After my struggles last week getting the hang of cross-country skiing, I wasn’t feeling overly confident driving to Elora, Ont., to check out One Axe Pursuits and the company’s ice climbing facility in Victoria Park.
My lack of confidence proved prophetic. I wouldn’t say that I’m afraid of heights, per se; it’s more that I have a fear of falling from a great distance.
The team at One Axe, Christa Niravong and Frederick Schuett, did their best to assuage my concerns before we even hiked into the park and took our first look at the ice wall.
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They have a pretty robust safety course they put all climbers through. It’s a vitally important part of the process, since you’re basically walking around with spikes on your boots called crampons and razor-sharp axes in your hands.
Before I even had a chance to take a crack at the wall, we had to capture footage of Schuett climbing so you would have an idea of what competent ice climbing looks like. However, to get the best footage possible, we needed to get a GoPro placed at the top of the wall to really emphasize just how high the rock face was.
I drew the short straw. Truthfully — since Global News camera operator James Davidson had to operate his camera from the base of the wall, I had no choice.
I had to hike up the side of the rock face, careful not to get my crampons caught together — walking with a wider-than-normal stance is advisable — and basically hang over the ledge of the ice wall, pointing the camera down at Schuett as he climbed toward me. Luckily, I was so concerned with getting the proper shot, I didn’t clue in that half my body was hanging over a 60-foot ledge.
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Once I got connected to the safety rope system, I took a breath, raised my axes over my head and realized just how high the wall actually was. I then started my excruciatingly slow climb.
I wish I could tell you that I embellished the tremor in my voice and my overall histrionics on my first ascent, but embarrassingly, it was a purely natural reaction.
I was much better on my second attempt. Niravong and Schuett told me that my experience is typical. The first try is typically nerve-racking for many, but you improve on subsequent attempts as you get used to the height, the ropes and the equipment.
Mike Arsenault is a reporter with Global News.