Marko Pujic – Born in Croatia and moved to the U.S. at age 7. Calls the frigid winters of Bozeman Montana home and is breaking the ice all over the globe.
Ice Climbing isn’t the easiest sport to break into, who introduced you?
I actually started climbing in Bozeman Montana, went to the Bozeman Ice Festival and couldn’t stop. My Introduction to ice climbing was a great opportunity, and now I’m proud to give back as one of the organizers, teaching at clinics and designing the competitions. It’s a great chance for people to try the sport or advance their skill level in a safe, controlled environment with professionals instructing proper techniques and how to understand the terrain.
Sine then, Marko’s done expeditions all over the world; from epic alpine/mountain ice climbs across Europe and some of North America’s most challenging frozen water ice climbs. Ice climbers see some of the worlds most epic views – only experienced by adrenaline fanatics with nerves of steel.
Ice climbing has been dubbed for years as the world’s most dangerous sport. Do you feel it deserves the reputation? “No. For those who respect the sport and understand the terrain and take the climbing conditions seriously – ice climbing can be an exciting and secure activity. The sport is just so foreign that people can’t relate to it. The equipment secures you to the ice in a way that that in many aspects, makes ice climbing safer than rock climbing. ”
Climbing conditions can vary dramatically, from packed snow to solid frozen waterfalls. Each surface requires a specific technique and routes are planned accordingly. It’s not just planning head of time, it’s training head of time. Breaking into solid ice requires upper and lower body strength, and often without much leverage. So you’d better bring nerves of steel, and guns of steel.
Adrenaline Addict + Conditioned Athlete = Ice Climber
Ice climbers experience the most epic and spectacular views on the globe, only seen by the most extreme and conditioned of athletes. Yet these adrenaline addicts can be caught in survival situations, including severe snow storms in subfreezing temperatures at high elevations with only the equipment on their back to sustain them. Expeditions are planned meticulously, with weather and ice conditions thoroughly evaluated before venturing out. You might also need to make reservations in advance for a portaledge at 6,000 meters hooked securely to the ice. Sweet dreams.
Beyond the Ice – Step Child of Rock Climbing and Mountaineering – the extreme of both worlds brings the best views and the adrenaline that gives this sport the rep of worlds most dangerous sport. Yet as you can see, climbers don’t always stick to the ice – advanced and challenging routes may require traversing through rocks and other obstacles. Again, understanding your routes, conditions and your own abilities are key to ensuring your safety.
“Three Rules of Ice Climbing” Marko comments almost everyone has gone rock climbing at least once, yet it seems the new generation of rock climbers have a very casual approach. Many learned in the gym and rely too much the rope to catch them when the climbs get too difficult or when they tire. Marko strictly advises there are 3 rules to Ice Climbing:
1. Don’t fall.
2. Don’t Fall.
3. DON’T FALL.
Don’t Fall. This advice into perspective when comparing ice climbing falls to rock climbing. “When rock climbing, a 5-10 foot fall may not be viewed as a big deal. When ice climbing you have crampons on your feet with 1-2 inch spikes sharp as razors. They will catch the ice as you fall, and you’ll likely break you ankle or your leg. Worse still, if you are the lead climber – you could seriously injure the partner below you.”
In fact, Marko found himself in a near survival situation the first time he climbed the Black Ice Couloir in the Grand Titans. Another party came up behind them and wanted to make a pass. The second climber in the party above Marko fell 20 feet and knocked Marko off the ice. Fortunately the other climbers rope caught Marko, as Marko’s last piece of protection was 50 feet below. Marko had lost his ice pick and his footing along with the fall. The other climber was hanging upside down from his rope, with Marko’s ice pick dangling from his pack.
After they both got situated back on the ice (upright), Marko noticed a hole in his jacket from the other climbers crampon. He quickly realized the hole didn’t just go through his jacket – it went right through his arm. To this day, this is a battle wound Marko sees every day reminding the realities of Ice Climbing. So again – DON’T FALL. For your sake and everyone else on the ice.
Nepal – Himalayan Fever
While he’s done expeditions all over Europe and the tallest peaks in North America, Marko’s favorite destination has been Nepal. “Longest trip I’ve done, 6 weeks of travel – 4 weeks of pure climbing. Our destination was lush Rolwaling Valley, surrounded by massive 7,000 meter peaks. Our largest climb was the height of Denali in Alaska, EPIC. We stayed in a Sherpa village and took day trips out of the village into the canyons. We were immersed in new culture, it became a completely unforeseen aspect of the trip – and the climbing
Any other adrenaline addicts in your family?
That would be my Grandpa. He’s my inspiration and shares my love of the outdoors. I went on my first mountain climb with him in Slovania when he was 70. He is in his 80’s now and he still goes skiing.
There you have it, expert Marko Pujic dishing the real deal from “inside the ice”. The sport is much more accessible than it used to be thanks to exposure from events such as the Bozeman Ice Festival and other sponsoring events. If you live in an ice box location like Bozeman, check around for events. You might be surprised to find opportunities in your area. Ice Climbing is an excellent way to enjoy a whole new aspect of winter.
Thanks to Marko and his ice expert climbing partners for sharing their photo’s with us. For more information, and if you have questions for Marko – leave a comment!