upon seeing the flows, White told a friend that he “doubted I’d ever climb something like that and now I’ve climbed it like 500 times.”

In between, White also became a proficient rock climber and guide, summiting some of the tallest peaks in the world.

“I did it backward,” joked White, saying most ice climbers begin as rock climbers.

These days, many climbers develop the passion for the sport on indoor walls, said White, “and then they realize there’s stuff outside.”

White said the Mount Washington Valley has literally hundreds of climbs within an hour drive of the International Mountain Climbing School — some within a half-mile walk from a parking lot.

One of about a dozen ice festivals held annually in the United States, the Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest “just keeps growing,” said White. “We’ve kind of gotten bigger than our pants, but we’ll never leave here.”

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