Ice Climbing 101: Peabody Ice Tower Trip Report
This past weekend I finally got to try my hand out at ice climbing. The weather was right, I was able to take the weekend off from work and so I bolted up to Michigan to throw my picks into ice for the first time in my life. I quickly packed the car after work and drove north. It was a long drive through Ohio, but I eventually made it to Michigan and that's when the snow started. It was blowing sideways, upward, and every which ways. It really felt like home for a bit. Being exhausted and tired of driving in the snow, I pulled over and slept until morning.
I awoke to this man trying to plow around my Subaru in the parking lot, which I promptly moved so he could do his job. There was snow everywhere and I couldn't have been any happier. I finished the drive and pulled into Peabody's at about 9:40am. Garrett was shoveling the walkway as I hopped out of my car. I got changed and headed into the barn.
The barn is where Garrett, the owner, runs the business of the ice tower. I asked how he got started and explained it was more of a way for him and his friends to climb more in the winter. As more and more people came out to climb he needed insurance and this is when he learned it would be easier to make a business and open the tower up to the public.
I asked a bunch of questions as I was getting my gear on, giddy with excitement the entire time. Everyone that walked into the barn was really open and inviting to such a newcomer to their sport, and I really enjoyed that aspect. When you go somewhere to climb without a partner, (two people are required to climb, one to climb and the other to belay) you always hope you can find someone to partner up with. It was really easy here with lots of new friendly faces. Either Ice climbers are a really happy group of people or people from Michigan are just really happy people.
You can see the tower from the road as you're driving in, but the walk from the barn to the tower is exciting and filled with deep stares at the intricacies of the tower, if you've never seen it before. There's some sort of crane that is the backbone to the lower walls and supports the challenging mixed route going up the middle of the structure. I don't exactly remember how the larger tower is supported, but it's definitely sturdy enough so you don't need to worry about that!
Some fast facts about Peabody's Ice Climbing:
- Anyone can go and try out Ice climbing! They have the gear for you to rent for a small fee.
- A day pass is $20. Get in 20 pitches and it's a dollar a pitch!
- Times they're open are subject to the weather. Check their Website and Facebook Page for updates
It's best to start out on the lower angled walls to start to get the hang of things. When I started, I immediately noticed how much I was gripping the tools. I knew from reading a bunch of blogs and articles, over gripping your tools causes you to lose precious energy and get pumped out faster. I was breathing fast and could feel my body unsure of its new environment. I needed to focus on my breathing and everything turned out all right. I was taught to flick the wrist as you guide the pick into pockets where you think it might stick. Realistically, you could swing anywhere, but there are things to look for in the ice to help you swing less and get that perfect stick more. Another piece of advice is to keep your heels down. It's counterintuitive from rock climbing or really what you might think, but, because of the angle of the front points of the crampons you need to keep the heels down to let the points stick into the ice.
The rest of the climbing is mostly trial by fire. Learning what works and what doesn't as you do pitch after pitch. Of course after one of the moderate pitches we jump right on the hard stuff. Someone said the climb might be somewhere in the 4-4+ range. WOW, did I feel pumped towards the top. I was basically just looking for places I could hook my tool at that point and not have to pound out a spot in the ice. I made it all the way to the top but was exhausted when I reached the ground.
Insiders tip, I found out iced ropes do not like GriGri's so, I would highly recommend going with a tubestyle belay device for more control. A lot of people were using the Eldrid Mega Jul; I like my trusty ATC Guide. As the day wore on we kept doing pitch after pitch. When I would be feeling pretty pumped from doing some stout WI4+-5 laps we would hop on the lower angled stuff to get a break and then get right back on the hard stuff.
One route I had a lot of trouble on my first day was this really steep, and thin route that followed the supports of the tower all the way up. I hung three times on Saturday before backing off and letting the ice win.. for the time being. Sunday was a different story though. I got right up there, hung once and sent the last 15 feet to the top. It was an incredible battle and the climbing was so different than sinking the picks into the thick ice on other routes.
My goal for the weekend was to get a bunch of laps in, 20 to be precise. On Saturday I ended up doing 14 and Sunday, while even having to leave early, managed 8 laps on the frozen water, for a weekend total of 22. On my drive home I created a goal of trying to do 100 pitches of ice this winter. With almost a quarter done, there's at least, two more weekend trips to Peabody's, two days climbing in New Hampshire over Christmas break and Michigan Ice Fest. Hopefully I can get it done and the weather cooperates!!
Needless to say, I'm hooked. I loved when the snow and wind would blow into my face. I loved the spray of ice when some would break off. It was like a dream come true. I can't wait to get more into it and see what adventures unfold!
- Paddy O
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