Nikki Smith is an ice aficionado. Starting in September and October, she begins obsessively checking weather conditions and traffic cameras every day, as well as running or hiking remote basins to find ice first ascents. She’s developed a knack for finding ice before most even pull their ice gear out of the closet, and she climbs throughout the season regardless of the temps. Because of this, she’s put up first ascents of many ice and mixed routes throughout Utah, lines as long as 1,600 vertical feet. She typically starts climbing Utah ice in late September or early October, and often climbs through May. Here are a few of her secrets for knowing when and where to search.
You can also use maps to form “educated guesses” as to where to look for new ice in the first place. Google Earth can reveal narrow gullies or couloirs. You can sometimes find images of waterfalls or ice features already on Google Maps and Google Earth. Look for water sources flowing over cliffs. Some topo maps indicate springs, intermittent streams, etc. that can feed ice climbs. Look at the north faces of mountains, as they typically receive the least amount of sun, so will be the coldest and most sheltered places for ice to hide out. Elevation will all be relative to the region you are in. In the Western U.S., early season ice typically starts in October above 10,000’, while the East and Midwest can have early season ice starting around 1,000’ in elevation.
See the Top Ice Climbs on MountainProject.com
- Follow the weather.
- Find cameras or monitoring stations
- Pre-plan using maps
- Follow the right people and #hashtags
- Zoom in with magnification
- Do your research