The meditative, completely not frightening, world of ice climbing

Mon, 12/24/2018 - 9:30am

CAMDEN— Thanks to the Banff Film Fest, many equate ice climbing with hanging by ice picks on a trecherous overhang of frozen water.

“People have described ice climbing as this really extreme sport, but really, it’s actually almost meditative,” said Noah Kleiner, owner of Equinox Guiding Service, based in Camden. “ You have to focus about where you’re using your ice picks and where you’re placing your footing each step of the way. But, it gets you moving. It’s a vertical adventure.”

As a former guide for Atlantic Climbing School, he has been climbing mountain for 13 years and guiding trips for four.

“My dad had his own outdoor guiding company for 31 years and I thought initially I would work for him, but my passion is rock and ice climbing, so rather than do a side business as an offset of his company, it just made sense to start my own.”

Kleiner asked his friend John Sidik, another outdoor instructor, to start a guiding service.

Sidik holds a Single Pitch Instructor certificate and is a certified instructor for The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education.

The other misconception about ice climbing is that it is dangerous.

Kleiner emphasizes that safety if their top priority. Trained as a Maine Guide, a Single Pitch Instructor as well as an Aspirant Mountain guide, He also has also been certified as a Wilderness First Responder.

“We always use top ropes when we ice climb or rock climb, so there’s never a chance of falling,” he said. “And the rope is rated to hold 6,000 pounds, so the client feels safe. Sometimes a little ice flies off, but we have helmets and teach people to be aware of that.”

That said, ice climbing isn’t for hobbyists.

“You definitely want to be with someone who knows what they’re doing when you come out to ice climb for the first time,” he said. “It’s not something you buy the equipment for and just try to mess around with.”

It’s an easy half hour hike up to what the locals call the Route 52 waterfalls from the old Carriage Road trail head. The snow is lightly packed and it’s a completely different atmosphere in the winter, much quieter. No sound of birds or wildlife, just the sound of wind in the trees and boots crunching snow.

“Ice climbing is just a different way to experience the outdoors in winter, to enjoy the surrounding area,” he said.

In Camden alone, Kleiner and Sidik can take people around to five different ice climbing areas.

“The majority of what we do is provide beginner ice climbing,” he said. “We like getting people out to challenge themselves. We’re not hiking in or out for two hours; we’re not doing this crazy overhang climbing. And it’s not like rock climbing where you’re wedging your foot into a rock edge to move your body weight up; you’re swinging these ice picks into the ice and using your boot crampons to wedge in, so it’s like stepping on a stair and walking up.

The equipment is simple. You wear special boots with crampons attached. The spikes at the toe of the boot dig into the ice so it feels like standing on an invisible shelf. The ice picks are your “hands” and just as you would imagine, you spike them one at a time into ice for leverage.

Where we go is a beginner’s climb of only about 25 feet of ice. The Cataracts are considered a WI2, which means water ice with a grade of 2. Water ice refers to ice that still has water flowing underneath.

“The hardest ice climb around here is a Water Ice 5 that sometimes forms. We’ve been lucky enough this fall to have the ice come in pretty early, which has been nice,” he said.

Easygoing with a patient demeanor, Kleiner said he reads people fairly well who are new to the sport.

“Some people take right to it; some struggle,” he said. “I just try to help them with little pointers. A lot of my approach comes from my outdoor ed background and I worked in Wilderness Therapy for a while. I realize that ice climbing can seem scary to some people, so I try to reassure them with little tips and tricks along the way.”

Kleiner said the company has really taken off since the previous year and already they have two large groups booked for January.

For more information visit: camdenclimbing.biz


Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com