A Scotsman, an American and two pieces of ice-climbing equipment
Of all the sports possible in the mountains, ice-climbing may well be the most spectacular. It is also the youngest discipline in Alpinism. In the past, ice-climbing used to be part of mountaineering - crampons and ice pricks were part of a good mountaineer's equipment. Due to climate change, this equipment is no longer really needed nowadays, but passionate climbers do not want to keep the equipment stashed away in the cellar or attic, so a new sport was born. In the late 1970s, some pioneers of ice-climbing tried out the new sport on frozen waterfalls in Austria, using techniques and a set of equipment developed by a Scotsman and an American. The modern equipment has been adapted from the old ice pricks mountain guides used to carry with them. The tools have since been further developed for climbing on steep, vertical ice faces. The new pricks are a lot shorter, anchor better and allow for stronger pulls.
Ice as thin as a newspaper
Ice climbers soon improved not only their equipment but also their climbing techniques. The first real boom in ice-climbing could be observed in the early 1990s, when equipment improved every season, the ice columns to be climbed became steeper, taller, and thinner. Eventually, the variant "mixed" was invented, where climbers climb on both ice and rock, a bold endeavour.
At the beginning, ice-climbing seems fairly easy. Soon however, the real challenges become clear. One is the absolute trust in the equipment. A climbers' hands and feet never make direct contact with the ice. The frontal prongs, or teeth, of the crampons and the sharp ice pricks keep climbers in place and allow them to move on and hold on to a surface the human body has not originally been made for. Once you know how to handle the equipment and have trained some climbing techniques, ice-climbing will become less strenuous for your arms and thighs. Then ice-climbing will turn into a vertical ballet dance on a shiny outdoor dance floor.
Mixed climbing on rock and ice
In comparison to rock, ice has one big advantage: There are no overhanging ledges. Freezing water cannot form any. The absence of such ledges is particularly helpful for beginners. Mixed routes, partly on ice, partly on rock, however, include overhanging ledges and are therefore more demanding. In fact, mixed routes are the real challenge and the supreme discipline in ice-climbing. In this case what looks spectacular really is!
Mixed routes are the reward for those who started out small and improved their skills step by step. Allow us to take you to the best and most beautiful spots for learning and training ice-climbing. They are not always easy to find, but the good news is that South Tyrol does offer some really good places. The Dolomites aren't far, and the Ahrntal valley (including its side valleys) has become an Eldorado for ice climbers, where nature sculptures spectacular creations of ice. These shiny palaces of ice turn into ideal outdoor climbing centres for both beginners and experts. The first steps on ice are easier than climbing on rock. The ice prick finds a solid hold almost everywhere, and so do the crampons. Finally, climbers are well-secured by high-quality securing devices.