Last winter, Marquette, Michigan, received a record 200-plus inches of snow. That left Chattanooga native Emma Minnick and her mom, Carie Koscielny, with a choice: Hibernate inside or make the most of the snow stacked up higher than a basketball goal.
"That's another reason we got into ice climbing. Because winter is long. It's half the year up here," Carie says.
Emma first fell in love with climbing at High Point here in Chattanooga, and wanting another way to spend time with her young daughter, Carie decided to join her on the wall.
The family moved to Michigan five years ago, and with the help of Pictured Rocks Climbing Academy in Marquette, Emma discovered ice climbing at age 9.
See them in action
Emma and Carie both participate in Michigan Ice Fest, which draws hundreds of climbers to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore — everyone from first-timers to seasoned pros. It was there that Emma did her first icy ascent. Next year’s festival is Feb. 12-16, and she and mom Carie will again be participating.
"Rock climbing is like a puzzle and you have to really think with your brain and move your body into different poses and move with the wall - read the wall and follow that route," the now-11-year-old says. "With ice, you have to force the wall to change to where you can climb it."
We sat down with Emma and Carie to find out about some of the other differences between the two sports.
Q: What was the transition like?
Carie: My forearms get used in both those activities, but those back muscles and legs - I heavily rely on my legs while ice climbing. Sometimes when people are rock climbing, they're using counterweights and arms instead of legs. Besides [body] positioning and whole body strength, it's like a real mental game when you get up there. Out there, it's freezing and your body is rigid.
Q: Which is harder?
Emma: Definitely ice. I think it's harder because you're all cold and bundled up and it's harder to move around. You really have to force your body to move in those conditions.
Emma: Rock and ice are definitely about equal.
Get in on the action
You don’t have to go to Michigan to go ice climbing. You don’t even have to leave the Southeast. According to Southern Ice Climbing, “some of the finest Ice on the planet” is located in these parts. While some locales are only revealed in Michael Crowder’s “Southern Fried Ice” guidebook, North Carolina is a known destination. Fox Mountain Guides offers lessons and expert-led trips in Pisgah National Forest.
Q: What's the scariest part of ice climbing?
Emma: What scares me most is when ice is all falling in your face, and your ice axes you don't want to drop on anyone. And it's really hard when you're coming down, but you get used to it. You have to lean back and put your ice axes on your shoulders. They'll slowly lower you down, but you have spikes in your feet that could get stuck in the wall, so you stand up on it.
Q: How do you keep going when you get scared?
Emma: I tell myself it's all going to be OK and that I'm all tied in and I've got this. You really have to prepare your mind in a way that you know you're safe. That's why you have to be with people you know and love and who are supportive, so you can trust them.
Q: Do you ever get scared for her, Carie?
Carie: I do have a fear for her getting hurt, but at the same time, I don't want to discourage anything because it's something she likes and she's good at it. I just want to make sure she understands the dangers and is being safe.
Q: What's your favorite thing about ice climbing specifically?
Emma: Getting to see all the ice and caves and stuff, that's really interesting. Most of all, being able to climb with people I love.
Q: Do you have a goal when it comes to climbing?
Emma: My main goal is to get to the top, and then to be safe, and to make lots of friends. One [of my goals] for rock is how fast can I get to the top without letting go and hanging on the rope while staying on the rock? Ice is how hard I swing my ax into the ice and how much strength I have to pull myself up.
Q: So, what's next?
Carie: Ice climbing, there is different ways you can do it, just like rock climbing. Top rope is what we do. We might do lead ice climbing this winter. We had plans to build an ice wall in the backyard so we can practice. Sometimes it's a lot of effort to get all your gear and hike out there. For summertime, we could do dry tooling - and you can learn so many different techniques dry tooling - and then learn all year-round.