9 Tips for Staying Warm While Ice Climbing

A day of ice climbing in the winter is a day well spent. But, when you’re planning for hours of ice-cragging with a group of friends, it’s easy to underestimate how cold it can really get. To stay outside and happy for the whole day, and hopefully avoid the screaming barfies while you are at it, start with the following tips.

1. The puffier, the better

Bring a big, fat puffy belay jacket to wear when you aren’t climbing. It doesn’t have to be high tech, new, or even pretty. It just has to be warm. And, the bigger it is, the better. However, this isn’t a super-light alpine-style ascent we are talking about. If your jacket needs its own XL stuff sack for storage, then you can bet you won’t be cold while you’re wearing it.

2. Stay off the ground

At some point during the day, you might want to sit down. Camp chairs are nice, but they’re bulky and can get in the way at a crowded climbing area. Instead, bring a small foam or inflatable seat pad that you can sit on when you need to take a load off. Otherwise, you will be losing lots of heat through the seat of your pants.

Courtesy: Keith Moon
Courtesy: Keith Moon

3. Plan to get wet

It may be 10 degrees out, but the waterfall you are climbing will most likely still be spraying some liquid water. To anticipate this, a waterproof outer layer keeps you dry while you climb. If you are one of those people who prefers something more breathable, however, wearing high-quality, quick-drying fabrics makes the difference between climbing all day, and heading home early because your clothing has turned to ice.

In all cases, keep your down jackets away from the water. Most down loses its insulating properties once it gets wet.

4. Warm from the inside out

During a day of ice climbing, frozen granola bars just won’t cut it. So, grab a couple of insulated bottles to bring along some hot tea and broth-based soup. And, if you have enough to share, you are sure to make some new friends. Being warmed from the inside out is almost as good of a feeling as sending that lead.

Credit: Mark Meinrenken
Credit: Mark Meinrenken

5. Climb, climb, climb

This one is easy. Get on the ice, and get your blood flowing, as the more you climb, the warmer you will be. Just make sure that when you untie from the rope, you put some insulating layers back on. Heat loss happens quickly whenever you stand around.

6. Keep moving

If you are waiting for a free rope, and aren’t belaying your buddy, keep it moving! For a suggestion, hike around to check out the condition of a nearby flow, or even have a dance party. Ultimately, the more you move, the warmer you will be.

7. Carry multiple pairs of gloves

Bring a minimum of two pairs of gloves: a thinner set for climbing, and thicker ones for belaying. Don’t try to wear them at the same time, however. Rather, keep one pair inside your jacket, where they will stay warm. If they get wet, it is even more important to keep them from freezing and help them dry out.

Credit: Keith Moon
Credit: Keith Moon

8. Don’t wear too many socks

Socks are great, but if you wear too many pairs, you will squeeze the blood from your feet and get some awfully cold toes. Circulation does a great job at keeping your feet warm, so wear one pair of good socks and give your feet some room to let the blood flow.

9. Keep your head warm

When picking out what shirts and jackets to wear, opt for choices that have hoods. Lots of blood pumps into your head, and it all flows through the neck. As a result, keeping your head and neck seamlessly covered prevents warm air from escaping through the top of your shirt, and keeps those drops of ice-water from surprising you with a cold shock down your spine.


Alpha Guide: Mount Colden's Trap Dike in Winter

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Mild technical climbing, remote and rugged terrain, and spectacular Adirondack High Peak views make the Trap Dike a classic Northeast winter ascent.

Climbing the Trap Dike in winter—a great route for climbers looking for an adventure in a more remote, alpine setting—makes for an unforgettable experience. The approach is mellow but long, and the climb is technically simple yet committing. Once you’re at the top of Mount Colden, the descent options are plentiful, from hiking the trail back to a backcountry ski descent. Conditions vary wildly, depending on the time of season or weather, and any party’s experience can be incredibly unique from another’s, which means you’ll always be able to come back for more.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 11 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: December through March
Fees/Permits: $10 parking at Heart Lake ($8 for ADK Members)
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9164.html 

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Turn-By-Turn

Start at the Adirondack Loj trailhead, located at the end of Adirondack Loj Road off Route 73 in Lake Placid. Try to arrive early, as the parking area often fills up on weekends. While a few ski trails weave throughout the immediate area, be sure not to use them for the approach, unless, of course, you are skiing in.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Marcy Dam

Travel south on the Van Hoevenberg Trail from the trailhead for 1.5 miles to a major trail intersection (44.1728, -73.9589). Continue southeast another 1.1 miles to Marcy Dam. Marcy Dam is the first landmark location for the approach to the Trap Dike, and is a destination for many day-hikers and skiers. Plus, with little elevation change between the trailhead and Marcy Dam, expect this section to have moderate to heavy traffic on weekends.

Marcy Dam offers views of the surrounding peaks and slides, as well as multiple lean-tos and campsites. For multi-day trips, this makes a great base camp location.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Into the Pass

From Marcy Dam, continue south, around the eastern side of the pond towards Avalanche Pass. The trail here will begin to climb slightly. After passing some additional lean-tos, the trail then becomes steeper for the final ascent to Avalanche Pass. Be extra careful on the trail’s beginning section; it serves as the end portion of the Avalanche Pass’ ski descent trail, so you might find people skiing down at you.

About one mile after Marcy Dam, the trail splits between the hiking and skiing paths. Always ascend the hiking trail, as skiers are not expecting anyone to be coming up. From this point, the trail climbs a final 400 feet in just over a half-mile, until it opens up to the picturesque Avalanche Lake.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Finding the Trap Dike

In the early or late season, Avalanche Lake may have little to no ice and may not be crossable. However, barring any strange warm spells, the lake freezes over and provides a direct finish to the approach for the majority of the winter season. But, regardless of the time of year, always use caution when crossing frozen lakes. The entrance to the Trap Dike (44.1318, -73.9678) is the obvious, massive cleft in Mount Colden that spills out onto Avalanche Lake’s eastern side. Here begins the route’s technical portion; so, the Trap Dike’s entrance makes for a good location to refuel, rehydrate, and reorganize gear before you begin the technical ascent.

If Avalanche Lake is not frozen, access takes a little bit longer. Remain on the hiker’s trail and follow it south, across the wooden “Hitch-Up Matildas” anchored into the cliffs alongside Avalanche Lake. At the lake’s south end, leave the hiker’s trail, and follow the lake shore north 250 yards to the Trap Dike’s entrance.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Climbing The Ice

The Trap Dike’s technical portion contains two single-pitch ice steps, with snow climbing in between. These pitches are generally rated at WI2, but early in the season, the ice steps can be thin and chandeliered, providing a challenge for climbers and offering few options for protection. Mid to late season, however, the ice becomes fat and reliable, offering greater protection and the choice to build screw anchors or snow anchors. Good rope management saves time, as the two steps are separated by a short snow field, which requires the anchor for pitch 1 to be broken down before you start pitch 2.

At the top of pitch 2, continue to hike up the Trap Dike while remembering to stop and check out the view behind you. Caution is required here. Even though the route has mellowed out to low-angle ice and snow, an unprotected slip could result in sliding out of control over the second ice pitch’s top edge. As you ascend the Trap Dike’s upper section, the large, wide upper slide will come down to meet you on climber’s right, providing an exit onto the exposed slab.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Up The Slide

Climbing up the steep slab towards Mount Colden’s summit is relatively straightforward. However, the slab’s conditions can vary greatly, depending on the weather and time of season. Early-season climbers should expect to find thin patches of unconsolidated snow, verglas ice, and bare rock. In these conditions, the push to the summit can be treacherous and difficult, requiring careful steps the entire way.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

In mid to late season, the slab accumulates more snow, which allows for seemingly endless, leg-burning step-kicking to the summit. Lucky climbers may encounter perfect neve snow, which can help to conserve climbing energy. Regardless of conditions, however, the slog up can sometimes seem endless, so it is important to stop and take in the view of Algonquin and the surrounding mountains to help recharge the spirit. Before you reach the summit (44.1268, -73.9600) and subsequent hiking trail, you’ll pass through a short band of trees at the end of the slide.

Mount March through an undercast from Colden's summit. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Mount Marcy through an undercast from Colden’s summit. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Coming Back Down

One of the best parts about climbing the Trap Dike is the multiple options for returning back to the trailhead. Backcountry skiers can choose a ski descent, with a required rappel down the ice pitches, or one of Mt. Colden’s many other slides. Without skis, however, the quickest route back follows the summit trail, heading northeast for 3.6 miles past Lake Arnold and down to Marcy Dam. Once again, be wary of skiers descending the trail between Avalanche Pass and Marcy Dam. From Marcy Dam, follow the same Van Hoevenberg Trail for 2.6 miles back north to the Adirondack Loj to complete a long but rewarding adventure.


Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

The Kit

  • A technical mountaineering tool or axe, like the Petzl Sum’Tec, is ideal for the Trap Dike. The slightly curved shaft and aggressive pick allow you to climb ice pitches with ease, without impeding your ability to plunge the shaft into the snow for climbing on the upper slide or creating a snow anchor.
  • Much like the hybrid axe or tool, a crampon that can handle both vertical ice and snow steps, like the Black Diamond Snaggletooth Pro, will make your climbing more efficient. The Black Diamond Snaggletooth brings the best of both worlds together with its unique single-horizontal spike.
  • Hikers in the Adirondacks might not be used to wearing a helmet. But, climbing is dangerous, and dropping an ice axe on your partner’s head can make for a really bad day. The Petzl Sirocco will protect your noggin, and due to its lightweight design, you won’t even notice it’s there.
  • Winter travel through the High Peaks requires snowshoes or skis when there’s more than eight inches of snow on the ground. This helps prevent postholing and protects the trail conditions for everyone. The MSR Revo Explore 25 Snowshoes are lightweight and easy to take on or off, so you aren’t fumbling around when it’s time to change to your crampons.
  • Every year, there are reports of people getting lost or rescued during winter in the High Peaks. Everybody thinks it won’t happen to them, but it is important to be prepared if you are stuck overnight and need warmth. The SOL 2-Person Survival Blanket from Adventure Medical Kits will keep you and your climbing partner warm in case of an unexpected overnight.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Keys to the Trip

  • While, compared to other parts of the U.S., the East Coast sees fewer avalanches, they still do happen, and the risk is still real, especially on exposed slides like the Trap Dike’s upper portion. So, consider educating yourself on traveling through avalanche-prone terrain with the EMS Climbing School’s AIARE training. The Trap Dike, while usually considered safe, has all of the ingredients for avalanche danger.
  • Weather predictions in the Adirondacks can be very fickle. If you are planning the Trap Dike as a day trip, consider having a flexible window open to pick the best day. While poor weather poses greater challenges, the views on a nice day are second to none, and are a great way to pay yourself back for all the hard work.
  • This guide was written for a day trip, but the Adirondacks, and particularly the Marcy Dam area, offer many other hikes and climbing adventures. Consider planning for a longer journey and camping out. As such, your return hike back to base camp will be shorter, and you will be set up to head back out for a different hike or climb the next morning!
  • After your triumphant climb, you are sure to be hungry. Lake Placid is overflowing with great restaurants, but a dependable go-to is always the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. The food is delicious and filling, and the Ubu Ale is as classic as the Trap Dike itself

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Current Conditions

Have you climbed the Trap Dike recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


8 Tips to Prep for Ice Climbing Season

With temperatures dropping across the Northeast, the ice is starting to form, and ice climbing season is kicking into gear. To get you going, here are eight tips to help you sharpen everything from your tools to your skills for sending that perfect pitch or goal gully this season.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Sharpen your picks

Nothing takes the fun out of ice climbing more than dull tools. The inability to sink a stick melts stoke faster than the mid-winter thaw. If you’ve never sharpened your tools or it’s just been awhile since the last time you did, now’s a great time.

The goal of sharpening is to replicate your tools’ original shape. Doing so only requires a mill bastard file. Begin by filing off the rounded point at your pick’s end, and then, put the bevel back on the pick by filing outwards on each side, following the factory grind. When you’re done sharpening, use a hex wrench to make sure your picks are tight. Check out this fantastic video from the AMGA to see the process in action.

Pro tip: Use a vice when sharpening your tools instead of balancing them in your hands to save yourself the embarrassment of a season-stalling puncture wound or stitches.

Courtesy: @jamisonknowlton
Courtesy: @jamisonknowlton

2. Add some grip

After perfecting your picks, add some grip tape to your axe shafts. A layer of tape improves grip and helps insulate your hands from the cold. Furthermore, it makes it easier to distinguish your tools from your partner’s and protects against the scratches that come with use. Depending on how much grip they want, climbers use everything from electrical tape to skateboard deck tape.

3. Sharpen your crampons

Although most associate ice climbing with axes and upper-body muscles, the real magic happens with your feet. Because of this, you’ll want to sharpen your crampons before jumping on the sharp end this season. In fact, because crampons often get used to approach climbs and descend them, they typically dull faster than tools. As such, it’s a good idea to give them a quick sharpening after every ice outing.

If you have crampons with vertical front points, like the Black Diamond Cyborgs do, use the mill bastard file as you did for your ice tools to sharpen your crampons’ front points along the factory bevel. And, don’t forget about your crampons’ secondary points. It’s recommended to file the secondary points on their backside, so as to not change their length and affect performance.

Pro tip: Once again, use a vice. With all those points, a mid-sharpening slip with your crampons can be even more hazardous than with your ice axes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4. Dial in the fit

Getting to a climb, only to realize you haven’t sized your crampons to your boots, is no way to start a day, much less a season, of ice climbing. Adjusting crampon length is most often done with a pin-lock system on the center bar, and while making adjustments is easy, it’s finicky work best done at home, without gloves. Doing this at the base of the cliff will leave you with cold hands before you even start climbing.

When adjusting, you want to achieve a tight fit without the boot overhanging the front or back of the crampons’ frame. As a good at-home test to tell if you’ve adjusted correctly, put your boot in the crampon. If you pick the boot up and the crampon comes up with it, without being formally attached to the boot, you are on the right track.

5. Protect your protection

Dull ice screws can put a damper on an ice climbing outing. At best, they’ll be hard to sink into the ice; at worst, they won’t thread into the ice, leaving climbers in a treacherous situation. To make matters worse, it seems you always come across the dull screw on your rack when you’re most desperate for protection.

Until recently, most ice climbers sent their screws out to be sharpened. Then, Petzl unveiled the LIM’Ice, a device that makes sharpening ice screws straightforward and easy. Of course, if you’ve had your ice screws for a few years, it might be time to upgrade. Newer ones like the Black Diamond Turbo Express have speed knobs for easy placement; light-colored hangers instead of black, which speeds up melting out; and two places to clip ‘biners, which help to declutter busy belays.

Courtesy: @claireebruce
Courtesy: @claireebruce

6. Get your head in the game

Before going out to make your first climb of the season, it’s worthwhile to brush up on your mental game. Spend some time reading up on technique, thinking about movement, and practicing the requisite rope work to get your mind in mid-season form.

If you’re planning on climbing alpine gullies, refresh your avalanche awareness, and refamiliarize yourself with your beacon, probe, and snow safety kit. Not confident in your skills? Consider taking an early season avalanche class or ice climbing lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. Whether you’re looking to get up to date with the latest in snow safety or just pick up a few pointers, an early season class gives you knowledge you can use all season.

Pro tip: Practicing companion rescue with your avalanche beacon is a great way to pass the time in between those too-cold-for-rock-climbing and no-climbable-ice-yet weekend days.

7. Tune up your body

Doing some sport-specific exercises before your first outing will pay big dividends. Even better, you don’t need a fancy gym to get yourself into ice climbing shape.

For your upper body, simply hanging from your tools on a pull-up bar or hangboard is a great way to build grip strength and prepare for what is coming. Mix some pull-ups using your tools in with the hangs to further build upper-body strength.

Of course, ice climbing requires a fair amount of heavy gear, and less-crowded climbing is often away from the road. For lower body fitness, consider hiking your favorite 4,000-footer with a weighted pack. Can’t make it to the mountains? A favorite workout of ours involves laps up the local ski hill with a weighted pack.

Courtesy: @peterkbrandon
Courtesy: @peterkbrandon

8. Make a tick list

A great way to get psyched about ice climbing season is to make a tick list. Whether it’s a local test piece or a dream line, having a goal in mind makes hanging from your tools in the basement a little more bearable, and looking at and reading about those lines will have you stoked to start the season. Start picking out your next route in the ADK Blue Lines, or get inspired by the guys and girls putting up the Northeast’s classic ice climbs before Gore-Tex, Schoeller, or PrimaLoft while using straight-shafted ice tools in Yankee Rock and Ice.

 

At the beginning of every ice climbing season, you’re sure to see someone at the base of the climb fiddling with their gear and mumbling, “I wish I had…adjusted these, trained, practiced, etc.” Avoid these common pitfalls, and nail the approach—to the season, that is—by following these simple steps.


10 Stocking Stuffers Under $50 for the Ice Climber

Ice climbing is a notoriously expensive sport, demanding several big-ticket supplies. But, just like anything else, there are a handful of smaller, less-expensive items that are essential to any day spent kicking and swinging. And, they make perfect stocking stuffers, too. So, here are 10 pieces of rad gear that every ice climber on your list will love, and as they’re all for $50 or less, they’ll easily fit into your holiday budget.

1. Hand Warmers

To have fun ice climbing, staying warm is key. A box of Yaktrax Hand Warmers offers an easy, inexpensive solution for the problem of cold hands, and they can be tucked away into a first aid kit for those just-in-case moments.

Courtesy: Black Diamond
Courtesy: Black Diamond

2. Headlamp

Darkness comes early during the winter, and it’s not hard to get caught climbing as the sun sets. Headlamps like the Black Diamond Spot are super-bright, extremely small, and saviors when the day’s last light disappears.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

3. Thermos

Bringing a hot beverage in a thermos, like the Hydro Flask Wide Mouth, is a great way to stay warm. Durable enough to handle being shoved into a pack filled with sharp, pointy things and insulated enough for cold New England winters, the Hydro Flask is a welcome addition to any ice climber’s kit.

4. V-Thread Tool

Nothing kills a day on the ice like struggling, after all the climbing is over, to line up two 20cm screws to rappel home. Make sure your climber doesn’t have to deal with that with the Black Diamond First Shot. Open the arms and use the slots as a guide to line up your screws on the first every time, then use the metal hook to help feed the rope through. Feeling confident and safe in your rappel has never felt so easy.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Gloves

Ice climbers’ gloves also take a beating over the course of a winter. From getting dragged across ice and rock to handling sharp tools, screws, and crampons, the life of the typical climbing glove is a difficult one. The Marmot Basic Work Gloves offers the needed dexterity and is built to withstand harsh conditions.

6. Cordelette

Your climber probably spends a lot of time hanging from relatively thin pieces of cord. Since a cordelette needs to be replaced every other season, odds are your climber needs a new one. Keep your climber happy—and around for another holiday—with a Petzl cordelette.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Slings

Just like with their cordelettes, many ice climbers are slow to replace their slings. To help them celebrate safety this holiday, why not gift some lightweight and durable double-length Black Diamond runners to replace a few of their older, more tattered slings?

8. Socks

A good pair of socks is one of those things ice climbers love to have but hate to buy. A timeless classic, the Smartwool Mountaineer Extra Heavy Crew Socks are made for people who spend long days out in the cold. Give them the gift they won’t get themselves.

9. Neck Gaitor

You don’t realize how handy a warm neck gaitor is until you own one. Built from super-warm 100-weight microfleece, the EMS Classic 200 Fleece Gaitor is tailor-made for ice climbers, keeping your neck warm and ice from falling into it, without restricting your movement.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

10. EMS Gift Card

If all else fails, an EMS gift card is always appreciated. Your climber can put it toward one of those pricier items or a guided climb on one of the Northeast’s classic lines with the EMS Climbing School.

 

Of course, these are just a few of the most popular items for ice climbers at a stocking-level budget. For more great suggestions, swing into any of our EMS stores and ask for the staff ice climber—or look for the person with the red cheeks. And, if you think of something we didn’t, leave your recommendations in the comments!