Monday, January 4, 2010

First Ice Climbing Endeavors

Eric Booth making his first ascent of the season.

Winter brings cold weather to the midwest, and Wisconsin is no exception. So far Milwaukee has received mostly slush and ice, covered by a dusting of fine snow crystals. The wintery city is an overly salted flatland that is traveled mostly now by speeding already-crashed-once cars, city parking cops looking for snow zones, and a handful of courageous moslty sober bikers on their brakeless journeys ricocheting around town. To me the city remained mostly the same, but many Milwaukeeian's have found hibernation the cure for winter blues and prefer to wait it out for spring. I disagreed.

One of my major projects for winter is to go and photograph ice climbing. Although I've never done it before and didn't really know where to start, I've had the sport embedded in my interests for a while. After a few good conversations over a couple weeks time, some borrowed ice climbing equipment, and a frozen solid determination, I was finally able to visit one of Wisconsin's best, if not only, Ice Climbing destinations. "The Pit" is a little know quarry near Green Bay, that a select few individuals from the area have gradually developed as an Ice Climbing sanctuary. So the first date for my attendance was set, and I woke up before the sun and hitched a ride to the fabled pit.

First Views of The Pit

Small lean-to for shelter from the wind and cold temps.

The climbing destination had no real identifying features upon the drive in, and since its a big hole in the earth it couldn't be seen until standing at its edge in frozen awe. It was about 10 degrees all day, and I knew the battery life on my camera was going to be significantly reduced. I was nervous for the charge to run out before I got the right shots, and decided it would be best if I taped two hand warmers to my camera body with climbing tape, and hoped they would be enough to heat my camera all day. It worked miracles, and the battery was no longer a concern of mine. The morning light was wonderful on the shorter 60 foot ice wall, and that is where we started our climbing. I strapped crampons to my boots, grabbed two ice axes, and trumped around clutching my partially-frozen camera in this foreign ice landscape. I looked around for the best shots, and shot as much as I could from different vantage points. I used my limited mountaineering experience to brave the first free ascent of "Gravel Mountain" a dangerous and technical line leading to an excellent view of the sun-kissed wall. Dan took a picture with his cell-phone from the ground as proof of my epic free ascent that morning. Besides achieving this summit, I also climbed five single pitches of vertical ice, and found great joy in the challenge.

Eric Booth climbing the South-West Wall

Dan Kopperud exploring the mixed rock and ice climbs of The Pit

View of the team from the summit of "Gravel Mountain"

Frozen anchors at the end of the day, which required being chiseled out of the ice for about ten minutes. The small hole inside the ice around the carabiners is what the rope ran through.

When it was all said and done, the day was a great success. The Pit is holding an ice climbing festival January 16th-and 17th which I will be photographing. This is a great opportunity for non-members and curious climbers alike to come and enjoy this Wisconsin ice climbing mecca. It is only ten dollars to attend for the weekend, and there will be climbing companies attending with new gear to show and play with, as well as local food vendors providing food, and hopefully some girls from the local hot-spot eatery the "Tilted Kilt." There will also be a photo slide show from professional ice climbers, and shuttles to and from the Ramada to use the hot tub and discounted room rates for the night. I encourage any and all of you with any interest to come check out the festivities. Please email me with any questions, and come back to check the blog for more information soon. Enjoy the winter out there!



Lisa Burchardt said...

Hey Matt -- Love the photos on "First Ice Climbing Endeavors" We have a friend in Co - Minturn area - that is 40 and still ice climbing. I'd love to talk lens with you next time your out in Oconomowoc.

Thanks for letting your Mom share!

Lisa Burchardt

egbooth said...

Great pics, Matt. Good luck with the kilted gals in a week and a half.