Working within a Wilderness Medicine fellowship affords all kinds of unique, fun, interesting, and educational opportunities. A lot of the events that I will be participating in over the next year are pre-planned or are part of the curriculum. But I also get asked to do all sorts of random things, like interviews for local TV regarding how to avoid frostbite, or the chance to lecture to medical students participating in a wilderness medicine elective. But over this past weekend, I got asked to go ice climbing!?!
I’ve always wanted to try ice climbing. I was an avid rock climber for years but unfortunately residency and work kind of put the kibosh to that. It was always so impressive to me watching people ice climb. To scale a vertical wall of frozen water with only ice axes and crampons – awesome! In a way, I had thought that it looked easy compared to rock climbing since you could essentially use your tools to gain a hold anywhere on the vertical ice. Not true! What they don’t show you is that it can take several whacks with your ax to get any kind of purchase on the ice, and that sometimes the whole shebang can crack and crumble right out from under you. Trust me, this was the bulk of my climbing experience.
We arrived at Tinker Falls, part of the Labrador Hollow Unique Area in Cortland County, around 8am. One of the other climbers was gracious enough to have gotten there extra early to set a top rope. I strapped into my brand new crampons for the first time. I’m glad I attempted this before arriving at my upcoming winter mountaineering school – I would have definitely lost some street cred… After a crash course in basic ice ax and crampon use, I was roped in and ready to climb. I struggled a bit on my first try, but really enjoyed it. My forearms were on fire, and my hands were so cold that they felt like they were about to fall off, but I couldn’t stop hooting and hollering. I’m not sure if my behavior fell into proper ice climbing etiquette… My second climb was surprisingly smooth. I finally got the rhythm of kick, kick, ax, ax, repeat ad nauseam. Of course this unexpected stroke of brilliance was doomed to end quickly. My third climb was a lot of me sitting halfway up the wall and creating epic ice showers to those below.
Overall, this was such a great experience! I can’t wait to go again. I love learning new skills. And for whatever reason, I absolutely love being out in winter weather. Hopefully this little taste of being out on the ice will help me during my winter mountaineering course. I leave in just two days!
I swear I didn’t plan this Johnny Cash-esque ice climbing outfit: