Weekend report: snow shoes, ice climbing and cake

It was one of those important moments in life, one which becomes defining and should be accompanied by the appropriate crescendo of movie-theme music.

As I sipped my morning coffee, the realization hit me. Today’s adventure may seriously injure or kill me. In that case, I should have had a second piece of chocolate cake last night.

While I was doing a poor job of hiding my fear, Mark awoke ecstatic. We were heading out to Zoar Valley for the day to join a bunch of his friends for some ice climbing. Mark loves ice climbing. He loves ice climbing the way I love pancakes after a four-hour hilly bike ride. We’re talking serious passion here. And it was something I definitely was interested in trying.

But the details were slightly frightening.

I have had one previous climbing experience, in the protected environment of a climbing gym. After my instructional lesson, I started at the bottom and climbed as high as I could (which wasn’t very far) before scanning my brain for the appropriate lingo into which to translate the phrase “GET ME THE HELL DOWN, NOW!”  Clearly, there was much for me to learn. And this ice climbing escapade involved not just climbing up a wall of ice. No, this involved starting at the top of the climb, rappelling the waterfall and then climbing back out.

Let’s just say that (a) rappelling is a skill I have yet to practice and (b) me trapped down at the bottom unable to complete the climb back out seemed a pretty likely scenario. I didn’t want the guys to spend their precious ice climbing time baby sitting me. Nor did I remember to wear my Road ID so, you know, identification of my body in the spring thaw would have been difficult.

Luckily for me, Mark forgot his crampons back at the car. So while the rest of the group started rappelling, we took a snow shoe hike to retrieve the crampons and look for an access route to the base of the ice so that I could climb without having to first rappel or later be compelled to climb to the top in order to return home, where the rest of the chocolate cake was.

Mark did some exploring as we hiked along a ridge and discovered what appeared to be a route to the ice base through a series of ledges. I started my descent to meet him at the first ledge and my snow shoes started to skid.

I fell. Which was no surprise. I had already fallen several times, using my butt as a mode of transportation. But this was steep. And slick. Quickly my fall turned into a runaway slide. My body did a 180. That’s when panic started before I somehow stopped.

Mark asked several times if I was OK. Physically, I was fine, but emotionally, I was terrified.

How was I going to get up? I couldn’t stand. I was afraid of dropping further toward the edge of the cliff (which really wasn’t an edge of a cliff, but certainly felt like one at the time). I was stuck. Stuck! See, I so should have had that second piece of chocolate cake! I started to cry just a bit, admitting out loud that I was scared and nervous while wondering to myself what photo they would use of me on the 6 o’clock news.

While part of my mind was playing the worst-case scenario game, Mark reassured me and talked me through rolling over until I got to a sturdy tree. With regained composure, I scrambled up the snowy hillside on my hands and knees, using my snow shoe poles and available trees. At this point, I realized that while I may not be graceful, I am one heck of a scrambler.

We continued to hike along the ridge and I figured I had about as much adventure as I needed for one day.

Part of me was really sad. Despite my whining and fears of untimely death without adequate dessert first, I really did want to try ice climbing. I just couldn’t mentally wrap my head around repelling and climbing all the way out. I needed more practice. I needed an intro lesson.

And believe it or not, Mark created one for me.

During our snow shoe hike, we found a solid block of ice near a bridge. It was only about 7-feet tall. It was a baby block of ice. I decided not to be embarrassed but gracious as Mark and his friends created a climbing experience for me.

Rob prepared the ropes while Mark helped dress me — harness, boots, crampons, helmet. Then Darin offered me a lesson, showing me how to swing my tools (i.e. giant ice picks) and how to kick my feet. My weight should rest in my heels and my hips should stay close to the ice. The technique was to reach up with an outstretched arm, create a good hold with the tool, then use my feet to push myself up.

And (as the video below shows) I did it. Graceful? Well, no. But climb on I did. With a smile and a laugh or two:


Yes, I may have only been a few feet off the ground, but I was holding myself on the ice. I climbed up, walked down, and climbed up again several times. Just a few short passes and I was tired, but smiling.

Let’s take stock of the day. The snow shoeing was fun and something I love to do with the tumble down the ridge a little adventure and lesson in critical thinking all in one. The ice climbing, while not executed as planned, was still out of my comfort zone, amazingly awesome and something which brought a smile not just to my face but to Mark’s.

And in reality, I didn’t even come close to major bodily harm. Which means there’s plenty of time for more cake.

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