The science of ice for climbers

by Tom Markiewicz on February 3, 2005

Anyone who has climbed ice knows how fragile and changing the medium can be. For more insight into the science of ice formation, I recommend this article on how ice climbs form, deform, change, and fall right apart.

An excerpt from the author, Will McCarthy:

Ice is weird stuff, though climbing it might just be weirder. Ice-climbing is also potentially painful: half the equipment has sharp metal points (like tools, crampons, and ice-screws) that mix well with neither the other half of the equipment (like clothes, pack, and rope), nor with the soft flesh of a climber. And then there’s the objective danger. Ice-climbs are temporary features of winter, and are in a perpetual state of falling down during their short life-spans. That’s the part of ice-climbing that’s potentially lethal. The paradox of ice-climbs is that they can provide the easiest and safest means of ascent of a cliff, or a mountain. The trick is to determine when an ice-climb is safe, and to do that requires knowing all about ice.

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