Ice climbing is amongst the fastest growing extreme sports, according to renowned outdoor adventure guide Josh Fink. Ice climbing, like its drier, warmer cousin rock climbing, takes a fair amount of gear and technical know-how. North America happens to have some of the best venues in the world for ice climbing, ranging all the way from Vermont to Alaska. “Extreme ice climbing is not for everyone, “Fink said recently. “But for the adventurous it can be the ultimate sport with a minimum of risk.” Here are the top 10 destinations for extreme ice climbing.
1) Ouray, CO. With over 200 potential ice climbs in a mile-long gorge, Ouray Ice Climbing Park is a premier extreme ice climbing location. Located in gorgeous southwestern Colorado, Ouray Ice Park has been a favorite ice climbing venue for locals as well as ice climbers the world over. According to Josh Fink, Ouray is widely considered the most easily accessible vertical ice climbing area for beginners. One reason Ouray is unique is that it provides a series of pipes which drip water along the cliff faces, which ensures excellent conditions for ice climbing all winter long. Every January, the town of Ouray hosts the Ouray Ice Festival, a favorite event for hundreds of climbers from all over the world.
2) Valdez, Alaska. Also known as Lowe River, this region located 150 miles East of Anchorage is home to dozens of waterfalls, many of which are over 1,000 feet high. While Alaska has more than a dozen ice climbing areas, Valdez is by far the best known, as climbers from around the world have been making the trek to this small coastal town since the 1970s. Touted as a mecca for multi-pitch climbing on water ice, Valdez is a must-climb for any serious extreme ice climber. Valdez also boasts an annual festival which draws thousands, the Valdez Ice Climbing Festival, held on President’s Day Weekend.
3) Yosemite National Park, CA. Yosemite is one of the most popular nature getaways in the world, and this holds true for extreme ice climbing as well. The park is considered a premier ice climbing destination due to climbs such as Absolutely Free, Upper Sentinel Falls, and Widow’s Tears, the longest ice climb in the lower 48 states. Ice climbers from around the world travel to Yosemite National Park each winter to experience the grandeur and purity of one of the nation’s greatest national parks.
4) Mammoth Lakes, CA. With multiple technical climbs for skilled extreme ice climbers, Mammoth Lakes offers vertical ice climbing in a pristine wilderness area. Boasting climbs like Rock Creek and Deadman’s Summit, Josh Fink notes that Mammoth Lakes is a favorite ice climbing destination for climbers from around the globe.
5) Frankenstein Cliffs, NH. Featuring climbs for all skill levels, this enormously famous extreme ice climbing venue is especially popular amongst beginner ice climbers. According to extreme ice climbing guide Josh Fink, “the Cliffs are popular, technical, and varied, which makes them the perfect place to take less experienced climbers who want to get a feel for the sport.” With climbs like Pegasus, Dropline, and Dracula, Frankenstein Cliffs is a premier extreme ice climbing destination, especially for beginner and intermediate climbers.
6) Adirondack Wilderness, New York. Located near the town of Keene, the Adirondack Wilderness area in New York State boasts multiple extreme ice climbing routes including Trap Dyke and Avalanche Lake. While perhaps more of a local hot spot for ice climbing, climbers from afar also make the trek to the Adirondacks each winter to sample the extreme ice climbing offered there.
7) Lake Willoughby, VT. Known by many ice climbing enthusiasts as “The Lake,” the steep vertical cliffs overlooking Lake Willoughby are recommended for experienced ice climbers only. This sheer cliff face that looms over Vermont’s deepest body of water boasts more than 40 separate routes and is considered a ‘rite of passage’ for serious extreme ice climbers.
8) Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. If you’re looking for an extreme ice climbing venue north of the border, look no further than the Banff National Park in Alberta. Banff is renowned for its pristine natural beauty and also boasts some of the world’s longest and most challenging extreme ice climbing routes. Colossal routes like the 2,000-foot technical ice climb on Cirrus Mountain make Banff a lifetime goal for some of the most experienced extreme ice climbers on the planet.
9) Hyalite Canyon, MT. Located in the Gallatin National Forest just south of Bozeman Montana, Hyalite Canyon has dozens of climbs which range from mixed rock and ice climbs to vertical faces. Josh Fink cites the fact that this renowned ice climbing area has something for every skill level and is located in a beautiful area of Montana’s pristine wilderness.
10) Lake Superior Region, Ontario, Canada. Another favorite extreme ice climbing location in North America, Lake Superior offers over 200 extreme ice climbing routes on its north and east shores. Climbs range in skill level and include multi-pitch waterfalls in densely forested gullies to sheer ice cliffs upwards of 400 feet which overlook the vast expanse of Lake Superior itself.
Ice climbing is an extreme winter sport which is gaining in popularity. Since many of the premier locations to go ice climbing are remote, it remains a sport with a dedicated following and not total mass appeal. Josh Fink, ice climbing expert and outdoor adventure guide suggests practicing this fun and potentially hazardous sport in some of the safer and more accessible areas before attempting a more challenging or technical summit. Like with all extreme sports, ice climbing tends to appeal to adrenaline junkies and those who throw caution to the wind. For the experienced extreme ice climber, North America is truly your oyster for pristine wilderness areas that boast the best extreme ice climbing in the world.
Josh Fink, extreme sports guide and ice climbing expert recommends always climbing with a friend and alerting friends or family to your ice climbing plans. He runs an extreme sports and outdoor adventure guide service from his home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, taking clients all over the world in pursuit of their extreme sports dreams.