Ice climbing: Part adrenaline rush, part puzzle-solving test

HART'S LOCATION, N.H. (AP) — Chuck Monjak was partway up his first-ever attempt at a nearly vertical ice formation when he found himself in a terrifying predicament. With his weight supported only by the tips of his crampons, he had to figure out how to get around a bulging column of ice.

He thought about giving up. But he kept his cool.

"It's both an adrenaline rush and it's a puzzle-solving test. A lot of engineers, technical people get into this because of the problem-solving abilities necessary to do vertical ice," said Monjak, an optical systems engineer for a semiconductor firm.

If the location's name where Monjak was learning to ice climb didn't evoke a sense of horror — Frankenstein Cliff — then one look at the route he was attempting certainly did.

Dracula, a 100-foot ice fall, is one of the most challenging of the more than two dozen ice climbing routes that attract thrill-seekers to New Hampshire's Crawford Notch State Park each winter.

Frankenstein Cliff was not named for the monster story, but for a 19th-century German landscape painter who was attracted to the beauty of the cliffs. Groundwater seeping out of the granite freezes each winter to create extraordinary icefalls.

Climbing such ice structures is thrilling — and dangerous.

Earlier this month, an ice climber had to be rescued after falling 50 to 60 feet on Cannon Cliff in New Hampshire. In upstate New York, a woman survived a 70-foot spill at Kaaterskill Falls, and another climber tumbled nearly 40 feet at Platte Clove, both on the same day in late January.

Monjak, a rock climber turned ice climber, said the key is to stay within one's abilities.

"We're not new to the terrors of the heights or the predicaments we put ourselves in. The new part is working your way through that terror. It's just you got a new set of tools and a new set of obstacles," he said.

On Dracula, Monjak trusted his life to a rope being belayed by his partner, Yuki Fujita, who has been climbing Frankenstein's ice for nearly 50 years. Fujita, 69, a retired nuclear engineer, climbed the route first.

Elsewhere in the park is Arethusa Falls, where a 60-foot pitch attracts climbers.

In late January, Akiko Kawai, 51, of Medford, Massachusetts, was climbing with two partners. As she packed her gear following several successful climbs, she said she doesn't dwell on the sport's dangers.

"You can choose the level of risk," she said. "The more informed you are about it the more you are aware of the level of what your comfort level is."

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