U climbing club members pick their way up slippery slopes

The University climbing club does several ice climbs a year.

Sam Boeser

Clinging to a sheet of vertical ice, U Rock; U of M Climbing Club co-President Brian Wray ignores the 30-foot drop below him as he scales the frozen face of the St. Paul bluff he says he ascends just for “the thrill of it.”

Seemingly oblivious to the falling chunks of ice, rock and snow, Wray explains to the newcomers the basics of the seasonal sport he loves.

As others attempt to reach the top, their smiles express their approval of ice climbing regardless of whether they are successful in reaching the summit.

Ice climbing is a unique opportunity for climbers in areas where the climate can sustain ice. It involves climbing up frozen waterfalls or rock faces that have been frozen over.

“Minnesota is one of the better states to climb in,” Wray said. “We can climb rock in summer and ice in winter. We also have lots of different types of rock, which makes the climbs different.”

Ice climbing stems from 19th century European mountaineering and became a sport in the 1960s after the invention of more sophisticated climbing equipment.

“The equipment can be pretty cheap or really expensive. It depends on the level you want to take it to,” Wray said.

The basic equipment needed for any level climber is correct footwear, a harness and a belay device. The average total cost for these products is approximately $150.

More advanced climbers can expect to spend more. Specialized gear can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Wray said.

Different styles of climbing also require different types of equipment.

Besides outdoor rock and ice climbing, there are specialized climbing gyms in the Twin Cities. The recreation center and the St. Paul Gym offer climbing walls. At the campus locations, equipment is provided and staff is on hand.

The cost to climb at the St. Paul Gym is $4 a day or $25 for a 15-week pass with all equipment provided.

“It’s nice at the gym, because you can try climbing and see if you like it, and they have all the equipment there,” said Sharlene Murphy, a genetics senior and member of the climbing club.

Climbers said they participate in the sport for different reasons. University climbing club member Mark Loseth became involved with the sport after hearing about it from friends.

“After the first time, I was hooked, and I’m still totally obsessed,” Loseth said.

In controlled environments, climbing is safe for most people, according to the American Safe Climbing Association. But more serious climbers might be put in potentially dangerous situations.

“It’s a dangerous sport,” Loseth said. “You have to trust the rope and the people you are climbing with.”

Most ice climbing routes in the United States are rated according to their danger levels, which takes into account the steepness and obstacles on the climbing surface.

The University climbing club does several ice climbs a year, weather permitting, and most of its members are beginner-level climbers. Students can participate in the climbs by contacting the club.

Wray said he encourages all students to try climbing for themselves.

“The only challenges in climbing are the challenges you put yourself up to,” Wray said.