Waterfalls trapped in ice

“Were you ever unhappily in love? Or did you ever look at a waterfall? There is not much difference between them. You stand there and just stare at the waterfall, feel how it breathes, you hear it pour down with closed eyes, maybe you scream, wave with your hands, or maybe you are diving in the pool right beneath the fall, in vain, because the stupid water just keeps on flowing and flowing and disappearing forever! A beauty you can’t really put into words.” These words were used 10 years ago in Igor Mezgec’s climbing guidebook, when describing waterfalls.

Plezanje navpičnega ledu.
But for a few weeks in the year, this beauty stops, freezes and lets people even climb on them. Terrifyingly dangerous, almost crazy and very hard to do, you will say and maybe, a few decades ago, you would even be right. But as human kind progresses in important things, it also progresses in not so important things as well, such as climbing on hanging frozen waters and frozen waterfalls.

Above the Savaranche valley.
The very first climbing endeavors started in the beginning of the last century. Angelž Eckenstein invented 10-sprocked crampons, with which later they invented the technology for climbing on seriously steep ice. This equipment inventions progresses even further, with modifications of very long and unhandy ice axes and ice picks. The later were invented by a German called Willo Welzenbach, who is maybe the most important pioneer of ice climbing in its history. He undertook climbs and alpine efforts, which remain impressive even to this day. Well, maybe they were so impressive, because of our current times of global warming, seemingly bigger because the current ice layers on alpine tops keep on reducing, but still.

Look down to the client that is belaying me.
And because you can’t do much with your bare hands when dealing with ice, our main tools are picks and axes. Thanks to the development of such equipment and the training of the alpine climbers and mountain guides alike, these kind of climbing endeavors are not undertakings of sole adventurers and “mad men”. In the winter months, after a longer period of freezing temperatures, a lot of waterfalls freeze over in Slovenia, especially in alpine valleys such as Tamar, Krnica and Logarska dolina. On weekends these spots are always frequently visited by lots of people.

Traffic jam in Cascata di Lillaz
And where will you go on your next holidays? Maybe ice climbing on frozen waterfalls? It is true that a lot more people climb on these than years ago, especially in foreign countries it is viewed as an active winter holiday adventure. The first half on January, in the valley Val di Cogne, in Italy, I lead climbing expedition on frozen waterfalls myself for 14 days. Mostly I climbed with clients in their middle-years, one of them used to be a top alpine climber himself in the days, but there were many who were completely new to this. Amongst those was also a 60-year old English psychiatrist, who has angina pectoris. In 4 days we climbed 4 200m high frozen waterfalls and we had the time of our lives. And the beauty was also intensified because of the tranquility and the peace, you can only feel in mountainy valleys, far, far away from the crazy world and the comfy hotels with over-the-top Italian hospitality and their great food.

Roped party climbing.
And as Igor Mezgec concludes in his book: “We are so happy, that such moments exist, waterfalls and their beauty, trapped in ice! They are even more exotic than in the summer time. If only Freud and Gradnik knew that…!”

Icy waterfall Repentace, big challenge for ice climbers.
Tomaž Jakofčič
Tomaž Jakofčič

I was born 1970 in Germany to parents, which were “Gastarbeiter”. There I also spent my first 5 years, after that we returned to Ljubljana, where I still live with my family till this day. My parents were never really into mountain climbing, and I really can’t explain where I got my strong wish for “conquering the useless parts of the world”. Till the end of middle school it wasn’t so bad, because I wouldn’t live out my obsession to the fullest yet. I was constantly daydreaming and this was also the reason I had worse grades, than I could have had, but I managed. I also briefly visited university, if I let out the fact that I got my diploma with almost gray hair. After a few years of teaching in primary school, I finally managed to gather my courage and cut the cord, which bind me to my regular job and I became a “full time climber” and mountain guide.

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