Ice Climbing Sandstone

Winter sports have always been tough for me.  I love to downhill ski but I don’t get out to do it much.  I love to snowshoe but I don’t own any.  Classic cross country skiing is fun (again, don’t own any) but I’m terrible at skate skiing.  Speaking of skating, I rarely, if ever, do it.  So I don’t cross country or skate ski, I don’t skate at all, and I don’t own snowshoes (yet); what kind of a Minnesotan am I?

I’ve only ever been rock climbing before.  Even though I dislike the cold (and this winter has been abysmal) I’m always looking for different ways to enjoy the great outdoors.

An opportunity to do just that made itself available recently in the form of ice climbing.  I’ve never been ice climbing before and had never known anyone who has done it, but as it turns out, someone I’ve climbed with before has ice climbing experience.  Erik is a manager at Vertical Endeavors, which means that he has approximately 10x more ability than I do and 50x more expertise.

A small group of us headed north to Sandstone to climb on a Saturday morning a number of weeks ago.  Leading up to the day I had been keeping an eye on the bitter cold weather.  I thought it was supposed to be around 20 degrees, and if I layered right and was moving around, I should be warm enough.  Instead, it was closer to 0 degrees.  Suffice to say, I was not layered as well as I could have been, which led to a wicked cold day.  My fingers and toes were so cold I couldn’t feel them after a while, even while I was climbing.  But then again, I’m a big baby when it comes to being cold outside anyways.

When we arrived at Sandstone we walked the narrow snow-packed trail at the top of the ridge to find the best spots to set our ropes.  Since I’m not that experienced at setting top ropes I basically walked around while Erik, Erik, and Bryan did all the work.  Sure I tried to untie a knot for Erik, but, finger dexterity was severely lacking in my choppers, so I played the role of the unhelpful spectator.  Once we set up three different routes we headed back down to the bottom where we spent the rest of the day.

Here’s what I can say about ice climbing for a first timer (from my perspective at least).

1) It’s a lot different than rock climbing.  Ice climbing requires a whole different technique I was not familiar with, and it’s more rigid.  Whereas with rock climbing, technique is certainly involved, but I felt I had more freedom with my body with rock climbing.

2) It’s cold.  And I did not layer appropriately.  My mistake.  My freezing mistake.

3) It’s tiring.  Tiring in a different way than rock climbing because of the emphasis on different and unfamiliar muscles used.

4) It’s a lot of fun.  Although I didn’t entirely know what I was doing and only a fool would say that I was any good at it, I actually had a lot of fun and would recommend it for anyone to try at least once.

5) Sandstone is cool.  There were many more people ice climbing than I would have expected at Sandstone, which has a really cool wall of ice when it’s properly watered.  It was impressive and I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of it before.

Then again, Sandstone hadn’t heard of me before either, and it didn’t seem to care.




Climbing Taylors Falls

Summer usually begins with a lot of promises about what I want to do or accomplish. I tell myself every summer that this will be the year I complete items X,Y, and Z off my list of things I’ve been wanting to do for a long time but never get around to it. I’m happy to report that I can check one of those items off my list.

Over the weekend I made the hour plus drive from my house and met some fellows at Taylor Falls. The purpose of course was so that we could do some climbing. I haven’t been climbing outdoors in quite a while and had been itching to go, so when it worked out to get enough people together who had the right equipment, I jumped at the chance.

Though the day started out chilly along the St. Croix river, it soon heated up and was perfect climbing weather. We worked with a top rope the entire day by setting up shop on the Minnesota side and put ourselves in the strategic position of being close to four different routes. We only had to reset our top rope once (and by “we”, I mean Erik and Scott did the work while Taylor and I waited patiently on the ground). This afforded us the opportunity to get a lot of climbing in with a four person group without having to spend a lot of time managing equipment.

The four routes we tackled were Rosebush (5.5), Piece of Pie (5.8), Piece of Cake (5.7), and Good Knight (5.9). All of the routes were challenging and rewarding in their own right.

Taylors Falls climbing routes (photo credit: Ian Harmon via The Mountain Project)

Rosebush had a fun shoot you have to deal with halfway up.  It’s a great warmup route.

Erik giving Piece of Cake the business.

Piece of Cake was next on our list and if I’m being honest – lest the mountain gods strike me down – I climbed a modified POC route. For some reason I kept straying to my left as I was climbing. Maybe it’s because I’m left handed, or maybe there are easier holds there. Regardless, this was a nice step up from Rosebush.

Here’s my conundrum: I love pie. Absolutely love it.  Best dessert option ever.  But, I was ruined by Piece of Pie.  Piece of Pie has a moderate shelf about a 1/3 of the way up and for the life of me, I could not get over it. In hindsight I’m not sure it’s even that tough and I wish I could have a crack at it tomorrow. But, at that moment I just couldn’t do it. Is it possible to love your nemesis? I feel like I should reevaluate some things….

Oh Piece of Pie. You strange mistress you. (Photo: Scott J)
Where I was supposed to grab. But didn't. (Photo: Scott J)

The day was rounded out by Good Knight.  Good Knight is listed as a 5.8 but unless I strayed off the route (possible) if felt more like a 5.7. It was challenging, but something about that particular route made it seem less than I had anticipated. After the challenges and failures of Piece of Pie, conquering Good Knight was a very rewarding way to end the day.

So, upon reflection on my drive home, here’s what the rock taught me:

  1. I need brush up on my climbing knots.
  2. I’m a very slow and calculating climber. Sorry if you end up being the person to belay me one day, but I just like to take my time and think things through. Which is true of most things I do I guess. If I tell my wife I’m going for a 10 mile run, it’ll taker another 20 minutes just to decide what to listen to while I run. Just how I roll I guess.
  3. Climbing outside on a gorgeous Minnesota day isn’t as fun as I remember it, it’s more fun.
  4. Climbing with the right group of people who are doing it just because they love climbing and not because they are trying to outcompete everyone else on the mountain is hugely gratifying. It makes time fly in the best possible way.
  5. Sometimes you try to go up and you make it. Sometimes you try to go up and you fail. The failures should magnify the successes, not the other way around. If you get to hung up on failing, then you’ll be a stair climber and noninvasive more.

P.S. I spent the entire night before on a red-eye flight from Phoenix (via Burbank, CA) to Chicago to Minneapolis. Got picked up at 7:30 from the airport and was climbing around 10:30 that morning. Even though I was operating on about four hours of cumulative sleep, it was still worth it.