I’m hardly a daredevil, and when it comes to outdoor adventures, I’d always opted for tame activities such as hiking and nature journaling over riskier pursuits like parasailing (too high), dogsledding (too fast), and heli-skiing (so dangerous).
Over the past couple of years, though, my kids and I have started spending a lot more time outside, and we’ve been thirsting for novel experiences. So my interest was piqued earlier this winter when I learned about an international platform that makes it easy for novices like me to schedule adventures with trained experts.
Founded in 2019 by two outdoor enthusiasts, 57Hours curates adventures that connect families to nature. “Every weekend should involve time spent outdoors and enjoying it to the fullest,” explains the company’s co-founder, Perica Levatic. “That means taking advantage of the full 57 hours from 3 p.m. on Friday to midnight on Sunday.” Hence the company’s name.
Why not? I booked a half-day ice-climb for me, my husband, and our nine-year-old son. Then I spent the rest of the week trying my best not to think about falling from a frozen waterfall.
Preparing for Ice Climbing
“You only have to climb up as far as feels comfortable,” said one of our guides, Nathan, on the morning of the trip, as we filled out paperwork in a parking lot in Golden. “Going up isn’t mandatory, but coming down is,” he joked.
Our other guide, Joey, handed out boots to try on, then showed us how to do a “kick test”—kicking our boots against a curb to make sure they were sized right. After double checking that we’d packed all of the essentials—extra socks and gloves, warm coats, plenty of water, and snacks that wouldn’t freeze like cheese, chocolate, and nuts—Joey gave us our harnesses and crampons (traction devices that attach to boots). Then we were off, following their Subaru Outback into Clear Creek Canyon, to an obscure trailhead that’s used solely in the winter for ice climbing.
The Trek to the Climb
I knew there was a half-hour hike to our climbing destination, but I had no idea that the walk in would be an adventure in itself. We trekked across a frozen river, then headed up a snowy, icy trail. I was on edge, but everyone else loved the experience, and my son especially enjoyed the impromptu snowball fight that broke out with our guides.
“We put a lot of effort into picking sociable and fun guides, people you would enjoy spending a day adventuring with,” Levatic says. And a note on safety: 57Hours works only with experienced, certified guides who are permitted and licensed for the scope of work they are doing.
After the hike, we reached Secret Falls, a massive frozen waterfall in the middle of the forest. Joey must have seen the look on my face. “It’s a full 35 meters of climbing,” he said. “That’s about a hundred feet.”
Two other groups were already climbing when we arrived. Ice climbers are a friendly bunch, and everyone was glad to let my family work in. Joey and Nathan quickly put our ropes up, then they showed us how to swing our tools and kick our crampons into the frozen water.
I was scared, so I insisted on climbing first. That way I wouldn’t chicken out while watching my family climb. “Everyone’s afraid. It’s all about managing the fear,” Joey said as I prepared to ascend. But the biggest surprise of all was how secure I felt on the ice.
My son and I climbed more than half way to the top (higher than I’d expected), and my husband made it all the way. Swinging the tools was exhilarating and exhausting. Between the cold and the exertion, ice climbing is physically demanding on the body.
Our guides were prepared for everything, including how cold I got while waiting for the rest of our group to take their turns on the wall. When Nathan saw me shivering uncontrollably, an early warning sign of hypothermia, he produced several warm, puffy jackets from his pack, and insisted my son and I put them on.
After a couple of hours, we hiked back to the car and drove home for some well-needed rest. Ice climbing ended up being a bigger adventure than I’d anticipated, and it’s not for every family. That said, I don’t think you need to be very strong or physically fit to try it. (My son is not strong at all, and he didn’t have a single issue.) If your family would like to start with a less strenuous adventure, the company has options for that too—and maybe you can gear up for ice climbing next year.
Need To Know: Hiking trips booked through 57Hours are usually the least demanding option, physically speaking. For a slightly more challenging experience, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing can be great introductions into the wintry backcountry. Adventures range from half- and full-day experiences to multi-day trips. A single guide can usually take up to six participants, and many trip rates decrease as the group grows. If you’re choosing to adventure with somebody under the age of 18—and there are plenty of family friendly options—it is generally necessary to contact the company prior to booking.