Smuggs Ice Fest and Thermal Management

Despite my usual anxieties about these group events, I drove up to Jeffersonville, VT (a bit outside Burlington, VT) for the annual Smuggs Ice Fest, held at Smugglers Notch. I wanted to check out a different ice climbing area, conditions for ice climbing seemed good (it had been very cold in the run up to the Fest), the conditions for skiing were not good this weekend, and I just wanted to get more ice-climbing practice in. As usual, I was very anxious about holding other people in the group back on the non-trivial uphill approaches on un-maintained roads. I contacted the organizers to tell them about my physical circumstances and after deciding that I would be able to manage the approach to the climbs (if it didn’t snow a ton), I decided to go for it. I signed up for a mixed-climbing clinic on Saturday and a personal guide on Sunday because all the clinics I was interested in were filled up.

The approach to Saturday’s climbing area was challenging for me. Even though the incline was not steep, it was sustained and long enough to tire my leg(s) and back when carrying a pack. I was at the rear end of the group, as I expected. I still have a really hard time accepting/dealing with being the slowest one on approaches/descents, since I had always been one of the people at the head of these group hikes/backpacking trips. But, I found that my fears about holding the group back evaporated once I got on vertical terrain. I think I was one of the strongest climbers on the wall. I really enjoyed learning more about mixed climbing and the menu of options/moves that I am just not familiar with. I found that my  core and lock-off strength was very useful. It is a bit more like rock climbing in that the core and precise foot placements are important. Having mono-points on my crampons helped there. It also helped that Saturday’s temperatures were very temperate, ranging from the 20’s to low 30’s (Farenheit).

Sunday was a totally different story. Temperatures were in the low single digits (Farenheit), with wind-chills bringing perceived temperature into the negative range, and the temperatures only dropped (and wind picked up) as the day progressed. The climbing area for Sunday was also farther than Saturday’s, and I was very very slow plodding uphill. My gait degrades significantly when I am wearing heavy boots, so the combination of those, fresh snow, carrying a heavier pack with more clothing and gear (pro) made it a pretty miserable experience for me. I got on some steep W5 pillars, but soon lost feeling of my hands and just couldn’t place my tools properly. I completely shut down when I am freezing cold, and I was miserable to the point of tears. One challenge with staying warm is that because I am worried about having a bowel/bladder accident, I do not drink or eat much when I am climbing outside to try and boost my metabolism. This is especially important when ice-climbing; continually sipping a hot drink is so effective, yet I am/was so worried about peeing in my pants that I only took little sips of the hot chocolate in my thermos, and that was not enough to keep me from becoming cold enough to the point of being non-functional. It bums me out that I might only be a fair-weathered ice-climber, and that some options may be eliminated for me because of my plumbing defects. But I am trying not to be too discouraged and find encouragement in knowing that being pushed out of your comfort zone is, generally, a good thing (I think).

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