Ice climbing is not a hard sport to start doing. Just go to REI, buy a dry rope, crampons, boots, tools, puffy, and some screws. Then just take a long drive or hop on a flight to any one the great ice climbing destinations, hire a guide for the week and learn the basics, should only cost you around $3000.
There is no doubt the price tag scares people away starting the sport, especially in countries where ice climbing gear is either more expensive or wages aren’t as high. But it is completely possibly to get into the sport while still keeping spending to a minimum.
Your first year of ice climbing is probably not going to involve climbing WI5 pillars or figure-fouring up the back of a cave. Realistically its lots of top-roping, maybe some following, and lots of practicing. You do not need the lightest boots or curviest tools to learn to climb and honestly youll be better off not having it, poor technique and beginner mistakes will trash and destroy your gear.
Basic Climbing Gear
If you’re already a rock climber then you can skip this part. What you need is a harness, and belay device. If you’re buying a harness I would recommend something with adjustable leg loops and ice clipper slots. Something like a Black Diamond Aspect harness will work fine and is great for rock too. As for a belay device go with a tube style device like the Black Diamond ATC or any of the other similar devices on the market. A device with a “guide mode” function will be useful down the road for multi-pitch climbing, however if you dont know what “guide mode” is then its not something you need yet. Rope can easily be ruined by crampons and ice tools so going with an older fatter rope will be better than buying that new 8mil double dry.
This is where it helps to be living near a consignment shop. Old plastic boots, particularly Koflach, tend to last forever. These boots can be found for around $100-200. Try it on in the store with whatever insoles and socks you plan on wearing while climbing. Find something comfortable. Two quick tests can determine if the boot will work for ice climbing or not. First go ahead and kick something with your toes. If you experience hard or painful “toe bang” then move on to a new pair of boots. Another test is to stand with your toes on the edge of something elevated and let your heels hang off, if your heel lifts try tightening down the boot over the instep. With any boot you must check to see if it is compatible with your crampons. Boots with a toe welt are highly recommended. Dont bother with trying to use ski boots if you plan on climbing more than twice a year.
So hopefully you found boots with a toe welt and can now buy an “automatic” crampon. They have a wire bail in the front and back. There are three main types of crampons, horizontal front-points for alpine, vertical front-points for ice climbing, and vertical mono-point for mixed. In reality they are all capable of doing everything. Buy one that fits your boots after being adjusted. A good fit is when the crampon doesnt slide around on the boot.
Lots of ice tools can be found at consignment shops for $100 and under. The problem is that these tools are designed to be used with wrist leashes. Leashed climbing has been nearly erased by modern leash-less tools. A leashes tool has a pinky rest and often a more aggressively curved shaft. Spend the extra money and go leash-less. Some ice tool designs from over a decade ago are still very capable when compare to more modern tools. A few good designs to look for are Grivel Taakoon, Petzl Quark, and Black Diamond Vipers. Mountain Project’s For Sale section can have great deals on tools. Hammers are preferable to Adze’s for a beginner climber because there is less chance of having a tool pop and cut your face.
A helmet of some kind is pretty much required for Ice Climbing. Climbing helmets will work much better. Old hard plastic designs will be better than modern foam designs for beginners because of the increased durability. A used hard plastic helmet with no obvious signs of damage can be a good option.
Real savings can be found in the area of clothing. What you’re going to want is soft-shell pants and a soft-shell jacket. They’re far more durable and breathable than gore-tex and similar fabrics. Buy your top layer a size big for maximum mobility. A tube of seam grip can fix almost any soft-shell garment and has the added benefit of making you look like a hardman. Incredibly cheap and surprisingly high quality rain shells and base layers can often be found at Costco under the Paradox brand name as can wools socks.
Soon youll be at the base of a busy toprope crag with your old plastic boots, clunky helmet, tattered softshells, and outdated tools. God speed gumby.