Ice Climbing 101

ice climbing the Matanuska

A MICA Guide manages the rope system while a climber ascends from glacial meltwater below

Ice climbing is a wild and unique way to explore the Alaskan wilderness. Before you start there is a lot to learn. Arriving with a good idea of what to expect can help ease your worries and get you prepared for a day of adventure with MICA Guides.


When you arrive at MICA, in Glacier View, you will check in and meet your guide. At base, you will get outfitted with all the specialized ice climbing equipment you will need. And after a short drive down the road you will arrive at the toe of the Matanuska Glacier, ready to trek. The trek out to the climbing areas is no simple undertaking. The journey involves up to 2 miles of rocky and icy glacier before breaking out the climbing gear. Luckily, our guides have more entertaining and engaging info about glaciers and Alaska than you can fit in on your hike out. Or, you can skip the moraine bashing and enjoy a helicopter ride out!

line of people on ice with helmets on

A line of climbers follow their guide to the back country of the Matanuska Glacier

The Journey

Once you have hiked out with your climbing gear, you will be rewarded with some of the best views in Alaska. Most places you must learn to ice climb on frozen waterfalls (rather than glaciers) but this is far colder and more dangerous. On the Matanuska Glacier, the ice is so thick that you can be ice climbing in the sunshine. Simultaneously, the ambient temperature is well above freezing. The long hours of sunlight helps out even more by making a crunchy ‘sun crust’. It is much easier sink ice axes and crampons into. Few things are more satisfying (and reassuring) than the solid thunk of an ice axe sinking deep into crunchy glacial ice!

The Destination

hiker goes into ice crevasse

This climber explores a crevasse on the way to the climb site

With so many walls to choose from, our guides will tailor the climbs to the ability and interests of the group. You will start by learning how to swing an ice axe and kick your feet into the wall. This allows participants to quickly progress to an introductory climb using one ice axe. Then it is your turn to test your skills. This involves climbing in canyons, crevasses, and sometimes even ice caves! There are climbs for every level to enjoy, but just don’t forget about the hike back! As Mt. Everest guide Ed Viestures says, “Getting to the top is optional, but getting down is mandatory”.

Though ice climbing is a genuinely fun activity, at moments it can dip into the realm of ‘Type 2 Fun’. This can be categorized as the type of fun enjoyed as a great story but can be hard and scary in the moment. While much of the day involves classic ‘Type 1 fun’ (fun that is enjoyed in the moment), Type 2 fun requires a sense of adventure.

Additionally, understanding that some fun is best enjoyed in retrospect. While high up an icy wall you might wonder why you are up there. Time will show that the gripping stories and jaw-dropping pictures will make it all worth it. If you feel like one day is not enough check out our overnight glacier experience to make the most of your glacier experience.

Author: Adam Gellman