Though the practice of ice climbing dates back to 19th century European mountaineering techniques, the activity has generated a sizable following in the United States. Here are some of the premium ice-climbing locales found west of the Atlantic.
Frankenstein Cliffs, N.H.
While there’s something for everyone at this ‘monstrously’ popular New Hampshire complex, it is particularly popular among beginning climbers; according to Mountain Project, “every experienced climber in N.H. has spent time cutting their teeth at Frankenstein”. The most popular routes include Pegasus, Dracula, and Dropline, but there are plenty of less populated climbs off the beaten path, as well.
What the experts say: “It offers up an enormous number of climbs that can appeal to all levels of climbers” – Appalachian Mountain Club
Lake Willoughby, Vt.
Also known to climbers as simply ‘The Lake’, the cliffs of Mount Pisgah that overlook Vermont’s deepest body of water are for expert ice climbers only. At the height of winter, the sheer face boasts more than 40 different routes, some of which rise more than 600 feet high. The intimidating cliffs are considered a rite of passage by many experienced climbers.
What the experts say: “Lake Willoughby needs no introduction. If what you want to do is climb multi-pitch ice routes in the United States, there is no better venue” – Bigfoot Mountain Guides
Nestled in the San Juan Mountains, Ouray is considered one of the world’s premier ice-climbing locations. The Ouray Ice Park, which features 14 different climbing areas, has been a popular local institution since 1994, when local enthusiasts began ‘farming ice’ with household sprinklers and PVC pipe. The park also hosts the annual Ouray Ice Festival, considered by many to be the most prestigious ice-climbing event in the world.
What the experts say: “The most accessible, fun, and user-friendly place to get really good at vertical ice climbing” – Will Gadd, champion ice climber
Since the 1970s, ice climbers have flocked to this coastal town in northeastern Alaska. The surrounding area boasts numerous climbing venues, including Mineral Creek, Solomon Gulch, Keystone Canyon, and 17-Mile Wall. Every President’s Day, the local community hosts the Valdez Ice Climbing Festival, an event that annually draws thousands of participants and spectators.
What the experts say: “A mecca for ice climbing, Valdez offers a paradise for multipitch climbing on water ice” – Patagonicas Mountain Guides
Yosemite National Park, Calif.
One of the most popular national parks in the world, Yosemite is also consistently ranked as a premium destination for ice climbers. The park boasts Widow’s Tears, the longest continuous ice climb in the Lower 48, as well as a number of less-traveled routes like Commissioner Buttress and Absolutely Free.
What the experts say: “It is a strange, passionate love that I feel for [Yosemite] Valley. More than just a climbing area, it is a way of life” – Yvon Chouinard, noted climber and founder of Patagonia
By Brad Nehring