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Ice Climbing in the Pacific Northwest

Ice Climbing in the Pacific Northwest

Maybe you’ve never heard of ice climbing before and want to get a feel for this novel sport. Maybe you’re into mountain climbing and want to take the challenge to the next level by trying your hand with ice. Maybe you’re already a pro and are used to the thrill of the adventure; the cold biting into your body, the sheer adrenaline rush that comes with being dizzyingly high above the horizon and relying on your picks and ropes for survival. Regardless of your experience level or where you’ve been able to travel for the ultimate climb, it’s about time for you to check out some of the superb ice climbing locations that can be found in the Pacific Northwest. The mountains offer the best of the best in terms of spectacular views and unique challenges. Many of the treks discussed in this article are known for both their alpine beauty and their challenging aspects, especially given the unpredictable and sometimes dangerous weather that can circulate around the Cascadian region.

The Pacific Northwest, or Cascadia, can be defined as the stretch of land in North America bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Rocky Mountains, spanning far Northern California all the way up to British Columbia in Canada. If you’re willing to put in the travel time to get to some of these remote locations, the region boasts some amazing peaks for independent ice climbers looking for an adventure, as well as top-quality guided climbs for those just starting out or looking to get a little more experience.

Equipment For Cascadian Mountaineering

Although there is a certain set of tools that every ice climber must have in his or her arsenal, climbing in the Cascadian regions requires a double check of your toolkit. Some equipment that will come in handy or even essential includes the following. (If you are new to climbing and not sure about the terms used here, please look them up and find the necessary equipment to ensure that your ice climb remains enjoyable and safe.)

  • Multiple different types of pitons, or steel spikes. Angled pitons as well as the regular kind are both good to have on hand.

  • Cams of sizes ranging from .5 to 4

  • At least six to eight single slings, configured as alpine draws

  • Ice screws, mostly short with a few long ones configured for v-threads

  • At least 20 meters of tat for rappel anchor creation


Guided Programs

For those who have little to no experience with mountain climbing or ice climbing, a guided tour can be a great place to start. There are many programs offered in Cascadia that are highly regarded. Some of these include: The American Alpine Institute, The Mountaineers, Northwest Mountain School, and Helmcken Falls in British Columbia.

  • The American Alpine Institute

  • Located in Washington, the Institute offers a fully equipped gear shop and training programs aimed at all levels from beginner to advanced.

  • The Mountaineers

  • The Mountaineers program offers highly rated introductory classes to vertical climbing and mixed climbing in the Seattle area.

  • Northwest Mountain School

  • The Northwest Mountain School offers climbing trips all over the world but focused on the Northern Cascadian states. Based out of Washington, they are fully certified as climbing instructors and offer different levels of guided tours and trips.

  • Helmcken Falls in British Columbia

  • Here boasts some of the most rigorous and difficult climbing courses in the world, so is best suited to pro-level ice mountaineers. These incredibly steep and gorgeous climbs include one that features a hole that reaches 100 feet in depth. Although few professional climbers have ever completed these legendary climbs, there are plenty of easier routes as well. It is still recommended only for at least intermediate level climbers, however.

  • Mount Buckner, Washington

  • During the months of March to October, the icy slopes of Mount Buckner become open to climbers. Named after an early Cascadian pioneer, this technically difficult climb is not for the faint of heart and is best done with some previous experience, but offers some of the best views out there. At its highest point, it stands close to 1,000 feet of elevation and can take up to three or four days to fully climb and explore due to the challenging technical aspects and unpredictable weather.

  • Mount Fury, Washington

  • Mount Fury is also a very technically challenging climb but has been called one of the most beautiful and scenic in the area. Located in North Cascades National Park, the mountain has two equally steep peaks and many glaciers known for their natural beauty and climbing challenges. Definitely have your ice axe sharpened and rope skills triple checked before attempting to take on this multi-day excursion.

  • Mount St. Helens

  • The renowned Mount St. Helens is one of the lower and more technically easy ice climbs for beginners in the region yet still offers its own challenges, so caution is recommended for those new to climbing. Exposure and low visibility due to snow, fog and cloud cover are things to watch out for here. In order to climb this gorgeous peak, you need a permit that is available from May to October each year.

All said and done, ice climbers are some of the most adventurous sportsmen and women out there, with the opportunity to experience thrilling climbs and witness beautiful alpine views that few others get the chance to do. Whether you’re just starting out or have many years of climbing under your belt, the Pacific Northwest offers peaks that are sure to leave you satisfied.

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