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Ever Been Ice Climbing? There's Always A 1st Time


It's been a mild winter in southern New England, but there are still spots where the forest has stayed cold enough for the sport of ice climbing. For better or for worse, Connecticut Public Radio's Patrick Skahill grabbed some ice picks and gave it a try.

PATRICK SKAHILL, BYLINE: Paige Cox (ph) and I can relate. When it comes to climbing ice, we're both freaked out.

PAIGE COX: It's water (laughter). It melts. I'm terrified (laughter).

SKAHILL: Cox started rock climbing about a decade ago, but this is her first time climbing ice. And it's my first time climbing anything that's not stairs, a ladder or a hill. Our guide today is Matt Conroy. He gets us geared up.

MATT CONROY: Helmet, harness, belay and repel set up, ice tools for climbing the ice.

SKAHILL: Our destination is a rocky hillside cut down the middle by a frozen gully about as wide as a driveway. For Paige Cox, it's a scene pulled from fantasy.

COX: Have you ever seen "Lord Of The Rings"? (Laughter). So it's very big boulders, and it's kind of cool because all the rocks look like they've just had a layer of ice just kind of put over it. And it's just dripping all around all sides of the rock. So it looks really almost prehistoric.

SKAHILL: To our shoes, we attach crampons.

COX: Bada-bing, that's a good sound.

SKAHILL: Crampons give boots traction, with two spikes pointed forward for jamming into and stepping up big, icy rocks. Conroy jams his spikes in.

CONROY: You want to drop your heel more than you think you need to, and that's going to engage those front points.


CONROY: And it will sound like that.


SKAHILL: As Cox climbs, Conroy points out spots for her to stick those ice tools.

CONROY: Yeah, get one right there.

COX: That was good. Oops.

CONROY: Your tool does not need to be in very deep to be effective

COX: That's a good one.

CONROY: But when you're newer, you do tend to have a habit of lifting up the handle as you move up...

COX: (Grunting).

CONROY: ...Which will dislodge the tool if it's anywhere other than, like, the deepest stick.

SKAHILL: A few more sticks and she's there.

COX: I did it.

SKAHILL: How do you feel?

COX: Oh, I feel, actually, really awesome and like I was afraid for no reason.

SKAHILL: But now it's my turn, and I'm still afraid. Ahead of us is a steep wall of ice about 20 feet high.


SKAHILL: Conroy goes first.


CONROY: Oh, that's a good sound.

COX: That's a great sound.

CONROY: Good stick. All right.

SKAHILL: Picks puncture ice, spouting water like a shower.

COX: Oh, you're getting soaked, man.

SKAHILL: My turn was kind of a disaster. I stopped halfway up when I ran into a problem.

CONROY: The thing that went wrong is your boot came off and filled with water. You know, it's a thing that happens. Like, it's fun to have climbing stories...

SKAHILL: Is it? Does it ever happen? (Laughter).

CONROY: Well, so - no, I have not - as far - I've never...

SKAHILL: Have you ever seen that before?

CONROY: I've never seen that happen before.

SKAHILL: (Laughter).

We all decided to bail. So I went home bruised and with frozen pants, but feeling accomplished and like maybe I'll try it again without my radio gear.

For NPR News, I'm Patrick Skahill in Connecticut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.