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“Polar” and “Vortex” were unwelcome words for most New River Gorge-based athletes last winter, but a week of below 0°C temperatures was good news to me and a few climbing buddies. That dense, cold air that we got so much of provided us with more than a dozen pleasant days of quality ice climbing this winter. With thermoses full of hot soup, we made the rounds to all the standard spots in the Gorge.
During one cold snap, Summersville Lake was frozen solid (a sight to behold!) and we suspected we would find frozen smears and hanging pillars never before seen. We were right. At one location we scratched our way up bare, overhanging rock to a free-hanging pillar of ice that stood out from the wall more than an arm’s length. With one ice tool and cramponed feet hooked to tiny features in the rock, we leaned out away from the rock with the other tool in hand to swing over to the pillar. A barbaric ballet ensued: swing, kick, kick, balance, breathe, fight the pump, swing, hide your face from falling ice shards, balance, fight the pump…repeat. It’s forlorn and frigid, but the fun is unmistakable for the intrepid sort.
Temps need to be below freezing for at least a week for the ice to get good enough to climb. We hit the first waterfall you come to at Bridge Buttress. It’s a great ice climbing introduction to those with no experience because it can be top roped. Burma Road and Junkyard were my go-to spots because of the easy access and varied terrain. (These areas also have beginner-friendly lines and top-ropeable routes.) We also climbed at beautiful Cathedral Falls, applying what we learned on the shorter ice falls. Dense Pack at Whippoorwill, Summersville Lake, offered perhaps the grandest selection of good ice in our region. And then there was Big Daddy at Beauty Mountain, just to the right of Let’s Make a Deal: at 110 feet it is the longest, steepest ice pillar around. It rarely forms up, but this winter—thanks again, Polar Vortex—it appeared. And so did we.
Category: Rock Climbing