This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In 1962, climbing buddies Ted Wilson and Rick Reece decided to climb an icy formation near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon called the Great White Icicle.
It was the first known ice-climbing ascent in Utah.
With the most rudimentary of tools, including 10-point crampons -- a far cry from the 12-point crampons used by modern ice climbers -- and heavy old U.S. Army surplus ice axes, the experienced mountaineers spent 11 long hours cutting footholds into the ice and working their way to the top.
They came down late at night, tired, cold and hungry.
"It was a clown act by modern standards," recalled Wilson, a former Salt Lake City mayor. "With great tools and crampons, you could run up the same route in 30 minutes today."
George Lowe would pioneer other routes, mostly in the Ogden area, and as better equipment was developed, more and more outdoor enthusiasts -- many of them rock climbers looking for a new challenge -- tried the sport.
"Ice climbing is fun because it is so damned improbable," said Wilson. "A human being going up a vertical piece of ice doesn't make any sense. ... It's not like rock climbing, where you could theoretically climb with bare hands and no shoes. It is you, technology in the middle and then the ice. That adds a different dimension to it. It is satisfying to do something very improbable."
Utah boasts numerous ice-climbing destinations. Dave Black, author of the Falcon Guides book Ice Climbing Utah , lists more than 200 climbs in the state. But, according to Julie Faure, president of Salt Lake-based Utah Mountain Adventures, which guides ice climbers primarily in Little Cottonwood and Provo canyons, the season is quite short.
"Utah is not a terribly cold state," she said. "The season lasts from early December until mid-February. Places like Ouray, Colo., Cody, Wyo., or Bozeman, Mont., are more reliable. They have a longer ice season because they remain colder."
That isn't keeping enthusiasts away from popular Utah ice-climbing areas such as the Cottonwood Canyons, Provo Canyon, Joe's Valley, Price Canyon, Maple Canyon and Ogden Canyon.
Those who want to try it with a professional guide can pay between $130 and $280 (depending on the number of clients) with Utah Mountain Adventures -- http://www.utahmountainadventures.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.utahmountainadventures.com -- which provides most of the equipment, a permit with the U.S. Forest Service, permission from the owners of Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon and a knowledgeable guide.
"If done properly, ice climbing is relatively safe," said Faure. "It is not as safe as rock climbing because the medium is changing. Rock is always there, always solid. Ice varies from day to day. You have to judge quality. If you make a mistake, you can get hurt. But if you are an experienced ice climber and you understand the quality of the ice, you can climb safely."
The veteran guide said the same types of people attracted to rock climbing usually enjoy ice climbing.
"It is kind of scary," she said. "You have to concentrate to do it. You can't think about anything else. When you are swimming, for example, your mind can roll and you don't need a lot of concentration. When climbing on ice or rock, there is so much concentration. You have to eliminate everything out of your brain. It is stressful but, in the end, it's really relaxing. It's like forced meditation."
One of the big differences between ice and rock climbing is that ice climbers can typically use their axes and crampons to create holds. Rock climbing requires the finding of holes in the rock.
Ice climbing also requires quite a bit of strength, especially in the upper back, though Faure said she and her guides teach techniques that can save energy.
As in rock climbing, some novice ice climbers like to "top rope," which means taking an easier route to the side of an frozen waterfall and using an established bolt or securing one to provide a safety line should a climber slip. A second "belayer" usually controls the rope from a secure place below the climber.
That was a technique newcomers to the sport Colter Hinchliffe and J.B. Keller of Alta used recently on the Stairway to Heavy icefall in Provo Canyon. Because they are just learning, they first attached the rope above them and then took turns climbing the ice.
"This is only my second day of climbing ice, though I have been climbing for a long time," said Hinchliffe. "It's a blast. It's almost more fun than rock. You have an ice ax in both hands, crampons on your feet and ice exploding as you hit it."
He said it isn't unusual to have football-size chunks of ice explode out of the ice when hit with an ax.
"You do it with a weapon in your hand," added Keller.
The two used goggles and helmets to protect their eyes and head from ice that falls from above.
While, as Wilson said, it does seem counterintuitive to try to climb something as smooth and slippery as a frozen waterfall, guys like Hinchliffe and Keller show there is interest in learning a different winter adventure.
» Non-cotton top and bottom underlayers made of capilene or polypro
» Waterproof/windproof top and bottom outer shell or one-piece suit
» Down, polarguard or fleece belay jacket that fits over your outerwear
» Wool and liner socks
» Waterproof snow gloves and mittens or spare gloves
» Fleece or liner gloves
» Hat, headband or balaclava for under helmet
» Sunglasses, goggles and/or clear protective eyeglasses
» 1 or 2 liters of water
» Lunch and quick energy snacks
» Plastic or leather boots with rigid sole
» Vertical ice crampons
» Two vertical ice tools with leashes (short axes for ice climbing)
» Harness and belay/rappel device
Source: Utah Mountain Adventures
Little Cottonwood Canyon » Scruffy Band, Great White Icicle
Joe's Valley Reservoir area, Emery County » Highway to Heaven, The Amphitheater, CCC Falls, Donorcicle.
Provo Canyon » Stairway to Heaven, Bridal Veil Falls
Big Cottonwood Canyon
Maple Canyon, Sanpete County