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Majka’s clinic: an ice climbing first

January 11th, 2010

Saturday was a first…ice climbing in Ouray’s Ice Park during the world’s most famous ice climbing festival! I slinked away from the Osprey demo tent to see just what this ice climbing thing was all about.  Osprey athlete Majka Burhardt hosted a climbing clinic and I was lucky enough to squeeze in.

Putting on our harness, crampons, helmet and grabbing our ice axes, we headed up along the ravine edge to our destination, the Schoolhouse area. My eyes widened a bit as I surveyed the metal ladder. Hmmm. Exposure anyone? Ignoring a slight adrenaline surge, I turned around and gingerly made my way down the steps, my crampon points occasionally getting stuck between the inch-thick bars until I met the near-vertical snowy path, where a rope lay on the snow.

“Turn around Kerry!” Majka called to me, “It’s easier to pick your way facing downhill.”

Oh. And indeed it was, as I regained composure coming down.

We followed the path, passing under belayers’ ropes and gathered around. Majka methodically went through all we needed to know before getting on the ice. Harness safely in place. Check. Laces tightened up. Check.  “Loose boots are no good ice climbing. You’re pivoting your foot and you want your feet snug in the boots, so make sure you cinch down the laces, especially around your ankles,” Majka explained. Next, she described the differences of tools–the shapes of the handles, what a leash will or won’t do for you and the types of crampons we all had and what they were good for.

Wasting no time, she showed us the motion and plane that the ice axes should be wielded, how far we should reach and where our arms and legs should be positioned to get leverage on the ice. The first two guinea pigs where up (okay, actually…there were only two of us who hadn’t tried ice climbing). As they made their way up the ice she instructed them and gave them pointers, both when they were climbing up and rapping down. A few more went. I happily snapped shots, occasionally chirping in with “Ice!!” as chunks came careening down.

“Alright, you’re up Kerry,” Majka surprised me.

No panseying-around here!

Despite my lack of excitement for heights paired with my cautiousness with two strained wrist muscles, this was just the ass kick I needed. Off I went. I didn’t have time to get worked up, although I did tell my belayer to take up a little more slack, that I preferred to know the rope was a bit more taut. My feet and my arms worked simultaneously in rhythm as I ascended the ice, Majka correcting me from the ground. I could feel the difference–the ease of proper technique versus relying on an awkward hold or foot placement.

So different from rock climbing. But I liked it. And I’ll be trying it again! Time to get back to the tent to help Sam show the Osprey love…

The author ascending her first pitch (ok, ok. It was a nice try!).

The author ascending her first pitch...

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