Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy New Ice Year! by Jennifer Fratianni

“This is my year to try new things!” I boldly declared at the breakfast table on New Year’s morning. Two hours later, I was standing in front of cascading ice with ice axes in hand. I was going to climb ice. Perhaps my judgment was a bit clouded by the liquid libations of the previous evening. But deep down in my climbing soul, I knew this was the next step.

Even though I have learned to trust myself as a climber, the idea of ice climbing still made me a bit queasy. The equipment, for one, greatly resembles instruments of torture, which equally fascinated and frightened me. I had secretly been yearning to wield ice axes for a while, but was afraid I might lobotomize myself in the process. (I am a tomboy at heart and love tools!) Once Joe was roped up and ready to go he said, “Watch my feet,” and began kicking footholds in the ice with his crampons.

“Holly shit!” I said as the icicles showered down of my helmet. “Stand behind that boulder,” instructed Joe. I felt clumsy belaying in big gloves. I peered out from behind my boulder, not wanting to miss anything, but waiting for the next chunks to fall. “Swing from your elbow, like this,” said Joe, planting ice axes with ease. He moved fluidly up the icefall, pausing to set ice screws and clear loose ice. Soon he was atop the frozen fall, setting a top rope. It was my turn.

Keep the rope tight,” I said, apprehensively approaching the ice. I was surprised how secure I felt on my feet after taking the first step. The ice was pliable like plastic. I started wildly swinging my axes and ice came down in big chunks. “Watch it!” I yelled as ice flew past my face. Joe chuckled from below. “Swing from your elbow – not your wrist!” he reminded me patiently. What a difference that made. Soon I was planting my axes much better. I didn’t need to hack huge holes in the ice for the picks of the axes to hold. Their teeth needed just a tiny bit of ice to hold. I liked the rhythm the climbing -- planting the picks and then kicking in footholds. Swinging those axes made me feel powerful! “That’s what I’m talking about!” I shouted and then whack – I’d set an axe. It was a great feeling. Much to my surprise I quickly found myself at the top without any gaping wounds. “Whoohoo!” I yelled holding the axes over my head.

I have many friends who are fascinated by my obsession for climbing, as am I. I have always enjoyed doing things outside, but never thought I would refer to myself as a climber, especially not an ice climber. When I try to coax my friends into climbing, I often hear the same excuses. “I’m too old, too fat, too weak, and too scared,” they say. Hadn’t I echoed those same insecurities to Joe? “But climbing makes you feel younger, skinnier, stronger and braver!” I assure them. What other sport can give you all that?

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