Ice-climbing in its purest form is a wonderful experience requiring a good balance of both mental and physical mastery. Unlike other aspects of climbing, ice climbing has a rather unique movement and if mastered will make the entire experience much more enjoyable.
A progression course run by Alpine Dragons starts with a focus on a solid movement foundation. We try to break down the movement into bite size pieces and each day we build upon this to form an entire efficient body movement.
There are fundamental stages:
1) Looking: We do nothing but look. In this, we are looking for the next axe or foot placement. We are not climbing or placing ice-crews we are just looking nothing else. Simple just looking.
2) Placing the axes: In this place, the axes, with a focus on efficient placement.
3) Looking: Looking to place the feet
4) Placing the feet: Looking for the sweat spots and placing the crampons efficiently.
5) Standing up: Using the legs to push our selves up.
6) Resting: Not climbing or swinging the axes, just resting.
We then start the process again: Looking, Placing axes, Looking, placing the feet. Moving up. and finally resting.
Day 1: Normally is spent looking at body position, placing of axes and feet. We spend a lot of time focused on getting the movement as described above correct. Some people find this easy while others have challenges. There are many components to work with and to get them all running in unison can be challenging. We take our time and work through it.
One of the biggest challenges, especially for climbers that have some experience is to change their perception of what is ice climbing as they have a tendency to use inefficient methods to climb.
During the day to try to focus on different aspects of the movement we will try to climb with one axe only. This focuses our attention on footwork and body position. Eventually, we will try climbing with no axes, using features on the ice to aid our ascent. Lastly, we try climbing up and down the ice. All these focuses are to aid our understanding of iceclimbing movement. Many people find this aspect of the course fun!
Keywords for day one are: “be kind to yourself”. Many people come with perceptions of what ice climbing is and find on day one many of these are not quite what they thought. They also find it more challenging than they expected. Be kind to yourself, with time things get easier.
Day 2: We start the day by warming up and then climbing with the instructor giving individual mentoring to each person.
We look at the progression in the form of movement. Looking at when we climb with a strict pragmatic form and when to shift to a more flowing dynamic form.
By the end of the course, you will have a good solid foundation in movement on steep ice. It is not uncommon for participants to struggle a bit on the first day and then by the end of the second-day master the techniques.
I have personally seen complete beginners struggle on day one to be able to climb vertical ice on day two. Even with a smile!