Monday, October 1, 2007

Ice climbing Festival!

After getting back from PA late Wednesday night, I knew I would not have much time to relax because this weekend was the MCA (Mountaineering Club of Alaska) Ice Climbing Festival. This is the festival that got me started in Ice Climbing two years ago. It was 5 months after Brian and I arrived in Alaska and just one month after I finished my summer on crutches due to a broken leg.

I had no idea what to expect, and was a little nervous, but excited about the idea of ice climbing. Up until that point I had never even seen a crampon or an ice tool, so when we rented the gear and saw all of the sharp points I was even more apprehensive, but figured I would give it a try. I remember the first day clearly. It was raining and blowing wind in the morning. After we strapped on our crampons we started to walk out on the ice. Because we were in the novice group, the morning was spent learning how to walk on crampons. This is important because walking around the glacier can be dangerous. There are many crevasses and moulins, holes in the ice that you can fall into and down a few hundred feet.

After walking around for awhile and learning the different crampon techniques, I turned to Brian and said, "I don't think I'm going to like Ice Climbing." Everywhere you looked there was slippery blue ice and it seemed like endless opportunities to hurt yourself... badly. I just didn't see the fun in it. So we had some lunch while the instructors set up the ropes on an easy practice slope. I remember tying in for the first time. It's like the start of a race. You get nervous while your waiting to start but as soon as you start moving all the nerves go away. Getting to the top of my first ice climbing felt like an amazing accomplishment.

The clouds dissipated and the sun started shining down on the glacier. We did a few laps on the easy slope and then got a 40 foot vertical section of ice. Brian and I jogged up it while the crowd cheered on the beginners. I was hooked.

I've been ice climbing ever since. At last years ice festival I signed up for the advanced group and started learning how to lead. This year I decided to help out as an instructor. It was really an awesome experience teaching beginners. You can watch their enthusiasm grow as they see themselves making progress throughout the weekend. I thought about how far I've come in just two years. It was great to be able to get some eager students started in a sport that is really kind of hard to get into on your own. Because all of the instructors and organizers are volunteers, it's an inexpensive way to start ice climbing. It gives people a chance to try a sport they otherwise would not be able to afford.

We had two great days of weather, 16 hours of awesome climbing, and I even got to give a stab at the 50 foot completely overhanging wall in the picture above. I got to talk to some of the best climbers in AK and got some tips on the good spots to hit this winter. I'm totally phsyched for the ice season. Here are some more pictures from the weekend.

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