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Chase the Freeze

Ice Climbing in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Ice Climbing in the Blue Ridge Mountains requires the right conditions. Since many popular crags in the region experience “freeze-thaw” fluctuations all winter long, safety is a big concern when it comes to ascending what can be brittle, unpredictable ice in the South. Because routes are limited, regional climbers tend to be tight-lipped about the best spots to ascend a frozen rock face with crampons and picks. But there are a few well-known ice climbing routes in the Blue Ridge, many best accessed via guided trips.

The icy crags near Wintergreen, VA. photos by Ellen Kanzinger

Virginia – Blue Ridge Parkway near Wintergreen

The area around Wintergreen in the central Virginia Blue Ridge is great for year-round climbers on both rock and ice. It features routes that are beginner-friendly, but it also offers moderate and advanced options. During the summer and fall, this area is a good after-work crag, drawing small crowds to the 30-120 foot single-pitch climbs. Its close proximity to Wintergreen Ski Resort also makes it a notable destination with plenty of access to creature comforts.

Most of Wintergreen’s ice crags are located along the Blue Ridge Parkway above 3,000 feet. This area features granite cliffs with reliable rock. Temperatures need to be below freezing at the crag for almost a week in order for reliable ice to form.

Pennsylvania – The Narrows

Pennsylvania holds a number of top East Coast climbing destinations. But arguably one of the best spots in the state is located at the Nockamixon Cliffs Natural Area in Kintnersville. What’s known as the Narrows features 300-foot shale cliffs that turn into ice in the dead of winter. But another popular feature of this area is its small approach, as an accessible parking area makes it possible for climbers to make their way from their cars to the climb in just minutes. But make sure to look out for loose rock both in the parking lot and near your climbs, as scree has been known to drop unexpectedly here. Rob Ginieczki’s “Ice Climbing Pennsylvania” is a great resource for this and other ice crags in the state.

North Carolina – Celo Knob

North Carolina is home to one of the tallest ice routes on the East Coast. Located on Celo Knob, the Black Mountains’ northernmost peak, Brown Creek Falls provides climbers with 800 feet of grade III sheer ice. Even when the route is frozen, the water will still probably be flowing, which makes bringing the right gear essential. Due to North Carolina’s moderate temperatures, the climb doesn’t freeze very often. But when it does, it’s one of the top ice routes in the region.

Additional ice climbing routes that are more beginner and intermediate-friendly can be found along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Those who want to keep tabs on conditions in the areas should follow the well-reputed Fox Mountain Guides on Facebook. And the “Southern Fried Ice” guidebook by Michael Crowder provides more beta on the area’s climbs.

Tips for Ice Climbing in the Blue Ridge

Go Guided: Not only are local guides familiar with the best ice climbing spots in the area, they’re also trained to manage risk. And, in some cases, they may even provide gear for your trip. Finding a guide or a mentor is a great way to reduce the level of risk that’s associated with climbing at a new ice crag. A few reputable guiding services in the Blue Ridge Mountains include Blue Ridge Mountain Guides and WILD GUYde Adventures, both based in Virginia, as well as Fox Mountain Guides in North Carolina.

Befriend the Locals: Since ice climbing beta is so guarded, one of the best ways to find information and adhere to the local ethic is by befriending the locals. Employees at regional independent outfitters are often very helpful.

Watch the Weather: Ice climbing in the Blue Ridge Mountains is notoriously fickle. To save yourself from disappointment or danger, keep a close look on the area’s weather to make sure that your routes will be climbable once you arrive at the crag.

Cover Photo: The icy crags near Wintergreen. Photo by Shannon McGowan

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