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Gear Guy

How to Place Ice Screws – Will Gadd’s Tips

Master ice climber Will Gadd gives practical tips for better, safer and more efficient ice-screw placement.

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Carry more “short” ice screws. The standard rack here in the Canadian Rockies used to be a batch of 21cm or longer screws. Now the vast majority of my screws are 13cm, with a few stubbies if needed and one 21cm screw for V or A threads (I don’t think it matters much which one you use really). Clear the surface ice to get to good ice and a 13cm BD is as strong as a longer screw or close enough it doesn’t matter. Longer screws tend to hit rock and are then ever the same again; it’s far better to use a “too short” screw than one that’s too long. If I could only have one screw size it would be the 13cm

Dig hard to get to good ice for screws. A few days ago I set up a belay in a spot where a lot of other people had done the same; in my opinion almost every screw at that belay station was junk, I broke an “onion” skin off that was 15 cm thick and riddled with holes. In my view many if not most ice climbers don’t do enough clearing to get good screws, especially at belays. This is likely what led to a recent situation where three of the four ice screws in the system blew. Clear yer ice, get something undeniably solid or don’t bother with the screwBy.