Ice climber: ‘Fear wants to grip you’
RIFLE – 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. It was a bitterly cold and windy day in Rifle Mountain Park. Cold temperatures are just an added element challenging ice climbers. “Climbing on ice is surreal,” said Angelis, who is from Glenwood Springs. “Almost like being a spider on the wall.”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 been adventurous. Even when younger he loved to go off on short over-night expeditions that would bring him closer to nature. So with his boots firmly connected to the peak of Mount Sopris, Angelis decided to start ice climbing.
“Most people go from climbing into mountaineering,” he said. “I just happened to get into mountaineering first.”Mountaineering means 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.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 Ouray.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.”A climber needs to be mentally and physically fit to endure the demands of the ice, which is constantly changing, Angelis said. Being able to read the ice is crucial. “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 should always be aware of what’s above you, Angelis said.”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.”