Ice Ice Baby

March 28

For most people, getting up close and personal with ice throughout the winter months is a common occurrence here in Northwestern Ontario. But how many people have had the opportunity to spend hours with their faces flat against the side of a  glacier or frozen waterfall, using picks and ropes to scale its slick, textured and treacherous surface.  I had that exact opportunity.

Thunder Bay based Aric Fishman and his team from Outdoor Skills and Thrills brought myself and two other beginner climbers out to Orient Bay to start our “ice climbing” experience. I consider myself knowledgeable about sports, but ice climbing is something I know nothing about. My first thoughts were, “Who would ever do that?” and “Are they insane?”   I do not like heights. Many beginning climbers say they’re afraid of heights, and that’s normal. The fear of heights and high places is a natural human fear. We instinctively know that if we fall from a high place that the result is going to be bad. This is something I had to work on to succeed at ice climbing.

Before heading out to Orient Bay, I had to be prepared.  Aric makes it super easy to ensure you have everything you need for the day by posting an information package checklist on his website. Once I got my bag packed it was go time.  No turning back now.  Orient Bay is located about 40 kms up HWY 11.  So I had a half hour to mentally prepare myself for what I thought was going to be the most terrifying day of my life.

Upon arriving at the meeting spot, there was an “Outdoors Skills and Thrills” sign, so I knew I was at the right spot.  After I met up with the crew and got all geared up with the boots, harness, crampons, and ice axes it was time to begin.  We had to walk up a big snow packed hill to get to the ice. The first thing we did when we got to the ice was go over safety. Aric went over how to securely move on the ice using our crampons and ice axes.  We started off moving sideways to make sure we were comfortable and doing it correctly. As we were practicing this, the guides were busy setting up the ropes.

There were a few things going through my mind when it was my time to start climbing:

  • Understand the safety system
  • Baby steps
  • Set a goal
  • Don’t look down!!!

In most cases, a fear of heights comes from a sense of being unsafe.  While I was getting set up to climb, my belayer (the person in charge of my fate!) did a very good job of making sure my knot was tied properly, my harness was nice and tight, and the belay device (rope system) was working correctly. This made me feel a lot better.

Up, up, up. This was my plan.  If being terrified of heights wasn’t annoying enough, I also have a very hard time being positive and giving my all when it comes to sports I don’t pick up right away. I really had to focus on taking baby steps and trusting my feet as I kicked them into the ice.  One step at a time.  The higher I climbed, the shakier my legs got. There was a little ledge not too high up, and it was my goal to get to it.  It helped to have the other ice climbers cheering me on.

Slowly but surely I reached that ledge and attained my goal!  It was such an exciting feeling, but quickly turned back into fear after I remembered I had to get back on the ground somehow.  This is where the “don’t look down” thing really came into play.  For anyone who has never been on belay, you pretty much sit back and use your legs to walk down the ice while your belayer lowers you down slowly. I wasn’t too keen on leaning back onto nothing, high up above ice, with only a rope and another human controlling my fate.  My heart was beating a million miles an hour as the instructor talked me down, but eventually, I was on the ground again.

I spent the next half hour or so sitting back and watching the other individuals climb, mostly because I needed to get my heart rate back down to a reasonable pace. After I had relaxed, the rest of the day I continued to climb, getting more comfortable each time.

I would like to try ice climbing again, and hopefully one day not be as scared. A HUGE thank you goes out to Aric and his team for the awesome experience, I highly recommend Outdoors Skills and Thrills for anyone who is interested in an ice climbing adventure.

Until next time, exploring the edge

  • J.Z