What is ice climbing?
Ice climbing is simply climbing waterfalls that freeze over for short periods in the coldest winter weather. They are climbed using ice axes, crampons, ropes and ice screws. Step by step, you'll need to dig your crampons into the waterfall in order to climb it. Your ice axes will enable you to anchor yourself firmly as close as possible to the wall. When you're just starting out, you'll learn to use the moulinette method, which means belaying from the top. When you reach a higher level, you can start ice climbing from the top. In this case, you are belayed from below and you will place your own protection as you progress. But beware of falling!
When and where can it be done?
Ice climbing is practised in the Alps for short periods only. For moving water to freeze, it has to be cold, very cold. So the best time for ice climbing is from the end of January to the end of February. The periods during which waterfalls can be enjoyed are tending to become much shorter in the Alps because of climate change. So it's important to choose a valley that's well sheltered and remains in the shade all day, so you can find a waterfall in good condition.
4 ice falls for beginners
- The Bessans waterfall in Haute Maurienne
- The Ceillac waterfall in the Queyras region
- The crèmerie du glacier waterfall in Chamonix
- The Loisan waterfall at La Grave
Starting out with a guide?
We strongly advise you to take up ice climbing with a guide. Knowing whether the ice is in good condition requires quite a bit of experience. A waterfall that has warmed up too much could break on you during the climb. What's more, ice climbing equipment is very specific and requires a good technical knowledge.
The best thing to do is to take a few courses to learn all the basic techniques so that you can continue to progress independently in the future. If you're wondering what equipment to pack for a day of ice climbing, here's a short article on the subject: Ice climbing equipment?
Where can I take an ice climbing course?
There are many places to take ice climbing courses. Whether it's in the Ecrins, Queyras or Piedtrmont in Italy, some valleys are famous for their large number of ice-climbing routes in winter. DiscoveRent offers introductory weeks to ice climbing. Ice climbing in the Haute-Maurienne. After two days learning how to use a top-rope, you'll set off on your first big route on an ice spit. All supervised by a mountain guide and sleeping in a refuge. A not-to-be-missed expedition if you want to start ice climbing.