Ice Climbing Pennsylvania: Valentine's Day Ice Climbing at Ricketts Glen State Park

Our motley crew at the end of the day!
I'd venture to guess most of you who read Adventire-Inspired don't believe in a typical Valentine's Day celebration, or at least find creative ways to express love. Don't get me wrong, I adore flowers and chocolate, but can't think of a better way to spend a Hallmark holiday rooted in the celebration of love than playing outside.

Sunday was a beautiful day in northern Pennsylvania, and a perfect day for what might have been my favorite TerraMar Adventures event to organize of all time: a mountaineering and ice climbing skills day. I started working with Brett Simpson, Associate Director of the Quest program at Bloomsburg University, a month before the event. Of course, with a sport like ice climbing that's so dependent on weather, we did our best to plan and crossed our fingers, hoping the ice would stick around long enough.

Man is ice climbing fun.
After several days of 40ยบ F temperatures at the end of January, I was concerned about the conditions. But then Mother Nature walloped us with two feet of snow, it got considerably colder, and all was right with the world!

We met at Ricketts Glen State Park and spent an hour getting geared up. We hiked an hour in through snow covered trails and around beautiful waterfalls. The park is know for its 22 named waterfalls, one of which is 94 feet tall. We split into two groups during the hike in. The first group, led by Brett, was comprised of more experienced climbers, i.e. those of us who'd used crampons before. We got right down into the gorge and on the ice. The second group, let by Jeremy, spent a little more time learning how to walk with crampons and move with an ice axe.

Brett and his team set up four topropes for our group of 16 people. We had the gorge to ourselves all day, which surprised me. I couldn't wait to get started and jumped right on a 30-40' NEI 4. The Quest team had set up ropes on three other climbs as well, and I'd guess the rest were NEI 2-3. The ice was perfect, just soft enough, and I managed to make it up the NEI 4 climb with a few falls, mostly a result of poor technique. 
I have a tendency to stand up on my toes when I have a solid grip on the ice with my crampons. Lifting your heels or moving your feet too much at all once you've placed them wiggles the crampon points around in the ice, causing them to slip out. It's an unpleasant surprise if you're in the middle of placing your ice tools!

Two other TerraMar members, both first time ice climbers, made it up that route by the end of the day. We were all whooping and hollering when Carla, a brand new ice climber and triathlete extraordinaire, made it to the top on our last climb of the day.

We all rotated through the four climbs, getting in two or three climbs on average. Other things we were able to cover included:

  • belaying - a good number of people had never belayed before
  • ice screw placements
  • ice anchor building
  • movement with an ice axe
  • characteristics of ice that is safe to climb
I was incredibly impressed with how well everyone did through the course of the day, considering many had never seen an ice tool before! Making it up an ice climb for the first time is an incredible feat, much less those who were able to climb the NEI 4 on their first day. It was a great learning experience and a whole lot of fun!

A big thanks to Brett, Jeremy, Lee and Tabitha for taking such good care of us, and for helping us all have a unique and incredible Valentine's Day on the ice. Check out the Quest program, too, they have a couple of really amazing international trips coming up!