Drip by drip
Homemade ice wall keeps residents in practice
March 6, 2004
In John Beaupre’s back yard, a 52-foot wall of ice rises up, glowing blue from the spotlights that allow climbers to see the next hold late into the night.
It’s the kind of wonder that a man who puts climbing holds on the trees around his house would find necessary for his winter survival.
Beaupre built his backyard ice-climbing wall because he was looking for something geographically convenient and more difficult than Fish Creek Falls.
He was in Vail and saw a farmer who left his sprinkler system on in the winter.
“The water formed an ice column, and I realized that I could create something similar,” Beaupre said. “So I went to True Value and bought four hoses, some foam insulation and cheap chain and ran the hose up a cottonwood tree about 40 feet off my deck.”
For six years, Beaupre has built the wall drip by drip, running hoses up a tree and letting water run and freeze on a frame of foam insulation and a curtain of chains. He starts around the Thanksgiving holiday, when temperatures consistently stay below freezing.
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First the ice has to get to the ground and form a base, he said. As soon as a sturdy column has formed, it’s ready to climb.
For the next three months, Beaupre invites experienced ice climbers for scheduled workouts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
The men use the controlled conditions of Beaupre’s back yard to keep themselves in shape for the multipitch climbs they often do in Vail, Ouray and Cody, Wyo.
There are three or four regulars and more than a dozen climbers who cycle through.
Matt Tredway is a regular. He shows up with ice axes, crampons and a helmet. He straps himself in and finds his way up the wall.
“I just like to climb,” Tredway said. “As corny as it may sound, it’s so healthy to have an athletic goal.”
“It’s important to get kids passionate about something,” he said. “Because passionate kids make passionate adults. They need to have something they are about.”
Mentally, the sport is a lot like rock climbing, its summertime counterpart, but ice is an ever-changing surface while rock stays the same, Tredway said.
“One night it will be like plastic, the next it will be brittle or the consistency of a snow cone,” he said.
Ice climbers learn how to read ice the way kayakers read water.
“Ice, by its nature, is quite blue,” Beaupre said. “When the ice warms up, it becomes more creamy white, more brittle and that’s when pieces break off and climbing is more dangerous.”
Unlike rock climbing, where climbers usually are committed to certain routes and holds, ice climbers are freed by the nature of the medium and their equipment. The ice climber, however, is more limited technically.
“There are no laybacks in ice climbing, and you can’t do many acrobatic moves, unless you are really good,” Beaupre said.
“I just get a rush from the exposure of being attached to a surface. You are up and away and free. It’s a great way to get away, to get some space. It’s good for the soul.”