How I Learned To Hump Ice

Getting my game face on. That, or I've lost my mind due to the influence of winter.

Apparently it’s all in the way you move your hips, or so Thomas our ice-climbing instructor would have us believe. And, as with most of the things he told us today, we quickly learned that he was correct.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our morning started early. A 6am wake up call had Rick and me up organizing our gear for the day long adventure outside of Calgary to master the fine art of climbing ice. To say that we were both stoked would be an understatement. But we couldn’t let the excitement of the day distract us from the tasks at hand: dressing warmly, packing extra clothes, extra hats and mitts, food, water, and the like.

Starting out trek out to the ice wall

We left the house at 6:45 on our way to Starbucks (which will come as no surprise if anyone has ever read anything about my adventures with Rick), and then to pick up our friend Sanjay before heading to Kings Creek, just off the Kananaskis Trail.

We met with the rest of our group, loaded up our packs and then started the 25 or so odd minute hike to the foot of the frozen waterfalls that we would be climbing. The hike itself was spectacular. The scenery was, as expected, breathtaking. And while the day had started off foggy and grey, the sky had cleared and made the views that much more incredible.

Thomas, our guide, walked us through the necessary steps in getting prepared; getting our crampons on1, and then walking with said crampons. He led us through some preliminaries including the optimal standing position when the toe picks were in the ice – specifically with our heels down so that the weight of our bodies ensured the picks wouldn’t slip. Having mastered that, we moved on to traversing the ice wall while holding onto ice-axes that he had strategically placed. And then things got interesting. Because apparently just traversing isn’t enough – you have to do it with style.

Powerful pose, or butt posturing for ice humping? You decide.

And that style, dear readers, is the fine fine art of humping ice2. Essentially there are two major positions that one must master when climbing ice. The first position is for moving one’s feet left, right, or up. The second position is for moving the ice-axes.

To move left, right, or up, one starts by sticking their butts out from the wall of ice – as if you’re showing it off for the world to see. Arms should be perfectly straight – hands holding the base of the ice-axes. It actually looks very much like a yoga pose known as powerful pose – although on the side of an ice wall.

Photo time at the top of the ice wall. Dangerous? Perhaps. But Danger is Rick's middle name.

The other position required involves placing all the weight onto the toe picks that have been (hopefully) embedded in the ice. Knees are slightly bent and the hips are pushed into the ice. The shoulders are back. The idea is that one’s centre of gravity will prevent them from falling over.

Thomas described this as setting up a tripod with your legs and your centre of gravity against the side of the ice wall. And while it looks a little hilarious, it works. I was, once I got the hang of it, easily able to relax my upper body and let my hands release the ice-axe handles that I was so furiously gripping.

So why ice humping? That’s easy. With all of this butt posturing and hip tripod-ing, it really was a bit like humping the wall.

Having successfully ice humped my way to the top, I stop for a quick photo. Rick is in the background belaying (also known as making sure I don't fall on my ass).

Hey – I never said I was mature.

Anyway, the day was a phenomenal adventure. Apart from some cold toes and cold fingers, we survived unscathed. I’m thinking that if I try this adventure again3, I’m going to spend some time in advance converting my upper-body-strength-of-a-12-year-old-boy body to an upper-body-strength-of-at-least-a-13-year-old-boy body, because I’m definitely going to want to climb longer and higher.

And I should probably work on my butt posturing and hip tripod-ing too, because practice makes perfect, right? But I’ll do that in the privacy of my own home.


1 We had already learned the night before about the double eight knot, how to get strapped into our harnesses, and how to belay someone properly.

2 Note: Thomas never once called what we were doing “ice humping” or “humping ice”. However, we felt compelled to call it as we saw it. And we saw it as ice humping.

3 Who am I kidding, we all know I’m going to do this again.



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