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Gear Guy

How to Place Ice Tools and Crampons – Will Gadd’s Tips

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

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Push on the ice with both your hand on your lower tool and by taking your hand off the tool and pushing on the ice to balance, just like rock. I do this a lot, it’s intuitive now, but as I teach and coach I remember it’s not obvious until it’s learned. The long head of my triceps always gets sore from pushing when climbing ice, along with the lats… If you think about rock climbing you’ll probably remember all the pushing you do to move up, not just the pulling. Ice is the same, if one hand is pulling the other is pushing on the lower tool or ice…

Good rock climbers can learn to climb ice a lot faster than good ice climbers can learn to climb rock. I attribute this to the fact that rock climbers already have the fitness, and just require motion training, while most ice climbers are relatively weak. But, while a rock climber can learn to get up about any ice climb in a season or two, just getting up a climb does not mean doing it well. I have seen reasonably competent rock climbers move with glacial speed on what for a good ice climber is 5.5 terrain. I think the real artistry and style of ice climbing is not in just getting up a pitch, but doing so quickly and securely. It’s like running–anyone can run a mile, but it’s another thing to do it in under five minutes… I would rather see someone climbing well below their max but in total control than someone pushing it on ice, not worth it.

I’m seeing more and more people top-roping and working on their skills in Haffner and other places. This is great!

If you don’t have a good placement don’t pull up on it. The situation will not improve. Make good placements, which are pretty much always possible. I see so many climbers get shallow placement and then pull up on it anyhow, which leads them to place the second tool at the same level as the poor placement.

Don’t yell “ICE!” unless things are getting really western and someone is clearly in danger. This isn’t sport climbing, ice is going to fall off all the time, and the shout of “ice” loses its effectiveness rapidly if everyone is yelling ice for every little bit of falling water.

Finally, watch out for free hangers. I wrote a little about this here.