Matthias Scherer is a professional ice climber from Germany. He started ice climbing in winter 1993 and has since then climbed far over 1000 ice falls all around the globe.
As an organizer of international ice climbing and winter mountaineering events such as the ‘Cogne Ice Opening’ and the ‘Arctic Ice Festival’ Matthias shares his stoke for the action in the cold through workshops, talks and seminars.
Pay close attention to your layering system. Gore Tex jackets and pants are a must. A very warm belay jacket is your life saver. Underwear must be warm when wet so wool is a great choice. A polartec power stretch fleece hoodie is the perfect mid layer. The integrated hood fits under a helmet and keeps the spindrift out.
Choose a pack that’s comfortable to carry while approaching but also nice to climb with. Waterproof packs make in rough conditions the difference between a messy or a “still” fun day.
Keep your ice tools and crampons always sharp. The same goes for your ice screws.
Matthias’s prefered Norrøna ice climbing gear:
This is a big article for itself but here some key factors:
Check the weather forecast. Check especially the temperatures in the forecast. Check the avalanche report. Bring a beacon, shovel and probe. Bring a bivi bag or wind sack. Bring a dedicated first aid kit.
As mentioned above. Bring a very warm jacket. If anything goes wrong you have the warmth to wait. Make your plan always with some extra time in your head. That means bring some extra food, hot drinks and extra clothing. A couple of extra ice screws, quick draws and some rock pitons don’t weigh much but can make a huge difference if the climb is harder than expected.
Don’t climb with fuzzy ropes. They just freeze up and you will have a mess when the abseiling starts. Always bring a headlamp. I have always a very small (extra) one in the pocket of my trollveggen Gore-Tex Pro Bib.
Climb in a team of three. Might be slower but, it’s so much safer in case something is happening.
Try always to see the ‚bigger picture‘ – ice falls are often the part of a big mountain face…
Matthias’s prefered Norrøna ice climbing safety gear:
3. How to get started
Join an alpine club or an ice climbing festival that offers introduction clinics. Ice climbing is a sport that needs a lot of experience and knowledge to move safely in winter terrain. A festival or organized clinic gives you the opportunity to do your first steps and focus on the ice tools and crampons.
4. How to train
Get used to the cold. Ride your bike in cold weather. Go running in the rain. Do pull-ups and push-ups when it storms outside. Hang from your ice tools in your garden when it’s cold. Go drytooling, if you have a dedicated crag nearby. Jump or take baths in freezing water – Everything that gets you stoked for the cold is great.
5. How to stay relaxed
Choose realistic goals. Don’t stress yourself and your partner with over ambition. Learn to understand the nature of the winter of ice and get inspired by it. Work together with your climbing partner, don’t compete with him. Decisions in ice climbing should always be team decisions. The journey is the destination not a certain ice climb on one certain day – enjoy being out there.
6. How to stay warm - beside having the right layering system
Keep yourself busy on the belays – of course you need to keep attention while belaying your partner but a system of warm up gymnastics like squats and arm circling do the job. Hot drinks are key. In a team of three, means that there are two persons on the belay. If you are not belaying don’t drift away. Build already the v-threads for the abseiling, give hot drinks to your belaying partner. Cheer him up.
7. How to keep the fun over years
Learn to adapt to the situation. Don’t act like a bullet that cannot change anymore it’s trajectory anymore. If a climb is already busy with another party, check for alternatives.
Temperatures will drastically change the ice quality and difficulty of a climb. Be prepared to pull back when the ice is frozen like concrete, exploding like glass or super wet… Ice is always in flux so don’t approach it with a rigid mindset.
8. Warm fingers - how?
Choose gloves for climbing that are nimble enough to handle all the gear. They should have a thin inner hand that gives you a good grip on the tools. The harder you have to grip with your hands the colder your fingers get. Bring a couple of those, because they will become wet. Choose extra warm gloves for belaying.
Matthias’s prefered Norønna gloves for ice climbing:
9. Embrace exploring
Social media is great for inspiration, but don’t run the next day to a climb when someone posted a picture, saying that conditions are great. In fact others might have the same idea. Think out of the box and go to a different place. Explore and have the satisfaction of discovering freshly formed ice all for yourself.
10. Embrace the cold
Ice climbing is an awesome experience that will change your perception of this world. You must be willing to open yourself to the cold. Embrace this incredible moment when water stands still for a moment. When the rush of life is frozen for a moment, to witness its magnificence.
Check out Matthias Scherer’s website to learn more about his #eternalquest for the frozen ephemeral.