Ice Climbing Course February 2024

by Caesar Meric


7:00 am, February 1, 2024, ten daring thrill seekers and four all-star climbing instructors (Ingmar, Fred, Marc, and Augustin) meet to embark on an awesome 4-day ice climbing adventure. 

For some this will be the first time to take on this exciting challenge and meet the team. Others, fortunate enough that have been able to partake in this experience in 2023, will be aiming to improve their skills and push their potential further. Little did any of them know how much they would be tested this trip!!

An early start is key to any climbing experience, especially when ice is involved, so before the break of dawn, and after a very necessary gear check to make sure nothing is forgotten, we headed out to Praxmar, Austria. The first day would consist of exploring the surroundings, checking out potential ice fall locations, the conditions of the terrain, and settling in and of course getting to know each other. The stories of what each of us had achieved in the past year flooded the hallways. Talks about one’s newest lightweight ice screws or another’s recently purchased hard-shell jacket echoed as everyone gathered around to check each other’s gear in a quasi-ceremonious manner. The story sharing, banter, and laughter continued as we headed out to dinner where further introductions would be made and the plan for the following day announced. Our excitement was growing in anticipation for the next day!!

Bright and early, we got up to the beautiful view of the snowy mountains, just at the break of dawn. Everybody’s morning routine looks a bit different, some shower first, others do some yoga before breakfast, but everyone is ready with their gear prepped and out the door at the prescribed time. 

The second day would be dedicated to being taught or refamiliarized with the ice climbing techniques. Walking to the ice fall would take about 40-minute walk. Once there, while Ingmar, Fred, and Marc set up top ropes on the ice (imagine a climbing gym with ropes already set up … but on ice), Augustin would teach us some basic ice walking technique on steep ice. Let’s just say I may not want to skip leg day and squats in the gym next time!! The key is to take small, controlled, and intentional steps, squatting low along the ground. 

The routes ready, we each started taking turns climbing up and down the ice, practicing our technique, and getting comfortable planting crampons and ice axes in the ice. We all benefited from the guidance and support of our instructors reminding us of the proper form, how to swing an ice axe, what kind of surface to look for, the position our feet’s should take, etc.. Some even got the opportunity to learn how to lead climb on ice if they were feeling up for the challenge. A mix of positive and steep terrains allowed us all to train, practice new skills on safe terrain, or challenge on more difficult surfaces within our comfort zones. Sharing each other’s excitement of this cool and unique experience, a few high fives flew around to congratulate each other on our efforts!

We were lucky to have the whole area to ourselves that day. We could chill between climbs, share cups of tea, nibble on a snack, and take pictures of each other without worrying about bothering anyone. 

In the afternoon, the instructors taught some very necessary skills to rappel down off a waterfall. Notably we learned how to make v-threads and the safety implications of making one, as well as how to rappel off one. For most this was welcome reminder of how to rappel down a rope, a skill that would be required to know for tomorrow as we would attempt to climb up the entire waterfall.

After a long day climbing, everybody was ready to head back before nightfall, enjoy a warm shower and get ready for dinner. The restaurant we ended up having dinner at each night deserves a special shoutout for delicious meals and a very attentive staff, so if ever in Praxmar, be sure to check out Alpengasthof! But other than yummy dishes, dinner was the opportunity to reflect collectively on the day and plan what we wanted to do the next day. After splitting into groups, we started planning our ascent. Preparation truly is half the battle. It allows us to anticipate most potential obstacles so that we are not surprised by them in the moment the next day. Checking the weather nearly constantly and thinking ahead of how to manage ourselves on ice is critical for a multipitch. Once satisfied with our plan we were ready to head back to the apartment to wind down and get some rest ahead of the next day.

On the third day, we were ready to take it to the next level and climb up the entire waterfall in what is known as a multipitch. This would be challenging as the weather conditions were not ideal. The temperatures were rising, and the ice was becoming glassy. Thankfully the ice had set quite thickly the week before and was still climbable that weekend. Moreover, we were accompanied by well trained instructors that could properly assess the risks, guide us through them, make us feel safe, and ultimately know when to make the judgment call to end it if necessary.

One group went back to the same waterfall as on the second day to attempt to climb it whole while another group went to a different location to attempt a different climb.

The first group faced their own challenges. Being six climbers for two instructors required some careful planning with rope management to allow first a group of five to go up, then followed by a more conventional group of three. This is where the expertise of our instructors was made very visible!!! Marc and Augustin totally handled this situation professionally to allow us to make it up all the way safely, albeit very slowly!!! The climb of the waterfall will have taken all of four hours, challenging us to face rather uncomfortable positions for extended periods of time… thankfully turning around to see the beautiful views of the mountains made up for the discomfort! What was even cooler is that on our way out of the mountain after the climb, we missed an exit and ended up having to improvise a rappel through branches on the cliff side. Marc set up a rappel by linking our two longest ropes, rappelling into the unknown. Then, once the exit strategy was secured, we all followed along for some practical rappel training!!! What an exciting experience and a good reminder to be ready for anything in the mountains.

The second group headed to a couple locations. After finding out the first intended location was not fit to climb, the instructors made the judgment call that it was not worth the risks and headed to a different location where they could practice more advanced skills on non-standard surfaces in a controlled environment. With their own obstacles to face, the participants of that group were able to push their skills to the limits by engaging in some technical climbing under stress – all while being safely monitored by our instructors.

The third day proved to be physically and mentally exhausting for most… but the kind of exhaustion that is born out of a deep satisfaction of having overcome mental obstacles and pushed physical limits!!! Everyone was super excited to share their day’s (mis)adventures with each other over a warm hearty meal!! 

By the end of dinner, we started talking about what to do the following day. With ice conditions deteriorating fast and little time in the morning before having to head out, we eventually settled on a training session. A very welcome idea by most who got inspired by the amazing sight of Marc improvising his rappel off the cliffside earlier in the day. Participants were eager to learn how to efficiently build anchors from any surface (tree, ice, rock, etc…) and set up a rappel station.

So, the next day, in a casual manner after packing everything and loading up the cars, we all headed to forest for our practical-theory session. 

The instructors each taught what to look for when building an anchor in nature (a solid base), what to do first (secure ourselves), what to do next (build a master point), and how to bring up our partner… then if we had to rappel down, what equipment to have on hand and how to work together with our partner to set up the rappel system when time is of the essence (cords should be readily available!!). We saw different ways of setting up slings and chords around tree trunks and equalizing masterpoints, even learning what kinds of carabiners are best for what purpose. This was a cool tutorial, and once more we got to witness firsthand how deeply knowledgeable and experience all four instructors were!! 

At the stroke of noon, our journey in Praxmar ended and it was time to head back to the parking lot and drive off back to Luxembourg! Now confident about our newfound skills, consistent practice will be key to not forget the techniques…. Some started as early as the drive home to practice! 

Thanks again to the FLERA, Ingmar, Fred, Marc, and Augustin for sharing their time and expertise with us, organizing the trip, and providing their expertise for a few passionate amateurs to have a good weekend of fun and challenge.

I seriously recommend anyone with a bit of experience and interest to reach out for further information about this program… it’ s worth it! High five and out. Thank you and see you next year!