Ice Climbing in the Adirondacks

I had been a climber for years but never tried ice climbing before. My sister used to do it a long time ago and I figured what the heck, I might as well give it a shot myself!

Brad Bowers

I have a couple of good friends from the Philadelphia area who I started climbing with. They ice climb a lot in the Adirondacks, so I thought, "What better time to try it than with some good friends?"

Leading up to the trip, my anticipation was high. I was actually pretty nervous and kept wondering how I would do. I certainly wasn't used to holding axes or using crampons. Rock climbing is all about being light and mobile. My friends lent me the ice climbing gear for that first trip, except for my crampons, which I had for winter hiking. Luckily, my crampons had vertical points, so I could use them for vertical ice walls as well.

My two buddies Dave and May from Philadelphia are my go-to for adventures. I've been climbing and hiking with them for a long time, and used to rock climb with them down around Philly. When they come visit me in the North Country, we always end up going on an adventure.

Anyway, my first day ice climbing was outstanding. The whole day was just perfect weather and great ice. I didn't get any screaming barfies, and I didn't have to hangdog on the rope, so I was psyched.

It's strangely satisfying to get a good stick with an ice pick. I prefer hero ice over making dinner plates all over the place, because the most challenging thing about that first time climbing the Adirondacks was getting a good stick. After that, trying to get the darn thing back out while holding on was the second most challenging thing about that first climb.

My advice for any climber is to go with people you like and trust. It just makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Now that I've been ice climbing for a while, I try to be more efficient with my axes. I wasted a lot of time trying to unstick the axe, and a lot more time trying to find a good place to sink it back in. Lessons learned.

Top Gear: What I Wear When I Climb

Ever since that first time when I wore my snowboarding helmet and goggles with a GoPro, I streamlined my gear. I wear a simple EMS hardshell jacket with a fleece underneath, hardshell pants with a baselayer, Outdoor Research's Crocodile Gaiters and Kayland M11+ boots with Petzl Sarken Crampons. For gloves, I wear Seirus Xtreme.

Some Important Climbing Definitions:

  • Screaming barfies – Describes the level of pain ice climbers feel when feeling comes back in their hands after going numb while climbing. Sometimes you don't know whether to scream or barf. In a sentence: "Man, I hit that wall and wanted to scream and lose my lunch, you know, the screaming barfies."
  • Hang dog – To repeatedly rest on the rope while climbing, which denotes fatigue. In a sentence: "I am wiped, I totally hang-dogged that."
  • Hero ice – The sweet spot where ice is melting a bit, or is soft, and your ice pick sinks into the ice wall with ease. In a sentence: "Blue skies and hero ice, I've died and gone to climber heaven."
  • Dinner plates – Refers to the way very hard, cold ice breaks off in large circular chunks when a climber's pick sticks. In a sentence: "Whoa did you see those dinner plates? Talk about flying saucers!"
Ice climbing in the Adirondacks of Northern New York
About the Author …
Brad Bowers
Brad Bowers lives in Ballston Lake, an area strategically chosen for its proximity to the Adirondacks. A long-time rock climber, his first foray into ice climbing was in the Adirondacks – and it’s an experience he’s never forgotten.
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