It is fragile and perhaps unpredictable. Why would you climb on ice? Probably this is just the excitement, because here you only succeed with a accurate preparation and a ton of experience.
Interview with Laura Chmielewski about her passion for climbing ice, the fear factor and how to get other people involved in this sport.
LvD: As probably most of my readers don’t know you yet could you please introduce yourself a little bit? What place do you call home, what do you do for living and, most of all, what are your passions when it comes to outdoor activities?
Laura: Hi everyone! My name is Laura Chmielewski and I’m from the USA. Where I call home in the country is a little tricky though… technically I reside in Colorado, just south of Denver but, I spend about 5 months out of the year in Wyoming. A couple of years ago my fiancé and I decided that I’d scale work back to focus on training and climbing but, I’m still do freelance graphic design and am chipping away at a masters degree in Industrial Psychology.
Now to the good stuff! My outdoor activities. Ice climbing and mixed climbing are my primary passions though I rock climb some also. During the winter I spend as much if not all my time outside chasing frozen ice flows. There is something wonderful and precious about climbing something impermanent.
And though I love ice climbing dry tooling and mixed climbing are by far my favorites. Mixed climbing is so incredibly physical and gymnastic. You get to feel like Spider-Man as you climb across the roof of a cave… pretty awesome. I also compete a bit in climbing competitions and will compete in the World Cup this year but I’d rather be outside climbing big mountains in Cody, Wyoming.
LvD: Ice climbing looks pretty amazing, but also sometimes very scary to me because of the fragile ice and sometimes massive run-outs (climbing high above the last bolt). How important is preparation and how big is the risk in comparison to normal rock climbing?
Laura: Ahh… the fear factor. Yes, ice climbing can be scary and makes you think twice sometimes, but preparation and learning how to read the elements can be your life saver. You don’t go out when it’s too cold (bc the ice will be too brittle), you don’t go out when it’s too warm (I think you know why), and (among many other things) you have to be mindful of the snow pack and read avalanche reports. These are things most rock climbers don’t think about before they head out for a climb but it’s incredibly important in the ice climbing world.
For me ice climbing is so different from rock climbing, because of not only the massive run outs but because of the mind-set you have to be in to climb ice. While the gear we place is strong and I trust it, many ice climbers including myself climb with a “no fall” mindset. Meaning, we don’t climb climbs that are above our ability and we certainly do not take whippers! In ice climbing you don’t “try” a climb and hope to send it, no, in ice climbing you send it. You have to be very aware of your abilities, have confidence in those abilities and know when to step back from a challenge that is too great. So, for me the risk isn’t greater or lesser than rock climbing, it’s calculated. But without those calculations ice climbing can be extremely dangerous.
LvD: That’s interesting. I wonder how can you test your abilities or your possibilities if you have not really the option to fail? Is there oftentimes the situation when you say to yourself “I know I can easily do it but if I am wrong I am fucked” and start hesitating?
Laura: I do push my abilities, just in a calculated and informed way. I carefully access climbs and compare them to what I’ve done in the past and if they are just a little harder than what I’ve done before and I’ve trained well, I’ll go for it. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had those “oh shit” moments! Usually when those moments happen it’s just my own doubt creeping in though. So, I’ll have a little chat with my self that goes something like this… “why are you scared and can you safely complete this climb? Usually I’ll answer those by saying I’m scared because I’m not focused and yes, I can complete this climb. However, there have been a couple of times I’ve let my brain get the best of me and backed off a climb.
The only time I’ve looked at a climb and said “I know I can do it but I’ll be fucked if it goes wrong” is when there is avalanche danger. Avalanches scare the heck out of me and I won’t go for a climb if there is any kind of real avalanche danger.
LvD: What are your personal goals when it comes to ice climbing? Is there THAT specific climb or area you wanna do?
Laura: Hmm… goals, I have a lot of them 😊. But, generally my main goals are to be a safer and more efficient climber. Oh, and I’d love to climb in Europe (hopefully I’ll get the chance this year). Also I’m hoping to compete in the World Cup since last year I got the flu right before the World Cup competition in the USA and had to drop out! Another big goal of mine is to help girls get out there and get ice climbing. It’s such a male dominated sport and so many girls are too intimidated to try it out so, if I could help inspire just a couple of girls than I’d be really happy.
LvD: Do you already have any ideas/projects how to help girls or other people to get into ice climbing or are there any initiatives in progress around your area?
Laura: There are two groups in Colorado that work to help girls gain access to outdoor activities and I hope to volunteer with one of them after I finish my masters degree. Right now I just take it upon myself to be a cheerleader for the women I come in contact with, offer them help and guidance, and climbing coaching/tips.
LvD: How do you stay in shape and training in the off-season? Is there a specific training in comparison to rock climbing when it comes to workout?
Laura: There is an off-season?!?! Just kidding. I get sport specific workouts designed for me from the Alpine training center in Boulder, Colorado, they keep me pretty fit. I spend a lot of time in the gym doing strength workouts, I have a bouldering wall I train on as well, do various hang workouts, rock climb, run a ton, and do a lot of yoga. I do sport specific training from June to November then start slowing down training for climbing season. During this time I stay active during the week but I lay off the heavy weight training. At the end of the ice season I give my body a rest and just do yoga and cardio type stuff for 2 months. No touching the ice tools for a bit so my brain and body have a chance to reset.
LvD: Thank you so much for the interview. I wish you all the best for next season and cross my fingers for the world cup.
Follow Laura on Instagram!