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The cold world of alpine climbing.

The cold world of alpine climbing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ice tools...part one.

right..Hafner, first day on borrowed Nomics

I have been putting this post off for a long time. There are many great tools out there in the market place and I am simply biased on what I use and how they work for me. I know that. But magic is magic and I hate to ignore it as it can just as easily come back to bite you in the ass. Or so I believe :)

Pure ice at "almost any angle" can be climbed fairly well with just about any old club with a good size nail through it.

The old Choiunard wooden tools and McInnes Terrodactyls come to mind. With the two or something similar having climbed many of the early Grade V and VI Canadian, European and Alaskan ice climbs.

I do admit I have now having climbed stuff steeper than "almost any angle" that I could not have climbed with a club and nail. All with less effort. Bravo to the newest tools!

Let me back up a bit though.

I remember bugging a buddy of mine about taking a curved shafted tools on big technical route on the South Face of Denali. At the time it had yet to have a second ascent. For as much easier terrain low on the route and true slogging up high I thought it a mistake. Although he ended up taking a moderately curved tool, the original BD Cobra, and a straight shafted tool CF BP as his pair I wasn't convinced it was a good idea.

My buddy on the other hand..simply said to me, "open your mind."

I did notice he didn't take two Cobras on that trip though :) We both were going to expand our minds on the new tools and going leashless soon enough.

So as you can see it took some time and effort for me to change from a straight shaft to a curved, high clearance shaft tool.

My first experience with a high clearance tool was with the original Quark. For me it was a radically shaped shaft coming from straight tools or even the moderately bent lower grips that were more common. For the time the huge clearance that the Quark offered seemed like a a futuristic ice tool never destined for general use. I used the Quark with leashes for a couple of winters before the grip rests came out. With a leash it didn't seem any better than many of the tools that came before it, the Quazars or Chacals or early Cobras. It was easier to get out of the ice. Big improvement but that was pick design not shaft design. I wasn't climbing enough or hard enough to really take advantage of any new advantage any new tool offered while leashed.

My first day leashless trying to remember how to climb ice.

Adding the now common grip rest shed some light on the revolution that was to come with tools specifically designed to be leashless.

My experience with leashless came after not climbing for a couple of full seasons. Then jumping back in, I spent a week in our old haunts in the Canadian Rockies. The first day on leashes. The second day leashless and not really happy with the idea. Frightening actually for many reasons. Biggest one was using the wrong glove system. The first half of the third day back on leashes and during that day I pulled my leashes off and have never gone back. I also got a thinner glove. Big help! But it really didn't take much to convince me. Even without totally understanding (and far from it) it was obvious to me leashless has some huge advantages. I could live to learn live without.

It did take some time to sort out how to use a leashless tool and the gloves appropriate for them but that all came with time. The entire time most climbers were still arguing that leashes were still better on difficult terrain. There were a few that realised it was actually the faster and easier method to climb.

It was obvious even on pure ice at a moderate level of difficulty that leashless had some huge advantages, being warmer one of them. The other making climbing easier and less tiring. You could shake out at your leisure any time. No more totally blown forearms. I have used umbilicals since the '70s so dropping a tool was never a fear. Surprising to me I was a instant convert.

So for me leashless was a huge revolution in ice climbing. Not the tools so much as the added freedom, strength and warmth of being leashless. Then I climbed on a pair of Nomics at Hafner.

It was the second winter the Nomic was out. I was coming off a recent distal bicep surgery and was over weight and weak. Add to that being.seriously old school, I seldom intentionally touched an ice tool pick intentionally to rock. Let alone crank on a pick stuck in rock. All the "new" mixed made little sense to me. But encouraged to do just that with a Nomic, it not only opened my eyes to a new style of climbing rock but also just how easy difficult ice could be by just hooking placements and not actually swinging.

The Nomic, as weird as it looked, climbed like nothing I had ever experienced. It was an instant jump in my previous climbing ability, while still weak and fat. The ice grades that I had done with some real effort in the '80s I was repeating now with less strength, with ease. Truly amazing to me that gear (the new screws and clothing were obviously a big help too) had made such a difference.

I was so impressed with the Nomics that I started taking them anywhere there might be ice to climb. And interesting enough my bet payed off. I was now climbing mixed stuff harder than anything I had done previous and again with less effort.

The high clearance shaft allows a high dagger position that is best used to cover moderate alpine terrain quickly. In tight mixed (or vertical ice) being able to match on the shaft of a single tool allows fewer placements. The double grips on the Nomic really began to shine for me. And they hooked so easily. I cut my swings on a pitch in 1/2 no matter what the terrain

And I seldom missed a shaft spike in the alpine.

Last season, the newest 2nd generation Black Diamond Fusion showed up. BD delivered a very similar tool in performance as the Nomic. It came with a hammer and spike already attached. Smart guys at BD. The Fusion pretty much eliminated the weakness of the Nomic design. Each has subtle advantages over the other I think.

Petzl followed up this year with a hammer, adze and new pommel for the Nomic. And 2 complete new tool designs based on the Nomic followed. Again the newest tool, the 2nd gen. Ergo, is a very radical shape. The Ergo's shape has yet to be proven but I think it might be much better than first impression, just as the Fusion, Nomic, Quark and Cobra were before it.
New tools and crampon designs aren't done by a long shot....more to come in near future!

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