On the Ice: A Conversation With Matt Horner

If you're in the Adirondacks and you start to ask around about ice climbing, you're likely to hear the same thing: Talk to Matt Horner, a climbing guide with the Mountaineer in Keene Valley. Matt's social media channels make it pretty clear why. They're loaded with stunning photos of people wielding ice axes as they ascend impossibly steep, otherworldy-white-and-blue curtains of shimmering ice. It's inspiring, beautiful, and a little scary (check them out at Instagram.com/matthewdhorner). He's climbed around the world and completed a lot of new routes in the Adirondacks, including one on Poke-O-Moonshine called "Endangered Species" that's only been repeated once.

When Matt isn't climbing he can be found sculpting rock.

We recently asked Matt about how he got into climbing, why he loves the Adirondacks, and why people of any skill level should hire a climbing guide. Here's what he had to say.

1. How long have you been climbing for? How did you get into it?

I have been climbing since 1992 or 3 and got into it because it looked interesting. I bought some books and enlisted a friend and we went climbing. I was hooked immediately. We learned by trial and error... Mostly error! Not the best way to do it. I learned quickly that I needed some instruction. I went to NOLS - Wind River mountaineering course. After that course I went to the  wilderness education association program at North Country Community college in Saranac Lake. It wasn’t my plan to stay. I was planning on moving out west. But I meet some great people and just fell in love with the area and have been here ever since. 

Climbing routes often have quirky names, like this one on Poke-O-Moonshine called "Hold the Mayo."

2. There are a lot of places a climbing guide can live. Why did you choose the Adirondacks?

I think the Adirondacks is one of the best places anywhere to climb ice. Very accessible and of excellent quality at all ability levels. 

3. I understand you’ve climbed all over the world. Can you please give me some examples of the places you’ve climbed in?

I have climbed quite a bit in the continental USA as well as Peru, Ecuador, Alaska, Mongolia, Western and Eastern Canada, and Scotland. 

Climbing "The Waterfall" on Poke-O-Moonshine.

4. What’s your favorite climb in the Adirondacks?

I can’t say I have one favorite climb in the Adirondacks. It’s always been about the partnerships and the experience on a climb that we shared. The one climb I have probably climbed the most is "Power Play Direct." The most intense and thus memorable experience was a failed attempt on "Gorillas in the Mist" at night. The climbs up at Avalanche Lake (in the HIgh Peaks) are at the top of my list of favorites. 

5. What is the most challenging climb you’ve done? Why was it so challenging?

Climbing is more of a mental challenge than a physical one, outside of the cutting edge stuff. The most challenging climb was not the most physically demanding. I would have to say one of the more intense climbing experiences was a solo up the West Face Direct on Mount Tocllaraju in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. I had never been that high — 6,032 meters (that's 19,790 feet!) — and I climbed it via a technical route, alone and without a rope. A great adventure in a committing style.  

6. Tell me a little bit about why you like climbing on Poke-O-Moonshine. 

Poke-O has some of the longer routes in the Adirondacks. It’s a gem. There are many facets to Poke-O, not just the main face. There are hidden gems everywhere. The climbing tends to be on the more difficult side, but there is a range of routes for different skill levels if you know where to find them and are willing to walk a bit. It is generally a place where you need to lead the climbs, although there is some top roping but it is limited. 

One of the many routes on Poke-O-Moonshine.

7. How many new routes have you done in the Adirondacks? What is it like completing a route no one has ever done before?

I don’t know how many new routes I have done. A fair amount. Last season I did ten, which was one of my better seasons. I really enjoy putting up new routes. It’s all about the adventure, climbing with great partners that you can share the experience with, on terrain where no one has been. 

8. What are the benefits of hiring a guide in the Adirondacks? Are guides just for beginners?

Guides are for all ability levels. Sometimes it’s a new climber trying to break into the sport, or experienced climbers looking to learn some new tricks and improve their techniques, or a person that just wants to climb certain routes that are above their ability to lead. 

9. At what age can people start climbing? 

I have guided people as young as 7. Rock climbing you can start very young. Ice is a bit more difficult. Swinging ice axes takes a bit of strength and also dealing with the cold temps. I think around 10 is a good time.

Trusting your gear is important!

10. What would you say to someone who says “I don’t think I can climb.” How about to someone who says “I’d try climbing but I’m afraid of heights!”

Anyone can climb if they have an open mind and are willing to put in a little effort. There are easier climbs that are well suited to learning and having a great and fun experience. Fear of heights can be a challenge but it can be overcome by doing climbs that are less exposed and lower angle. It’s more about trusting the systems and that they work, which of course they do!  

11. Is there anything else you’d like to add about guiding, hiring a guide, or climbing on Poke-O-Moonshine?

Climbing is a great way to experience the outdoors. There are very few things in my experience that put you in the now better than climbing does. 

 

Plan your adventure getaway in the Lake Champlain region today! 


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