Our second interview with Will Mayo.

Editor: Will, folks have been asking me about your interview and how easy or difficult it is to get into ice climbing. They were totally inspired by the images you sent me.

The interest seems to be peaking right now.

I'm trying to get them the best information that I can, and I thought I'd start with you. Wherever you look these days, ice-climbing seems to be on everyone’s mind.  The Ouray Elite Mixed Climbing Competition has just concluded and the brightest stars of the ice-climbing world were in attendance, including yourself and the amazing Sasha DiGiulian.

An ice wall is indeed a thing of beauty. One of nature’s most exquisite creations, the beauty of an ice wall sometimes lies in its brevity. Frozen ice crystals shimmer like diamonds on a vertical necklace, one that extends for feet upon feet. 

One can marvel at this frozen natural art, which has a life of its own, as it shortens and lengthens, depending on the temperature, or the mood of the sun. Or one can delve into the fascinating world of ice climbing.

We decided to get some helpful answers from you, and see what we could learn from you.

So, buckle up all those who contacted me after we first interviewed Will for our magazine: you are about to be seriously enlightened!

Editor: Thank you for your time, Will. We appreciate it greatly. As of this writing, the Ouray Elite Mixed Climbing Competition is over and enthusiasts had gathered from all over to attend this most anticipated event for ice climbers. For those out there who are fascinated by ice climbing, but don’t know where to start, how would you suggest they begin…what is the very first step they should take? (Apart from a deep breath.)  

Will Mayo: First, I would suggest people interested in trying ice climbing to find an experienced friend, a mentor, a guide or a coach to take them out on the ice. The most basic aspects of the sport, such as fitting the gear and negotiating the approaches to the climbs, can be tricky at first, more so than with other types of climbing. As such, I would encourage people to seek expert guidance on their first time out, at the very least.  


Editor: Ice climbing equipment is expensive, but a great investment. What are the specific tools and implements new students should focus on getting and practicing with first? Your thoughts?  

Will Mayo: The essentials are a helmet, mountain boots, crampons and ice axes. Most climbers will have a rope and harness already, but these are essential as well, of course. I would encourage people new to the sport to spend a significant amount of time top-roping ice climbs, as to learn the subtle nuances of the ice and which placements are solid.

It takes a while to understand when a fracture in the ice caused by the swing of one’s tool is inconsequential and when it is cause to question the placement, for instance.

Really, as with so many things in life, the only way to learn is through trial and error, but the process will be greatly accelerated with the help of a good guide or coach. The other aspects of equipment which are typically most troublesome for new ice climbers is gloves.

Finding the right gloves that work for an individual is often a frustrating and arduous task, it may sound trite, but it’s actually really important to have gloves that fit and are not too bulky.

Typically, I wear uninsulated gloves when I’m climbing to ensure a good grip on the tool, and then switch to warmer gloves for belaying between pitches.  


Editor: Ice climbing is a highly-skilled art and not everyone will be cut out for it, what is the best way to find one’s niche and become more comfortable with this most elegant form of climbing?  

Will Mayo: Ice climbing is something that people either love or hate. Typically, a person is either immediately enthralled or repulsed by the game. The former will delve into the sport with a passion, the later will simply prefer to go skiing. Those of us that love it, just do it obsessively.

My advice to novice ice climbers who are smitten with the sport would be to build up their base slowly. Unlike rock climbing, where one can move up through the ratings safely with relative ease leading sport climbs, safely leading ice takes years of patient apprenticeship.

One must respect the nuanced impermanent and capricious medium of ice, and becoming expert at the vagaries of ice takes quite some time. I encourage people to top-rope a lot, as I said earlier, and then lead every WI2 around, then every WI3 around, then every WI3+ around, etc.

Ice is not about chasing ratings, it’s about repetition and experience.  


Editor: The most recognized ice tool is the ice axe, and it requires quite a lot of arm strength to wield it in the correct way so that it is firmly rooted into the hard ice. What does a rookie ice-climber need to do, in terms of building body strength, in order to perform properly?  

Will Mayo: Ice climbing is typically more of a “big muscle” sport, as opposed to rock climbing which is typically more about finger strength. Of course, rock climbing at a high level requires a high level of overall fitness, including core. But, generally, ice climbing is more burly.

I have trained with weights my entire life, focusing on oppositional strength training to avoid injury, in addition to pull-downs and the quintessential French Press (perhaps the best weight exercise for ice climbing) as well as lots of pull-ups, and lock-offs on a peg board (an ice climbers version of a campus board).  


Editor: You mentioned in a recent article that: “Ice climbing is very brutish. People fall not because they can’t hang on any more but because they can’t swing any more. It’s more like manual labor or carpentry than like a sport.”

Does that mean developing more upper body strength as opposed to lower body, or perhaps working different muscle groups? Or our central core? Perhaps a balance of all four?   

Will Mayo: Ice climbing is somewhat savage, in a way. But, a good ice climber is not just bulling and jamming up the ice. There is a certain grace to ice climbing well, but it’s a grace that is possible only with a serious amount of strength. It’s balletic in a powerful and precise way.

I train my upper body, run for lower body fitness and cardiovascular endurance and do lots of core exercises such as plank, crunches and hundreds of sit-ups nearly every day.  


Editor: In your life-long experience in this challenging sport, what is the best way to avoid a fall in ice climbing, while figuring out those figure-nines and figure-fours?  

Will Mayo: When Jeff Lowe invented the figure-4, he was using it to surmount an ice roof. Yet, these days, figure-4s and figure-9s are almost exclusively reserved for mixed climbing, which we’ll have to discuss later.

Basically, when ice climbing, it is imperative that the climber consider each placement to be a belay. Of course, every move, as one moves the lower axe higher, one is suspending oneself solely from a single axe placed in the ice.

Thus, before one is satisfied with the next placement, one must regard it as a failsafe belay, because on the next move, that will be ones sole placement as one removes the lower axe to place it higher.

This is quite obvious, yet cannot be emphasized enough. A marginal placement should be entirely unacceptable to a novice ice climber.  


Editor: Do you have one final piece of advice for those who are really wanting to get into ice-climbing? Considering the fact that many of them will be coming from bouldering or sport-climbing backgrounds?  

Will Mayo: Rock climbers will need to unlearn some techniques when ice climbing. It may seem unnatural at first to remain balanced below the upper tool repeatedly each move.

I just like to explain it as this: each move one is climbing the tool, not the ice. This further degree of separation between the climber and the medium can seem strange at first. But, eventually, it becomes second nature.  


Editor: Thank you Will, your priceless advice is most welcomed, and we hope it inspires your fans to enter into the field in the right way and with the best instructors. We appreciate your time and are honored.



Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Editor of the Facebook Page: 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com
Interview © Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.



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Exiting the mixed crux of Shooting Star, readying for the thin poorly protected ice above.
Photo credit: Daniel Gambino Photography.

ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com


Will Mayo

The Gold Piton Winner
& Mugs Stumps Award Winner shares some useful tips on how to start ice climbing.

Cover Date: January 24th, 2015 (2nd Interview)