Recently I got to go ice climbing for the first time near Madison. Tying in and belaying were basically same as rock climbing, but there were tons of differences. Here's some of the stuff I liked and disliked versus rock climbing:
– Huge reaches. You're allowed to – no, encouraged to – strike as high above your head as you want. You can literally use the entire face and do traverses wherever you want.
– Anything works as a foothold. It takes some getting used to, but get your front points into the ice and they'll probably stick.
– Changing conditions. Every time you go back to somewhere you ice-climbed before, it'll look a little different. Ice doesn't stay constant like rock, so you can get a variety of climbs in the same spot.
– Tendon relief. Ice climbing doesn't put a lot of stress on your fingers, so if you have the common tendon injuries of rock climbing, you can allow them to heal while having a fun day on the ice.
– Stress relief. Go ahead and slam your axe into the ice. It feels so good.
– Good boots and crampons are hard to come by. I broke two pairs of crampons strapped to my hiking boots before giving up. You really should have proper ice climbing boots, and they're really expensive.
– Hazards. You're carrying ice axes, wearing crampons, and repeatedly striking ice. Yeah, sometimes chunks break off and can hurt you if you're not careful or just get unlucky.
– Less leg flexibility/foot creativity. Forget about edging. You're foot'll slide straight off the ice. Doing the splits or even stretching your legs a few inches wider than shoulder width or higher than your knees is almost useless. You need to move your feet up a little at a time in the center of your body only.
If you're a rock climber, then climbing some ice can be a great way to get over the winter blues. I'll definitely be back for more next year, assuming I can find some decent gear.