As Milo Kremer (’16) finished another rock climbing session at the Castle Climbing Centre – each one proving to be less challenging than the last – he harbored imminent thoughts of pursuing a more demanding setting than the indoor complex he had become so accustomed to. After discussion with his father, the two settled on Chamonix, France, a region teeming with an array of uncharted opportunities for winter sports.
Already an avid skier, Kremer’s exposure to winter sports has been plentiful since a young age. Kremer and his father searched for an alternative sport involving the mentally-driven component of rock climbing, and ultimately decided on France’s esteemed ice climbing region as a suitable replacement.
Although Kremer and his father had already been ice and rock climbing in Colorado prior to their trip to southeastern France, Chamonix continues to be regarded as the epitome of ice climbing and was a relatively straightforward solution.
“[My dad and I] like to challenge ourselves, whether it be physically, mentally or just bravery wise. It seemed logical to go to Chamonix, as it’s the ice climbing capital of Europe,” Kremer said.
Adept at both ice climbing and regular rock climbing, Kremer believes the former often poses more challenges in terms of predictability; while rock is more rigid and subject to fewer temperature changes, ice climbing can often result in unanticipated accidents.
“One day the ice could be really really solid, could be perfect for putting in protection and putting in gear, but the next day it could have melted a bit and become slippery. You have to be much more careful when you ice climb,” Kremer said.
Kremer’s first trip to Chamonix took place in March of his freshman year. Reflecting on an unforgettable and valuable experience, Kremer admits the climb required extensive preparation and requisite skills such as being able to tie figure ropes, change belay devices, and use ice axes properly. Despite a meticulous technical introductory phase, Kremer maintains the actual climb was not physically draining, and an enriching experience, despite his initial expectations.
Developing trust and patience have been two major aspects Kremer has attempted to refine throughout both of his trips. Citing his introductory climb as example, Kremer underlines the importance of mental resiliency.
“You have to psyche yourself out of this whole thing you get into. Obviously you’re up here, completely exposed to ice face. The wind’s coming into your face and it’s really cold, and you can’t really hear much, because you’ve got your hat and helmet on, and all the equipment is metallic so it’s clinging together in the wind,” Kremer said.
He recalls his first climb vividly, as it took the entire day to climb up one face of the mountain. Setting his crampons and ice axe firmly into the thick glacier, Kremer embarked on what he remembers as an unnerving and laborious experience.
For both trips, Kremer emphasized the importance of bestowing trust in the climbing guide. Despite considerable practice at his climbing center in London, Kremer had never before placed so much trust into someone else.
“The guide for us, he’s the one who set up everything, made sure everything was where it should be. So you really have to trust his ability that this ice screw won’t get pulled out or this piece of ice is strong enough to get a grip on,” Kremer said.
Kremer credited his first climb in freshmen year as a surreal and nerve-wracking experience, one completely unparalleled to previous climbing adventures. He returned alongside his father to Chamonix the following year.
The benefits of the trip notwithstanding, Kremer’s father sustained considerable injuries both years, severely damaging his ribs on the first, while bursting his appendix on the second. Both injuries have prompted the family to reconsider travelling to Chamonix for a third successive year.
Categorizing himself as someone obsessed with gadgets, Kremer was immediately enticed by the prospect of being able to go ice climbing. “I’m kind of a gearhead. I really like getting all that kind of the cool gear, the ropes, the carabiners, the jackets. I’m really into that, but on top of that it’s just kind of seeking something different. I can take the tube for an hour and get to my climbing gym, but eventually it gets redundant,” he said.
For Kremer, ice climbing provides an outlet from a strenous work schedule. “It’s the idea that you’re doing something that not many people do which first of all is appealing. It’s also the sense of adventure you get, and also it’s really beautiful up there. You have 360° views on a nice day,” Kremer said.
While the two accidents concerning Kremer’s father still provide a harsh reality of the dangers present when ice climbing, he has outlined his intent to continue the sport, and acknowledges the possibility of returning to Chamonix or perhaps even another region sooner than expected.