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The Ice Climbers

Nick Grybauskas clings like a spider to the wall of ice. Soon there will be a 20 foot -- and counting -- vertical drop between man and ground.

Grybauskas hugs the hillside. He loves this.

"It's almost like -," says Grybauskas, a senior philosophy major, "I hate to be all spiritual but when you're up there on the ice and it's just you and the ice, it's all about getting in the zone. It's all about mental control just as it's about physical control."

... when you're up there on the ice and it's just you and the ice, it's all about getting in the zone.
Nick Grybauskas

Grybauskas ice climbs with the Syracuse University Outing Club. The group comprises an eclectic group of adrenaline junkies. During Syracuse winters when most folks are bundled up indoors, these SUOC members are outside-climbing mountains of ice.

On a Saturday in early February, five of the club members troop into two cars headed to Salmon River Falls, about an hour drive north of campus. They toss crates of equipment-helmets, ropes, ice axes, crampons (the spikes necessary for sticking to the ice walls)-into the trunk. 

It's a warm day: Temperatures are just above freezing. The 50-foot walls of ice are solid, although there's a softness that makes sticking the axe a little difficult.

Blood is flowing. So is sweat. After one climb over the glinting blue-green sheaths of ice and the climber can remove his or her coat.

Tom Ferris suits up to climb after rappelling down into the Amphitheatre. He's a seasoned rock climber. But this is his first time ice climbing.

A rope, secured by SU doctoral student Jitka Sinecka, is fastened to Ferris as he struggles over the shimmering shale. The first time's the charm for Ferris. He reaches the top and bounds back down.

"It's a good adrenaline rush," Ferris says. "It's just a way to burn off excess energy on the weekend. You're just like on this big exposed face of ice. You just look down and it's completely vertical. It's kind of cool just hanging on it, and moving up it.

Nobody can ever be an expert when it comes to extreme sports. They slip. They drop equipment on climbs. They embrace the ice. But the ice doesn't always embrace them.

At the top of the hill, Grybauskas recalls his worst fall. Some "crucial mistakes" he made resulted in his plummeting 85 feet before the ropes caught him. He says he was lucky to escape with only a broken ankle.

This day just ends with everyone exhausted. As the sun starts to set, Ferris passes around a thermos of hot chocolate mixed with rum. Grybauskas barely can stay awake on the ride back. But he's not finished yet.

Says Grybauskas: "Of course the second you're done you're already plotting again for your next trip out or what your next climbs going to be."

great photos :)

great photos :)

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