According to The Guardian, the difference between ice climbing and rock climbing comes down to a few key elements: the latter is associated with a higher adrenaline rush, a better workout and a more severe degree of danger. Being risk junkies, we had to find out which climbing sites helped the sport earn its reputation for attracting only the most extreme daredevils. While ice climbing trails’ grade difficulty ranges from WI2, for the simplest beginner climbs, to WI7, for the most advanced, steepest ascents, our survey focuses on the upper end of that spectrum. If your New Year’s resolution is to get in fantastic shape without setting foot in a gym, then we’ve got the jaunts for you.
When we think ice climbing, Scotland isn’t really the place that comes to mind. At least not before now. As soon as we stumbled across this footage of pro climber Andy Turner ascending a route known as “The Secret,” one of Scotland’s most severe ice trails, we found out pretty quickly that we were mistaken. The Secret carries an off-the-charts difficulty rating of 9. At this level, severe injury or death is a near certainty for all but the most experienced climbers. The fact that Turner moves only a couple of steps in this video is testament to the extreme challenge posed by the completely vertical obstacle.
In 2011, ice-climbing legends Will Gadd and Tim Emmett became the first people in the world to scale a 450-foot, ice-covered waterfall at Helmcken Falls at Wells Grey Provincial Park, Canada, as reported by news.com.au. The duo accomplished the feat by braving four treacherous hours of constant threats on their lives, including temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit, deadly ice sprays and unstable ice chunks that could snap off at any moment. Not to mention 6-meter-long icicles that could’ve impaled them at any moment. After he completed the climb, Emmett told the Daily Mail, “there’s always debate about the true hardest climb in the world but I think all climbers would agree this is easily the most difficult.” Watch the video we’ve plucked, and see Gadd and Emmett comment on the dangers of their sport. Rest assured, we don’t think either of them is the one involved in the gnarly fall at the end.
With great beauty often comes great danger. Nowhere in the natural world is this truer than on the icy faces of the French Alps’ Mont Blanc (and offshoot Mont Maudit). In fact, as of July 2012 at least 9 climbers had been killed by avalanche-related incidents, as reported by The Guardian. An all too common occurrence on the mountain’s face, where few rock buttresses and temperature swings often result in dangerous ice slides. Footage from a BBC special, entitled “Those Who Dare,” discusses, in more detailed terms, the risks associated with taking on more challenging climbs in this part of the world. If high-grade French ice is what you’re after, you’d be wise to pack some serious avalanche protection gear. An ABS vest would be a fine place to start.
2009 Ice Climbing Festival
You didn’t think the most treacherous ice climbs in the world had to take place on natural surfaces, did you? Allow us to open your mind with this incredible footage of climbing extraordinaire Patrick Aufdenblatten at the 2009 Ice Climbing Festival. We understand that the threat of injury is considerably lower here than it is on climbs occurring outside the realm of regulated international festivals, but still, the ease with which Aufdenblatten tackled these obstacles is something you need to see to believe. His amazing movement on the ice is certainly an accomplishment worthy of addition on our list.
Ouray Ice Park
Ouray, Colorado is, without a doubt, one of the best (if not the best) destination for ice climbing in the United States. Home to Ouray Ice Park which boasts 200 climbs and over 1 mile of vertical terrain, it’s a spot all professionals worth their weight in ice axes make a point of visiting. With so much terrain, many of Ouray’s ascents are geared toward beginner and intermediate climbers but there’s no shortage of WI6 and WI7 spots if you fancy yourself ready to take on one of the most challenging past times in the world. Don’t look down.