From High Places: The cold, hard facts on ice climbing – The Union Leader

While it may look extreme, ice climbing is an awesome and potentially addicting pursuit.

Just ask Todd Bergstein, an employee at International Mountain Climbing School in North Conway.

“Ice climbing gives you a sense that you’re putting yourself in a challenging position, a place where you might feel you shouldn’t be,” he said. “But the confidence and problem-solving skills you’ll develop on ice definitely translate into other aspects of your life.”

Ice climbing is similar to rock climbing in that you’re ascending a vertical formation. In this case, the formation is covered with ice and requires specialized gear such as ice axes, crampons and ice screws.

Many start out by renting equipment to see if the sport is for them, because the specialized gear and clothing to regulate body temperature in a cold environment can be expensive.

Easy to moderate routes require a person to have a pretty good foundation of physical fitness, and as skills progress and routes get steeper strength and endurance become even more important.

New Hampshire has several exceptional ice climbing locations such as the Mount Washington Valley, Crawford Notch, Franconia Notch, Kinsman Notch and Rumney. Ice climbing, like many pursuits, does have some inherent risk, so I’d highly recommend you seek out expert instruction from certified mountain guides, climbing schools or someone you trust with the requisite experience and expertise to mentor you.

Bergstein’s entry into the sport mirrors that of many ice climbers.

“I had gone rock climbing two to three times in my life during school and camp outings but had never climbed ice. Eight years ago, I drove up to the Ice Fest from New Jersey, slept in my car for three nights, and took three clinics over the course of the weekend. I was enthralled. Hooked. And now I work for IMCS and help coordinate the festival,” he said.

Operated by IMCS, Ice Fest is now in its 26th year, and is on for Feb 1-3 this year. Its goal is to provide a safe and supportive environment for beginners and experts alike to partake in ice climbing clinics and guided climbs.

I know, I know, who in their right mind would climb a frozen waterfall? But stay with me on this.

Last year Ice Fest drew 380 budding and seasoned ice climbers to the Mount Washington Valley over three days, and with ice climbing and winter mountaineering gaining popularity each year they plan to exceed last year’s numbers. To meet the increasing demand, IMCS brings in more than 50 guides from all over the world to provide expert instruction.

“Participants are climbing with world class guides over the course of the weekend,” Bergstein said. “The sense of community at this event is what makes it really special. People leave here with new friendships and climbing partners.”

The festival kicks off at 8 each morning and runs all day. Friday and Saturday night feature presentations by renowned climbers who are accomplishing big things in the higher mountain ranges of the world.

For those who want to test the frozen waters so to speak, there are two clinics that are ideal for the vertically curious: Ice Climbing 101 and Ice Climbing for Rock Climbers. Each clinic costs $175. Thanks to the support of almost 30 event sponsors, participants need not bring their own ice climbing gear. All equipment, from winter clothing to technical ice climbing tools, is provided for you to demo at no cost during the festival.

For additional information, visit the Ice Fest website at or call the International Mountain Climbing School at 356-7064. Bergstein encourages those interested to contact the school directly, “We like to speak with every single person who wants to sign up, so they get into the right clinic and onto their first frozen waterfall”.

If you decide to step outside of your comfort zone at Ice Fest, I suspect your first time on ice likely won’t be your last.

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