Minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning, minus 7 for finals. The
2019 Ice Climbing Youth World Championships, February 28 – March 2
in Oulu, Finland, had everything: blasting wind, sun, heavy snow, and
a hammering on finals day of what Keenan Griscom, 16, calls “more
graupel than snow.”
“It was too cold for the snow to be fluffy, so it was compacted. It was
kind of nice when it started raining, because then it was warm enough
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He dealt with the weather just fine, however, and won the event, the
only U-16 male finalist to top the route. So far he is the only American
male ice competitor to bring out the national anthem at a world
There is some irony in weather interjecting itself into modern
competition ice climbing, where the lead event involves no ice (speed
events are on ice), instead requiring athletic “dry tooling” on on
overhanging walls and free-swinging volumes.
Keenan, whose parents started him climbing at age 2 or 3, says,
“I spend a lot of time with my dad doing big alpine routes, those big
sufferfests, so I’m kind of down for being uncomfortable and trying hard.”
A 10th grader from Arvada, Colorado, and competitor of three years,
Keenan spoke to Rock and Ice last February at the Ice Climbing World
Cup in Denver, where he was too young to take part, and again in late
2019 on the eve of his next season.
He trains at local gyms but also on a 22- by 12-foot wooden dry-tooling
structure he and his climber father, Glen, built in their backyard.
Asked to describe himself, Keenan says he is “a bit shy,” though he
is happy to talk about his sport. “When I’m hanging out with people I
know,” he adds, “I’m pretty loud.”
Q&A with Keenan Griscom
What’s your schedule like?
I normally train four weekdays and do my best to climb outside both days on weekends just for fun. We go to the Vail Amphitheater, or there’s a
couple of caves in Colorado Springs. One is in an abandoned train tunnel, with over a hundred feet of horizontal. That one’s pretty rad. I’ve done some of the routes there. There’s three I’m working. You can go all year long. There’s never any ice, just dry tooling, so conditions don’t really matter.
Four weekdays and both weekend days? That’s not much rest.
Your body gets used to it. The first four months I was training that much I was constantly tired and always sore. But you adapt. I’ll notice it in comps,
multi-day competitions, I’m able to compete at my max the second day.
So you train when?
I’ll start at 4:30, train to 7 or 8, come home, eat dinner, go to bed. I do a lot of my homework during school.
You’re at the age where some people have started partying. Are you too busy
Part of it’s … I don’t really have the desire to. I kind of separate school and climbing. When I’m at school I’m there to learn and take part. I don’t have
much of a social life at school. When it comes to climbing, I have a lot of really close friends. I’m not part of the normal high-school groups.
Do people at school know what you do?
In dry tooling, you take the most contrived part of climbing, and you make it even more contrived. You try to explain, Yeah, I have ice axes, but there’s no ice involved. … I tend not to bring it up.
What interests you at school?
Art is a major interest. I’m pretty good with math. It makes sense to me. I’d like to try and get into a [high-school extension] welding course. Mostly as a trade but also kind of as an art. I draw a little. I’ve been in choir four years. When I’m not climbing during the summer, I go to skate parks. During winter, I go skiing and snowboarding.
There’s the Ouray Ice Fest, January 25. Then after that, stay home until the World Cup, and a week later the European Championships in Finland. I’d
like to do Festiglace in Canada. Honestly, the more comps you can get, the
better. Because every comp is just a really good learning experience. A lot of time how you train will change after a comp. You watch people who were
able to do sections easier, and everyone is really nice, and you can ask questions and train differently for the next season.
— First place, Ice Climbing World Youth Championships, 2019,
— Second place, Ouray Ice Festival speed-climbing competition, Ouray, Colorado, 2019.
— 13th place, his first Ouray Ice Festival comp, 2018. Youngest
competitor, age 14.
— Sent full Red Bull and Vodka (M11), two-pitch ice/mixed route at the Vail Amphitheater, Vail, Colorado, 2018, after doing the first pitch a year prior.
— Zero to Hero (D12, for dry tooling) and onsighted Pull the Trigger (D11) at the Hall of Justice, Ouray.
This interview with Keenan Griscom appeared in Rock and Ice issue 262 (March 2020).