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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ice is coming...time to start thinking about technique.

Photo courtesy of:

Every fall I start thinking about ice climbing again, what I learned last year, and what I find are the important things I want to work on this year and the kind of climbing I most enjoy.

Over and over again for the last half dozen years I think the ability to use one tool in the most effective manner is the most important advantage with the newest ice tools.  Some tools allow you to take advantage of that opportunity better than others.

But no matter the style of tool, being able to easily match hands on an ice tool and make the lest amount of placements per foot of vertical gain is what we are looking for and what is really important.

The fewer the placements the better your endurance.   The more positions you can use on your tool the more your strength will last, short or long term.  That will happen on vertical ice or less than as well.

The more you move your hands around and use them in slightly differing manners the warmer your hands will generally stay.

These are videos I have posted previous.  But if you haven't seen them it is worth taking a close look at how the climbers in each use their tools.   Both the videos are getting dated now for gear but the climbing techniques shown are not.   Hopefully you'll get some new ideas of your own from what you see.   

and another example here:

I like having options!


Bruno Schull said...

Hi Dane,

Great videos--especially the Laratun on the Grand Capuccin. Any idea who the climbers are? Somehow the video really shows the work, progression, moments of fear, beauty, and relief, of alpine climbing, all without a melodramatic narrative...just straightforward climbing in Chamonix, the kind that happens all the time.

About technique, I'm going to put my foot in my mouth here, and say that perhaps the one-tool progression strategy is not the best advice for most people. After all, you did recently appeal to your readers to post when they disagree with you! I'll temper that by saying that your comments, as you always go to great pains to emphasize, are for you alone, and for others to adopt for themselves as they see fit. I see one tool upward progression as information, not advice, which others take take or leave. I suspect very skiled and experienced climbers will make use of this strategy more, while the rest of us mortals will stick with other techniques.

Here's what I'm thinking. Call me traditional, but I still like to try to move one foot or hand at a time, keeping three points of contact as much as possible. I agree with your point about climbing with as little effort as necessary, and I try as much as I can to climb with tools staggered, feet at the same level, precise placements, smooth motions, and so on, but, in the end, I just want to be slow and careful, even if that means expending a little more energy. Of course, in varying conditions, at belays, when cleaning gear, when moving over uneven terrain, we do all kinds of strange things with our bodies/tools/feet. But, again, for basic upward progress, I think three points of contact as much as possible is good solid advice. Basically, if you shoulder or harness one tool, match your hands on the other, and then move your feet upward, walking your hands up the shaft of your tool as you go, for a number of steps you would have...only two points of contact. That scares me! Like I said, I would be the first to admit that I just don't have the skills to apply this technique with confidence. It's always fun to think about other techniques, but for my climbing goals, I'll keep the matching hands and more creative techniques for the odd moment on climbs, and not as my central strategy. To each his own!

Dane said...

Ha, ha my friend...nice one :)

Three points is good ice climbing. I am never with out three point on. But that doesn't mean you can't use one tool to the best effect.

If you are thinking about what I wrote then I have succeeded in my intent. It only takes tiny changes, one at a time It truely is about opening our minds to what is possible.

Trust me I am nothing but mortal. If I can take advantage of these techniques so can others, much easier.

noahhaber said...

I've been doing something a bit different when I match hands on a tool on steep terrain. My concern is that when matching hands, you are relying 100% on one tool, shifting weight outward by grabbing, then swinging hanging from the upper grip. I solve that by switching which hand is matching where. Going from lower to upper shifts weight out, but going from upper to lower shifts it in, which feels more comfortable.

If I am swinging with my right, I get a good solid stick, then move my right hand to the upper grip and pull/hang on that, while I still have my left hand on the lower tool. I can then remove the lower tool hang it on a shoulder, and move my left hand to the lower grip of the upper (now only) tool.

While this results in a loss of a few inches vs matching upward, I find that you save some energy (and sanity) by spending more time relying in the lower grip than the upper.

Jessica said...

Hey Dane, found this great basic climbing video of Ines. It shows great movement, and something I aspire too! Thanks for your ideas on being creative and thinking about what is possible!