Local ice climber picks the cold life
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Slowly, Tony Angelis crept to the top of a 150-foot pillar of Ice. Climbers know this infamous pillar as “Stone Free.”One limb at a time, using ice picks in each hand and crampons adorning his boots, he methodically made his way to the top of the frozen waterfall, one limb at a time.As the name of the ice pillar indicates, climbing ice is vastly different from rock. Learning how to adapt to the conditions, how to climb on the different types of ice are aspects of the climbing sport that you don’t have to think about when scaling rock. Experiences that Angelis claims gives a person a new-found respect for nature.It was a bitterly cold and windy day in Rifle Mountain Park. Cold temperatures are just an added element challenging ice climbers.
Angelis, who is from Glenwood Springs, said that he’s always been excited by ice climbing. “Climbing on ice is surreal,” he said. “Almost like being a spider on the wall.”There’s an unnatural beauty to the sport. The delicate aspect of his graceful movements contrasts the warrior-like tools used to conquer the giant frozen beast with every stab.His movements bring to mind a sloth climbing through the Amazon jungle.”When you’re on the ice everything else falls away,” he said.Both hands gripped tightly on his axes and his feet secured to the frozen wall, he yanked one of the axes from the ice, pulled back and swung hard. Crack, his ax once again sank into the solid pillar.”Nothing else matters except the next move,” he said.The dangers of climbing frozen water are obvious to the people who like to remain firmly on the ground. But confronting those dangers is part of the attraction for people like Angelis.”Fear wants to grip you,” he said. “But you have to overcome that fear. You have to stay focused and always remain calm, because things can go bad in a second.”
The view from the top of Mount Sopris is spectacular.Angelis would know, he’s made the hike about 60 times since 1989. He’s also stood atop all 54 14,000-foot peaks in the Colorado. But his first hike to the majestic summit of Sopris revealed a desire to do more than just hiking the landscapes. Angelis wanted to grip the fear of climbing, confronting mortality, recognizing beauty.”With climbing, you’re not going against nature,” Angelis said. “People always talk about conquering a mountain, but it’s more that you’re trying to become one with nature.”He admits that he’s always had an adventurous demeanor. Even as a younger person he loved to go off on little over-night expeditions that would bring him closer to nature.”As a kid I was always playing outside,” he said. “I still just love being outside and having an intimate relationship with nature.”With his boots firmly connected to the peak of Mount Sopris, Angelis decided to start ice climbing. That was somewhat unorthodox transition from mountaineering into ice climbing, according to him.”Most people go from climbing into mountaineering,” he said. “I just happened to get into mountaineering first.”Mountaineering encompasses the sport of trekking to a mountain’s summit. Climbing, rock or ice, are more just pieces of the overall puzzle to reach the summit. But climbing is not about reaching the summit.The biggest difference between rock and ice are the extra tools used. Climbers use ice axes or “picks” to secure hand grips in the ice, crampons that have sharp teeth to stick into the ice for traction for secure footing, and safety ropes. Whereas rock climbers usually only use ropes, special shoes and their hands when climbing rock.Even though he climbed rock for a few years before attempting ice, Angelis explained that ice was a more natural progression for him.”Because of my experience in mountaineering, I just felt more comfortable with the tools,” he said.But that comfort wasn’t evident right away.His first climb took him to Redstone where he climbed an ice formation called “The Drool.” “I thought, this is nuts,” he said. “But on some level it also clicked.”That was almost 13 years ago. Since then he’s made numerous climbs in several places close to Glenwood Springs, such as Rifle Mountain Park, Glenwood Canyon, Vail, Redstone, and, farther south, Ouray, Colo.Solitude comes with the territory, but Ice climbing can be a lonely sport.”Not as many people climb ice,” he said. “Once they try it, they either like it or they don’t. There’s a rhythmic motion; once you find it, it’s just an amazing feeling.”It’s important to find someone that shares similar interests, a sense of humor, and trust, according to Angelis. Trust is extremely important, after all, the person on the other end of the rope will be holding your life in their grip.
A climber needs to be mentally and physically fit to endure the demands of the ice.Ice is a constantly changing medium from day to day, hour to hour, Angelis said. Being able to read the ice plays an important role.”A lot of ice climbing is in listening to it,” he said. “You can tell when you stick your ax into the ice by the sound if it’s a good hold or not.”The most dangerous thing about it, in his opinion, is falling ice. As an ice climber you always want to be aware of what’s above you, Angelis said.Climbers are a different breed. They are calm, collected and calculating.”Climbing parallels life a lot,” Angelis said. “You’re faced with a lot of hardships when you’re on the ice, wondering if things will be OK. When it does work out there is a fleeting moment of clarity. And if it doesn’t, you can’t do anything about it.”Contact John Gardner: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
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