Aaron: It’s just as easy as rock climbing. You have to be physically fit. As a beginner there are ice festivals where you can take a class. I travel to those throughout the winter to teach ice climbing and do presentations.
To ice climb at the level where I am, and then push what’s possible, training is a major part of my daily routine. It’s not just to climb the ice, but to understand the movement of it. There is a lot of mixed rock and ice climbing involved. There might be 100 feet of rock to a hanging dagger of ice. To get to where they touch, I am climbing rock. If you look at Cold Fear on Instagram, you will see pictures of me climbing rock and ice.
It makes the climbing harder to connect to the ice drips that are not touching. There are times when I have to hang upside down for 20 to 30 minutes. That’s why I train to push the sport.
Above: Aaron’s ice climbing pack
In Cody, you need to hike up 1,000 to 2,000 feet in altitude before you get to a climbing opportunity. It’s not a 10 minute walk from your camper. You need to be fit just to make the two to three hour hike to get to the climb. Then, you have to feel 100-percent and have the strength for the climb. Training to get to the next level has been the game changer.
TCM: 20 to 30 minutes upside down? That’s insane. How does someone even climb on ice?
Aaron: To climb a frozen waterfall you need ice climbing tools. First, you need an axe in each hand. Then, you have a crampons on your feet that have sharp points toward the bottom. You kick the crampons into the ice.
To climb, you swing each of those tools to put placements into ice. The tools slice the ice to create a good hold. Over time you gain comfort with the ice.
Ice changes in form quite a bit. Temperatures are dependent upon the conditions. With colder brittle ice, more ice comes off when you swing and kick.
The prime temperature is 30 degrees for climbing. The ice is supple, moist, and is not quite as rigid. I’ve climbed when it’s 50 degrees and the ice is like styrofoam.
TCM: What do you do to prevent yourself from falling? Are you completely dependent on the axes and crampons?
Aaron: We use ice screws and a rope for safety. Imagine a wood screw, but bigger and hollow. Ice screws are a 1/2-inch in width. When you put an ice screw into the ice, out comes a core. Then you clip to the ice screw and that becomes your protection.
TCM: And these ice screws are strong enough to prevent a fall?
Aaron: Yes. Ice screws that are done correctly are incredibly strong in good ice. The common rule is don’t fall.
TCM: How many ice screws do you put in during a typical climb?
Aaron: I don’t carry more than 12 screws with me, and the rope is 220 feet. With the rope and ice screws you can only fall as far as one notch down. If I am 100 feet up and the screw is 20 feet down, it’s a pretty big fall, so there could be an injury.