Danger acknowledged, these climbers can’t put down their ice tools. Along with the physical and mental challenges, ice climbing affords access to places few humans will ever venture. Like climbing in Newfoundland.
Stefiuk, Pellett, and friend Michael Wejchert embarked on an epic climbing adventure in the Canadian Maritime Provinces last winter, and the spot has become one of Stefiuk’s favorite places to climb.
They first drove 20 hours, then took a six-hour ferry, and then rode snowmobiles seven miles into the woods to access the ice, some of which was created with ocean spray.
Part of why Stefiuk loves ice climbing “is being outside in the winter and going to places other people don’t go to. Especially if you’re a skier, you’re used to being around other people. A lot of the places you go climbing, you just get to have a perspective that other people don’t have, and that’s really attractive.”
That remoteness and the danger keep a lot of people from trying the sport. That makes Pellett love ice climbing even more. “I think part of it is,” he said, “it’s not something that everybody does.”
And while some climbers “solo” – that is, climb on their own without a partner (and usually without ropes) – many climbers say there’s something extremely special about their climbing partners. You are putting your life in your partner’s hands.
“When we were in Newfoundland,” Pellett said, “you could watch your partner hike up an overhanging icicle. It’s such an absurd point of view in so many ways. And there’s that fellowship of the rope – you’re putting a lot of trust into your partner.”
“I think there’s a social aspect that’s definitely a big part of it,” Stefiuk said. Climbers experience fear, exhilaration, and accomplishment with each other in a way that few other types of relationships do. “It sounds so elitist to say this, but when you don’t share these very real situations – where you can feel things – other friendships feel kind of mundane. You make some really good friends this way, and the community is really special. It’s this total lifestyle sport. And you see how people get way into it.”
Sky Barsch Gleiner is the publisher and editor of Vermont Sports magazine and vtsports.com. While she’s cycled a century ride and trekked in the high peaks region of the Himalayas, she will leave ice climbing to the experts.