Ice Climbing Gear
Ice Climbing has evolved into a sport of its own. There are more than 20,000 ice climbing routes established in the world, and there are two dozen climbing gyms that offer indoor ice climbing walls in their facility. Ice climbing has evolved from a means to ascend a mountain into a sport with its own grading system, routes, and distinct ice climbing gear. As equipment and techniques became more advanced, mixed ice and rock climbing became more practical, and safe.
Ice Fall Climbing
The three popular types and categories of ice climbing are:
- Ice falls, or waterfall ice, or water ice. This ice is created from a freezing water fall.
- Alpine ice. This type of ice is formed from melting snow, which then re-freezes.
- Mixed ice and rock. When a route has both ice and rock climbing elements it is called mixed climbing.
An ice climber will determine the gear to use based on the type of ice climbing. Vertical ice climbing requires crampons and ice tools and screws for placing protection. On short stretches of less vertical ice, an ice tool can be used to chop out foot placements. For steep grades crampons are used. When traveling on icy flat surfaces such as a glacier or ice field a lightweight mountaineering crampon can be used in place of the ice crampon. For leading, an ice climber sets protection using ice screws. Ice screws are started by pounding with a hammer several times, then turning so the threads catch and pull the screw into the ice as an anchor. Typically two tools are used, one in each hand. The tools are not identical. One would have a pick and adze, the other a hammer and pick.
Equipment and gear used in ice climbing
- Ice Tools: An ice axe is for mountaineering, and an ice tool is for ice climbing. Ice tools come in many shapes and types, but typically are around 55 cm in length, and most have a drooped pick for biting into ice. Modern tools used for mixed climbing forgo the spike at the bottom of the tool in lieu of a shaped and comfortable hand grip.
- Ice screws form the protection for ice climbers. It is tubular in shape with threads for pulling into the ice when turned.
- Crampons are available in a multitude of designs and options. They have 10 to 12 points, however some of the newer ones have 14 points. The points provide with two protruding straight out from the boot used to kick in and step up the ice face.
- Ice climbing boots are usually made of plastic or leather. The sole is always very stiff to accept crampons and provide a stable platform for front pointing. Mountaineering boots can be used if welts are built into the toe and heel for use with crampons.
- A climbing helmet Almost every ice climber considers a helmet a necessity. Ice constantly falls off in varying sizes as you climb, and will injure either you or your belayer if you are not wearing a helmet.
- Clothing for extreme sports such as ice climbing should be capable of withstanding the elements while giving you the flexibility needed to make the movements. Ice will melt with the heat of your body and soak in. Waterproof clothing and shell, and warm flexible clothing made for the sport is very important.
- Ice climbing gloves provide protection to your hands from the cold and hitting against the ice while using the ice tool. Ice gloves should be padded in the knuckle and have the ability to provide grip in wet conditions, as well as insulate and repel water.
- In addition to the ice climbing gear rack, snow and safety equipment such as avalanche beacons and first aid kits are valuable to have. They are small and lightweight, yet add.
- The type of climbing rope for ice also vary based on the route. A single rope is usually used for straight climbing. Rope drag is minimized due to the straight direction of the route and the single rope is easiest to deal with. If the ice is less stable the protection can be improved by using a double rope, sometimes called half rope system. In the double rope system the climber places two sets of separate protection, usually on either side of the route. Two ropes run from the belay to the climber. This provides a backup system in the event that one of the anchors come loose. The twin rope system uses two small diameter ropes clipped together and shares an points. This system is typically used in very long multi-pitch routes.
- An ice climbing harness has a few features not found in a rock climbing harnesses. It needs to fit over the heavier clothing worn in ice climbing, so adjustable leg loops are important. A holster or the ice tool and other ice climbing gear should be on the harness. It is helpful if it can be worn while wearing a backpack.
Care of ice climbing gear
The best thing you can do is preserve your ice climbing gear is to dry it all out every day after you return. If you don't sepend the time to fully dry the gear, screws and crampons will rust, threads will corrode, and boots will start to smell. The evening is a good time to dry and inspect for damage. Ice climbing is hard on equipment. Inspect the ropes, harness and all other gear for damage, frays or misshape. Keep your equipment in a reasonable temperature at night.
Preparing the gear for ice climbing
Choose a location to set the gear back from the start of the route. Ice and rocks dislodge from the face and will impact at the base of the route. Put your helmet on first to protect yourself from falling ice. Lay out the crampons, screws harness and other ice gear. When all your equipment is organized, put on your harness next. The last item to put on are your crampons. If you put the crampons on before your harness it is possible to catch a leg loop with the point and damage the harness. In any case the harness is easier to get on without crampons.