Five a.m. is early for a weekend alarm, but winter’s back. There’s too little daylight to waste it. The ice is in, the days are short, and the mountains are calling. Roll out of bed, pull on long underwear and fleece. Fill a water bottle, grab the already packed backpack by the door and go.
The warm car is the final bastion of heat. Don’t waste it. Don’t open the door a moment too soon, even if it means tying your boots hunched over the steering wheel. Soak in the final few warm minutes. They are precious. Once in the landscape it’s the sounds you notice: the crunch of the snow underfoot, the wind as it whistles through the trees, the rustle of nylon rubbing nylon. The hike is the warm up stretch before the fight begins. It’s a moment to look at the mountains, the snow, the trees and wilderness before the landscape rears to blanket your view.
The final walk below the ice is always a nervous one. The columns have a way of dwarfing and dampening, reminding you of how small you are. But in that frozen space the sounds continue—the zip of extra layers, the clink of carabiners and ice screws, the hiss of rope running through gloves—and are amplified by the cold.
Then it’s time. Tink! Tink! Sink a tool. Tink! Tink! Sink the other. Thunk! A boot. Thunk! The other boot. Ice climbing, the frozen symphony, has begun. The whir of ice screws cutting into the depth, the tap of the belayer dancing to stay warm, the drumbeat of falling ice. The movement becomes its own language, emerges in the winter quiet, echos through the canyons and reverberates through the ice. It is a landscape without heat but full of songs. Climb higher, into the breeze and creek of swaying trees. The scrape of steel mingles with the sounds of the forest. The hush of the falling snow only leaves the chorus ringing louder. The noise of belayers, other climbers, the human race and the world as a whole fades. Only you are left. You and the mountain. And you hear each other.
For great ice climbing photography visit AuroraPhotos.com