Ice climbing is a thrilling and challenging sport that requires the right gear and techniques for a safe and successful experience.
In this article, we provide expert advice and equipment tips to help you gear up for ice mountain climbing.
From essential gear like crampons and ice axes to mastering crampon techniques and choosing the right ice axes, we cover everything you need to know to tackle icy terrain.
Having the right gear is crucial for a safe and successful ice climbing experience. Each item serves a specific purpose in ensuring climbers are equipped to handle the challenges of icy terrain.
- Crampons: These are metal attachments that you strap onto your boots. They have sharp points or spikes that grip onto the ice, providing traction and stability while climbing.
- Ice Axes: Ice axes are versatile tools used for both balance and self-arrest. They typically have a sharp pick for digging into the ice and a spike on the other end for stability.
- Ropes: Ropes are crucial for safety in ice climbing. They are used for belaying, rappelling, and securing climbers to anchors or to each other.
- Climbing Harnesses: Harnesses are worn around the waist and thighs, providing a secure attachment point for ropes and protecting against falls.
- Crevasse Rescue Equipment: This gear includes pulleys, prusik cords, and other tools used for extricating a climber from a crevasse in the event of a fall.
- Carabiners: Carabiners are strong metal clips used for attaching ropes, slings, and protection to harnesses or anchors.
- Climbing Helmets: Helmets are essential for protecting the head from falling ice, rocks, or other hazards during ice climbing.
- The Ten Essentials: These are a set of items that every ice climber should carry, including a compass, map, extra clothing, headlamp, navigation tools, emergency shelter, first aid kit, fire-starting tools, food, and water.
- Layered Clothing, Snow or Ski Goggles, Mountaineering Boots: Layered clothing keeps you warm and allows for easy adjustment based on changing weather. Snow or Ski goggles protect your eyes from snow, ice, and harsh sunlight. Mountaineering boots provide insulation, support, and traction in icy conditions.
When choosing the right ice axes, it’s important to consider your experience level and the type of ice climbing you plan to do. Here are three key factors to keep in mind:
If you’re a beginner, it’s best to start with a basic ice axe that’s versatile and easy to use. As you gain more experience and confidence, you can upgrade to more specialized axes.
Different types of ice climbing require different types of ice axes. For example, if you’re planning to climb steep ice or mixed routes, you’ll need technical ice axes with curved shafts and aggressive picks. On the other hand, if you’re doing more glacier travel or moderate ice climbing, a straight-shafted mountaineering axe may be sufficient.
Ultimately, the best ice axe for you is one that feels comfortable and suits your climbing style. Consider factors such as weight, handle shape, and grip when making your decision.
To master crampon techniques, it’s important to understand the differences between French and German techniques.
Understanding the French technique can greatly enhance your ice climbing skills. Here are three key points to keep in mind:
This technique is ideal for low-angle to moderately steep ice. Keep all crampon points in contact with the ice, including your heels. As the slope angle increases, turn your toes outward to walk duck-like and keep your feet flat.
As the terrain becomes steeper, you may need to sidestep. Plant your uphill foot solidly, then cross your lower foot over it and plant solidly. Make sure to plant all points except the front two to maintain stability.
Don’t repeatedly kick to set the crampon points, as it can weaken the ice. Also, keep your heels lowered to prevent the front points from popping out. This is crucial when transitioning to flatter terrain.
Don’t overlook the benefits of combining the German technique with the French technique for a more comfortable and effective ice climbing experience.
The German technique, also known as front-pointing, is used on slopes of about 45° and up. When using this technique, you face the slope and kick your toes in to plant the front points of your crampons. This is the most direct way to ascend a steep slope but can be hard on your calf muscles.
You can achieve efficient climbing on moderately steep ice by combining the German technique with the French technique. This involves kicking your toes in to plant the front points of your crampons and keeping all other crampon points in contact with the ice.
Here are three reasons why this combination technique is effective:
- Increased traction: By using the front points of your crampons to dig into the ice, you have better grip and stability. This allows you to confidently ascend steeper slopes without slipping.
- Reduced strain on calf muscles: The German technique, which involves front-pointing, can be quite tiring on the calf muscles. By incorporating the French technique and keeping all points of your crampons in contact with the ice, you distribute the workload and minimize fatigue.
- Improved balance: By keeping your feet flat and splayed out to the side, while planting the front points of one foot, you create a stable base. This helps you maintain balance and control as you navigate the ice.
When facing into the ice or snow and front-pointing on steep ice (45° and higher), use the low dagger position. Hold the axe by the head at the adze and push the pick into the slope at the waist or chest level. This position is used for short stretches to maintain balance.
If the slope gets even steeper, switch to the high dagger position. Hold the axe above your head with your hand wrapped around the head and the pick facing into the slope. The high dagger provides more security and is effective on very steep terrain.
To maximize security while navigating steep ice, use the anchor position by holding the axe near the bottom of the shaft and firmly setting the pick into the ice overhead. Progress upward, shifting hands higher on the shaft until one hand is holding the axe head.
For very steep or overhanging ice, use the traction position with two tools, planting the picks securely in the ice and working your feet upward. Snug wrist loops are essential for maintaining a strong grip and allowing rest moments by hanging with bent knees and straightened arms.
When placing your ice tools, prioritize depressions in the ice as they are stronger and more resistant to fracturing. If following a partner, use the holes they’ve left as placement spots. Aim for a single confident swing rather than multiple taps to save energy and maintain the integrity of the ice.
Find the right amount of force to avoid tiring your arms, and align your shoulder, wrist, and axe for a secure placement. When removing your tools, lift them out in the same direction they went in, moving the pick back and forth and pushing up on the adze or hammer. Avoid wiggling the pick side to side to prevent breakage.
Just like in rock climbing, it’s important to protect yourself while ice climbing in case of a slip. Anchors are used to belay your climbing partner and safely rappel down. Ice climbers use these tools and methods for protection:
- Natural Anchors: Sometimes, you can find sturdy ice columns or rocks that can work as anchors. You can use slings or webbing to secure yourself to these natural features.
- Ice Screws: These tools are like sharp screws that you can drill into the ice to create strong anchors. They provide a reliable attachment point.
- Ice Pitons: These are spikes that you can hammer into the ice to create secure anchor points. However, using pitons is less common today due to ice damage concerns.
- Abalakov V-Thread: This method involves making two intersecting holes in the ice and threading a cord or sling through them to create a V shape. This serves as a strong anchor for rappelling.
- Ice Bollard: By carving a big block of ice from consolidated areas, you can create an anchor. Wrap ropes or slings around the block to secure it. Ice bollards are useful in areas with solid ice.
So now that you have the essential gear and techniques needed for ice climbing, it’s time to put them to the test. Remember to always prioritize safety and stay informed about weather conditions and avalanche risks.
With the right equipment and knowledge, you’re ready to conquer the icy terrain and experience the thrill of ice mountain climbing.
So gear up, embrace the challenge, and embark on an unforgettable adventure into the world of ice climbing.