It was a bad winter in Europe, and I started feeling a little nervous about our 5-day instruction in Austria. There had been very little snow, and temperatures were above freezing, so I wondered how waterfalls could be icy enough to climb? Our instructor was aware of the situation, and reassured me that we would find ice, even though that meant moving to the Dolomites in northern Italy. When we arrived in Innsbruck, in a green valley with hardly any snow on the mountains, it felt like spring. Fortunately, the next day it snowed, and the scenery looked much more wintery. On that first day, we found a pillar of ice tumbling down a tunnel, and it turned out to be the perfect place to learn some basic stuff. Moving with our ice axes and crampons, turning ice screws into the pillar of frozen water, and belaying each other on the few metres height were all a perfect introduction to ice climbing, and provided us with a basis for the next couple of days.
The next morning, we woke up in a white wonderland of snow, and to our surprise and joy, when we reached the upper part of the Sellrain valley, the sun seeped through the clouds above, and we were offered a great view of fresh snow on the mountains and trees around us, topped by a blue sky. Even though it looked awesome, snow is generally not good for ice-climbing, and when we lugged through the thick snow on our way to our first real frozen waterfall, we could only hope conditions would be good enough. Our instructor quickly moved up, making the movements and technique of ice-climbing look oh-so-easy, but when we followed on the steep slope, we had to work hard to make our way up. Belaying someone made me cold, but soon after starting to climb, I felt the effect of the effort warming my body. Climbing and belaying, and preparing the climbs, costs time and planning; when we thought we had just started, it turned out to be past lunch time and we enjoyed a sandwich in the bright sunlight.
Gradually, the next days we would get used to using our crampons, to hack the ice axes in the ice with less effort; the most important thing was to gain confidence in our feet. We did several other waterfalls; one where we climbed into a cave behind two pillars of frozen water where the true experts continued climbing, we went one day to the nearby Dolomites where we found much more snow and more difficult circumstances and more challenging walls of ice, before returning to the waterfall of the second day. We soon realized we had advanced in a couple of days: where we had slowly moved up a few days before, we were now able to hack and kick our way up rather quickly. It was yet another beautiful day, and a Saturday; more climbers around, chunks of ice were coming down and we were happy with our helmets. It somehow felt bad that, just when we started to get the feeling for it, we could not continue climbing to gain some more confidence and experience. Instead, we had to return home - with our heads full of exciting adventures and wondering when we would be climbing on ice again.
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