Is Ice Climbing Dangerous?

Understanding the dangers of what you're getting into is critical before you go ice climbing. After all, it's one of the "high-risk" sporting activities.  Some of the key dangers are highlighted in the information that follows.

For several reasons, ice climbing is a risky sport. First, ice climbing is challenging because of the extreme cold, the potential for falling ice, and the possibility of physical harm from lead falls.

Human risks and risks from natural hazards include those related to the cold, icefall and avalanche risk. Human dangers result from errors in judgment, which can occur when ice climbs. These dangers can be reduced and managed.

Is Ice Climbing Dangerous?

Natural Hazard Risks

The risks that come from the environment are known as natural hazard risks. For example, ice climbing is a solitary sport that necessitates travel to isolated locations in search of decent lines. While this contributes to a significant portion of the sport's attractiveness, it is also the cause of several catastrophic injuries.

For instance, you can do nothing to reduce the likelihood that an avalanche will occur on the route you ascend; all you can do is be aware of the hazards and decide whether or not you want to proceed.

At least one member of your group must have sufficient outdoor judgment expertise to assess the circumstances and make these choices. The answer is often neither clearly yes nor no since there is frequently a significant gray area, and someone with the knowledge to examine it is required.

Cold Climate

An inevitable hazard you'll face while ice climbing is the cold temperature. You won't be able to go without the cold. On a particularly nice day, it will likely only get slightly warmer than freezing while climbing.

Tips to face cold

Consume enough food: The easiest approach to guarantee that you can stay warm is to have calories in your system.

Visit the restroom: To prevent freezing, your body must work harder to keep your bladder warm when it contains fluids. Your body can spend this energy elsewhere when you empty your bladder.

Layering: To fend off the cold, it's imperative to layer properly. The ideal amount of clothes keep you warm while you're stationary but doesn't cause you to sweat while moving.

Exposure to the cold increases the danger of hypothermia and frostbite. But even if you avoid such severe injuries, the cold is still harmful since it can cause them.

Other ways that cold might affect you include impairing your ability to concentrate and compelling you to make poor choices. In addition, being half frozen and in pain might influence your cognitive state, increasing the likelihood that you will commit any human-caused blunders. Furthermore, it's simpler to commit an error when climbing or belaying when your muscles become inactive from the cold.

Natural Hazard Risks

Ice/Rock Fall

Whether climbing or belaying, you should always be vigilant of the risk of ice or rocks falling from above. This risk is particularly noticeable on warmer days or later in the day when the sunlight has had an opportunity to warm the ice. Expert ice or rock climbers have specific climbing styles to avoid bodily injuries.

As water seeps into rock crevices, stress spots and fractures are created. In addition, the same water can grow and repeatedly shrink throughout a freeze-thaw cycle, weakening the rock surrounding it and causing sizable chunks to break loose.

Similarly, as the ice warms up, any existing flaws are more likely to be shown, leading to ice shearing and falling apart. 

Ice quality

All your protection, or the ice tool that will catch you if you fall, is buried in the ice when the ice climbs. As a result, you will fall farther than you anticipated if the ice breaks and the ice tool loses its grip. Because of this, the ice's quality is crucial to your safety.

The degree of damage the ice has sustained from other ice climbers, and a recurrent cycle of freezing and thawing is called its quality. Air bubbles in poorly formed ice make it harder to grip when you install an ice screw because there is less substance to grab onto. The ice's temperature is the last consideration. Ice that has warmed up is more likely to crack. Pay close attention to the ice during the day, particularly on sunny days.

Ice/Rock Fall

Avalanche Risk

Finally, you should be careful about the avalanche risk. Although you should still be mindful of it when climbing, this is more of a concern on alpine ice routes.

Some people reduce this danger on alpine routes by bringing avalanche gear with them. In contrast, other alpine climbers think that is too much weight to carry when navigating difficult terrain.

Read avalanche reports for the region you'll be climbing in, even if you don't pack your shovel and avalanche beacon. Go through the injury rate and Alpine guide. Consider canceling your ascent for the day if the risk is significant and spending the day ice climbing mostly on low-risk ice instead.

Human Risks

It's time to discuss the risks brought on by human behaviors since the natural threats have all been addressed. The majority of injury incidences occur with beginner climbers.

Unbelievably, human error accounts for around 95% of climbing mishaps. So making wise decisions is crucial, especially in ice climbing, where the implications are great, and the results could be lethal.

Ice climbing is not rock climbing, even though this distinction is often emphasized within the ice climbing community. Both are dangerous sports, but here the risks are larger.

There are three key factors to consider when it comes to human errors.

Fall Risk

The biggest distinction between ice climbing and rock climbing is fall danger. On lead, you cannot fall when ice climbs.

Lead falls in ice climbing are problematic because they are less clean than those in rock climbing. Therefore, it's practically a given that something— an ice pick or a crampon— will get stuck in the ice as you fall due to the equipment you're employing. As a result, your legs or arms will experience a great deal of unnatural strain, resulting in torn ligaments and fractured bones.

It can also throw off your balance, increasing the likelihood that you'll tangle in your cable or take a vicious swing at the wall. Due to this, you must choose your climbing routes with extreme caution because you must be certain that you can reach the summit safely. In addition, ice climbing requires a very different kind of pushing than rock climbing.

Fall Risk

Belayer risk

Ice climbing is dangerous even when you're not on the ice. These fall into two groups in particular:

Icefall risk: It is typical for climbers to remove loose ice chunks from the rock, which is subsequently launched toward the belayer. You must constantly be on the lookout for this threat and take precautions to lessen it. Also, you ought to choose your belay spot to avoid encountering ice.

Fall risk: If your climber falls when they are sufficiently low, you must pay attention to the direction in which they are falling. You don't want to get impaled because they have sharp spikes on their hands and feet. Forgetting to wear belay gloves could be the biggest mistake here. 

Decision Making

Decision Making

The most important risk element in ice climbing may be decision-making. Good decision-making can reduce the risks mentioned above, and practically every accident can be linked to poor choices.

You must practice making them over time to improve them. The only way to learn them is to go into the wild with individuals with more experience than you and observe how they respond to risky circumstances. You won't learn them through reading the news or watching movies.

Kevin Macey
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