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Scaling icefalls a challenging, exciting hobby for local climbers
Frozen waterfalls are pretty to look at and make great photos, but can you imagine trying to climb one?
“You’re climbing a freaking frozen waterfall — why wouldn’t you want to do it?” Terry Day said when asked why he’s passionate about what many of us would see as a heart-stopping hobby.
“It’s something different. It’s the coolest thing ever.”
The 31-year-old from Mount Pearl is one of just a small group who seek out frozen icefalls very winter and take the courageous steps to scale them.
“Everyone thinks it’s risky, but you have a rope. If the ice breaks or you fall off, you get caught by the rope,” Day said. “I grew up skateboarding and I can tell you that’s way more dangerous. I’ve broken almost every bone in my body skateboarding, but haven’t had one injury ice climbing.”
An avid rock climber for years, Day scaled his first icefall in winter 2011. Besides the high cost of ice climbing gear, it can be challenging at first, he said, but climbs have become routine for him now.
“Everybody’s experience is different. I’ve been at it so long, I don’t think about it so much now. I just enjoy it,” he said. “
Depending on conditions, Day ice climbs as much as he can, wherever he can. Since it’s an unwritten rule that the first person to climb (or send) an ice route gets to name it, Day dubbed a route at Red Head, a 130-foot high frozen ice flow just north of Flatrock, “High Anxiety,” as a result of its strenuous and sketchy sections.
“That’s how I felt when I first did it,” Day said, with a chuckle.
He said while there are many rock climbers in the province, there aren’t many ice climbers, which makes outings more enjoyable for him as it’s less crowded in popular areas.
Not all rock climbers are good ice climbers, Day said. There are different techniques.
“In rock climbing, you can feel your feet on the rocks,” he said. “When you ice climb, you’ve got to kick your feet in. You’ve really got to trust your feet.”
Day’s friend, Chris Winsor, has been loving his first year of ice climbing. The 31-year-old, also from Mount Pearl — who works out up to seven days a week — said it can be physically demanding, which is why not just anybody can do it.
Winsor scaled the “High Anxiety” climb with Day’s guidance earlier in the winter, but he also enjoys the smaller sites such as the 40-foot Southside Hills icefalls in St. John’s.
“Cars are literally lined off from people stopping to take pictures of us,” Winsor said. “They’re just amazed.”
But ice climbers don’t do it for the attention. It’s the experience of doing something so challenging that’s the allure for Winsor.
“It’s hard to explain if you haven’t done it before, but it’s so great when you are 100 per cent living in that moment. It’s what you’re doing right then and there and that’s all that matters,” said Winsor, who began climbing at Wall-nuts indoor gym.
“Some people say it’s pure adrenaline. It’s really not that. It’s more about — how do I explain it? — moving through an environment and finding your own way through it, like you’re doing something that’s so unnatural.”
Winsor said he’s learned a lot from Day and recommends beginners go with an experienced climber. The proper gear and tools, while expensive, are priorities for safety.
Both say conditions were ideal for ice climbing earlier in the season, with rain and then freezing temperatures. Mild temperatures have sidelined them, but they’re hoping things will freeze up again soon.
“I never saw (icefalls) so fat this early in the season,” Day said, before adding, “To be honest, it’s getting worse every year. We hardly get any snow and ice compared to years ago. So, we have to make the best of it when we can.”
More information about ice climbing can be obtained on the Alpine Club of Canada Newfoundland chapter’s Facebook page.