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Guide To Ice Climbing In And Around Connecticut

December 15, 2012 8:00 AM

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Oli Scarff/ Getty Images News

Oli Scarff/ Getty Images News

(credit: Thinkstock)

(credit: Thinkstock)

Although Connecticut winters are long and dreary, ice climbers consider them to be all too brief when conditions are just right and the ice is rock hard and deep. Those who enjoy bracing the cold of winter find the demanding sport of ice climbing both exhilarating and irresistible. 
Training & Preparedness

Ice climbing is more dangerous than any other climbing sport. Professional training and orientation are strongly advised. Learning how to “read” the ice, climbing techniques and the services of an expert are invaluable and could be life saving. Being a good rock climber does not necessarily translate to ice climbing. Ice provides a much different surface.

Eastern Mountain Sports
Corbins Corner Shopping Parcade
1459A New Britain Ave.
West Hartford, CT 06110
(860) 561-4302
www.ems.com

Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) is a respected school with customized programs geared toward beginner and advanced climbers. It operates in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York. EMS clients are provided with climbing gear as part of the package. Elite brands such as Petzl, The North Face and Black Diamond keep the shelves stocked.

Gearing Up

Warmth, layering and weather-resistant materials are the criteria for ice climbing. Schoeller fabric gear is water resistant and breathable, though expensive. Gators to protect pants, fitted hats worn beneath helmets and a fleece under the over jacket are essential. Boots should be well-fitting, with room to accommodate liner socks and enough give in the toe area to protect feet when kicking ice. Gloves should be warm, waterproof and preferably made with leather palms.

There are a few spots within the state that provide great ice climbing:

Peoples State Forest Park
E. River Road
Barkhamsted, CT 06063
(860) 379-2469
www.ct.gov/deep/peoples

Peoples State Forest Park is located in the Pleasant Valley section of Barkhamsted. The easiest access is from Winsted off Highway 44. From a short approach, the crag offers a variety of independent lines (WI2-4) for beginner and intermediate climbing amidst panoramic views. The Jessie Gerard vicinity offers a nice variety of standard and mixed routes (rock and ice).

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Beacon Falls
10 Maple Ave.
Beacon Falls, CT 06403
(203) 729-4340
www.beaconfalls-ct.org

Along the Naugatuck River in the central Naugatuck valley lies an area that becomes a magical winter fairyland when ice conditions are perfect. The panorama of icefalls, petrified waterfalls, craggy cliffs and iced rock resembles a frozen palace with architectural detail in the columns, pillars and canopies glittering in a surreal sunlit glow.

Haddam Ice
Route 82 off of Route 9 (Exit 7)
Haddam, CT 06438

Access to this very popular road-cut venue has been granted and prohibited repeatedly over the years. Check with the Ragged Mountain Foundation by emailing information@raggedmtn.org when planning to visit. As a rule of thumb, ice climbers who are polite and comply with posted signs and the police mandates, are considerate, are mindful of the environment and park unobtrusively are left undisturbed.

Out of state, but within easy driving distance, are some more famous ice-climbing sites:

Race Brook Falls
Off Route 41
Sheffield, MA 01257 

Just across the border in Massachusetts, north of Salisbury, lies this exciting area for ice climbing. The beautiful three-tiered waterfall freezes over in winter to offer a fantasy land of magical shapes and designs. Multi-pitch climbs, from grades 2 to 3, offer a great alpine-style climb. The first pitch has variations to grade 4. The easy access to Mt. Everett and the Appalachian Trail makes for an extended adventure if desired.

Mt. Washington
White Mountain National Forest
Sargents, NH 03846

Challenging the tallest peak (6,228 feet) in New England is an avid ice climber’s dream. The over-tree-line trek presents conditions which are notoriously arduous. The record winter wind speeds and wind chill factors create bone-chilling negative-50-degree temperatures. The climb demands superior physical fitness and professional escorts are advisable. Hazards such as frostbite, hypothermia, avalanches and whiteouts are all too present.

Adirondacks, NY

Adirondack ice is reliable. From late November to the end of March, there is certainty of finding both alpine and water ice. The adventure begins from roadside crags all the way to remote mountain summits and the choices are vast. Well-marked highways from all points deliver into the park.  The Lake Placid winter wonderland offers variety and options for all levels of skill. Cascade Pass, North Face of Pitchoff, Chapel Pond and Wallface are among the many challenging and inviting sites. Get “vertical on the ice’” and feel the invigorating thrill of facing off against Mother Nature in all her frozen majesty.

Vermont

Some of the best ice-climbing venues south of Alaska are to be found in Vermont including Smugglers’ Notch, Lake Willoughby, Bolton Quarry and Snake Mountain. These and others are high-end areas with steep, winter-long ice chimneys, crevices and overhangs for pure and mixed  routes from 50- to 500-feet lengths. The approaches to each area are varied.

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Bina Joseph, a resident of Glastonbury, CT is a freelance writer covering all things travel-related in Connecticut. A passionate veteran of the travel industry, Bina has visited more than 40 countries, giving her a unique, global perspective. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.

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