The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Sling strengths

Some recent studies from working think tank of experienced climbers from around the world, have all agreed that ‘slings are great, their simple, lightweight & strong but try to avoid knotting the sling as this dramatically weakens it!
That’s all well and good, but 9 times out of 10 when we pull out a sling to use it, we tie a knot in it, eg to build a belay.
We’ve all been aware that knots weaken slings, but asked exactly by how much? and most people will only be able to give you a guesstimate.
Studies into the breaking strains of both Dyneema & Nylon slings with and without knot’s has been looked at before, but this group has done their own tests with the results below.

8mm Dyneema (av = average of 2 tests, -/+% = degradation or increased strength)
Normal tested sling strength          15cm           av 21.17kN      n/a
Normal tested sling strength          30cm           av 22.33kN      n/a
An overhand knot added                30cm           av 12.79kN      -42.73%
A Fig 8 knot added                         30cm           av 13.42kN      -39.89%
Larksfoot 2 slings together            2x15cm       av 14.50kN      -31.51%
Larksfoot on a 10mm pin               30cm           av 19.70kN      -11.76%
A Doubled Sling                              30cm           av 45.66kN      +104.21%

11mm Dyneema (av = average of 2 tests, -/+% = degradation or increased strength)
Normal tested sling strength          15cm             av 24.31kN      n/a
Normal tested sling strength          30cm             av 26.16kN      n/a
An overhand knot added                30cm             av 11.92kN      -54.43%
A Fig 8 knot added                         30cm             av 12.63kN      -51.73%
Larksfoot 2 slings                            2x15cm         av 12.66kN      -47.92%
Larksfoot on a 10mm pin               30cm             av 19.24kN      -26.44%
Doubled Sling                                  30cm             av 47.94kN      +83.29%

16mm Nylon (av = average of 2 tests, -/+% = degradation or increased strength)
Normal sling strength                        30cm             av 29.76kN      n/a
An overhand knot added                30cm             av 19.18kN        -35.57%
A Fig 8 knot added                         30cm             av 17.45kN        -41.36%
Larksfoot 2 slings                            2x15cm         av 23.64kN        -20.58%
Larksfoot on a 10mm pin               30cm             av 19.89kN        -33.17%

While the Dyneema slings have a greater strength to weight ratio with a static load than Nylon, it’s elasticity is far less
The results show all the slings weaken alarmingly once a knot is tied
It brings into question the sling & how best to use it?
You could argue that a sling knotted and used to join anchors together when equalising a belay severely weakens it. Add to this other forces such as angles & any shock loading to the system.... then another possibly more robust system could be used?
The best system then must be using the climbing rope to tie yourself in with. The rope will have an amount of stretch in it, making for a more dynamic belay, being softer on the gear you’ve placed and the knots you’ve tied.

This system is also very quick and super flexible when it comes to lengths and the ability to equalised different lengths easily that a fixed length sling no way can.
This works well when you’re alternating leads, but you need a second robust system if you are leading most of the pitches and want a simple changeover at the belay, an obvious clear point for the second to clip into and an easy of you quickly unclipped and heading off again?
For this system, most people will tend to use a single 8ft sling to join the anchors, equalising them, then tying a knot which then makes the anchors independent and also creating an obvious point for the second to clip into, which in most cases is a loop. If the anchors were further apart then two slings could be used and knotted in a similar way.
But with the recent results in mind, the best system using slings with regards strength has to be using two independent slings that join the two anchors together but without a knot. We don’t use this system very often because the anchors are always in varying distances apart and it not easy to equalise them exactly with fixed sling lengths and it’s also hard to get the direction of pull spot on.
So if you want to make the belay more dynamic then tie yourself into it and then belay from the rope loop on our harness (the loop created when you initially tied on). This allows for more elasticity in the system, which is softer on the slings and anchors.

But if you’re belaying direct or belaying two friends/climbers in parallel, at the same time, then using a rope sling is something worth thinking about? It’s stronger and being more elastic is softer on the gear you’ve placed to create an anchor eg ice screws.
I do know that one manufacturer is in the process of creating rope slings without the bulky knots, which is the downside of a rope sling and I guess one of the reasons slings have become so popular. They are stitching the rope ends together (one rope end laid over the top of the other) to try and get away with the bulky knot.
But until that point carrying a few rope slings could give you more options when building a safe belay.
You could also carry a length of cord on your harness say 10/12ft which you could use to join any number of anchors together of varying distances to help create a belay.

Metolius also manufacture a belay sling which is a number of small stitched loops linked together to create a chain. You can then link the anchors and equalise them using lengths of small stitched slings without the use of knots. The sling is heavier and more bulky but is very robust and strong when used to join anchors together in this way.
You could also use one of these rope slings to create a ‘cow’s tail’ when abseiling, which would also be a lot stronger and essentially more dynamic in any fall factor or slip, than a Dyneema or Nylon sling? You wouldn’t want to take a fall directly onto an 8ft sling with knot in it!

Slings have their place and always will do, over half of my quickdraws, whether I’m in the mountains or trad climbing are 4ft narrow tape Dyneema slings triple threaded to make my quickdraws but can be extended to lengthen the quickdraw to create less rope drag & so softer on the gear you place so not to lift them out or to avoid sideways pulls on the gear in the event of a fall.
Also slings are great to thread being less bulky and also light on the bigger mountain routes.

But if you do use a sling to build a belay then make sure there is no slack in the system & try to also build the rope into it giving the system more shock absorbency.
The recent results and discussions just give food for thought to how we use slings backed up by some test results in a certain situation. Slings are something we take for granted and it doesn’t hurt to keep revising our kit and how we use it.

Thursday, 18 November 2010


Sardinia or Sardenja as the local Italian's spell and pronounce it, is the second largest island in the Mediterranean -120km off the west coast of Italy.
Surprisingly, the island is both very mountainous and a lot bigger than we had expected. Sandstone, granite and limestone cliffs litter the island, with an impressive range of traditional and sport climbing routes of all grades.

We rented a car from the airport in Cagliari and headed to the small fishing port of Cala Gonone, which is situated half way down the east coast of the Island. We spent most of our time between here and the very picturesque mountain village of Dorgali, which were great hubs for a number of different climbing locations to suit all grades and tastes.

The picturesque village of Dorgali

You can climb in Sardinia year round with climbers having fine weather weeks in November & December but the weather at this time of year can be cooler and less predictable. September/October is a great time of year to visit, as is the end of April through into May/June, as the weather at these times is generally good and a little cooler than the mid-  summer months.

It was inspiring to be climbing on sea cliffs that you access by boat one day and the next to be climbing on outcrops high on the side of a mountain with fantastic views over the ocean and surrounding valleys.

I spent a day climbing on the famous limestone slabs of Poltrona, which had grades to suit all abilities and routes as long as 4 pitches. The rock was the most amazing pocketed limestone, tilted at an angle that meant most of the work was on your feet.

The limestone slabs of Poltrona, near Cala Gonone

I spent a couple of days at Cala Fuili, a deep canyon that terminates at the sea and a small beach, which was a great place to relax and take a swim to cool down before the next route! The canyon was littered with outcrops and again routes of all grades and aspects in or out of the sun.

Cala Fuili in Cala Gonone

Dorgali the closest town to Cala Gonone, I felt, had some of the best climbing on beautiful, steep orange walls of pocketed limestone, with amazing views over the town.
We spent a day on the remote cliffs of Surtana, which had a completely different and more of a big -mountain feel, with climbing on long multipitch routes in a hidden valley away from everything and everyone.

Arcadio, near Cala Gonone

Arcadio just above Cala Gonone had some fantastic climbing on beautiful, slightly overhanging Limestone with great views over the sea & back towards Cala Gonone. The potential for new routes here as with many areas was amazing.

In addition to the climbing, the island is full of other surprises such as vineyards, olive groves and the home to some of the oldest acheological remains dating back to as early as 1700BC.
The houses and towns have a very mediterrainean feel about them, with the houses tightly packed in amongest each, narrow streets, baloneys and white washed walls.
All this with the addition of some delicious locally grown food and great local vino, it was all over much too quickly!

I had a great feel for the place, the locals were super friendly and the whole place seemed very welcoming & open. We used the Guide book Pietra di Luna which was good, but I believe there's a new guide book coming out soon, which is even more inspiring with even more routes and area's in it.

Go enjoy - Buona Vacanza!


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A snapshot of the past

Enjoy these old photo's............

Gaia Alessi, a female Italian climber now living in the UK, kindly sent me these photo's. We spent a week icefall climbing together in Cogne near Aosta, Northern Italy.

Gaia understood that the valley's we were climbing in, were also well known to one of her ancestors, Carlo Ettore, pictured below.

I believe he was living in the Aosta Valley and working as a guide in the area.

Fantastic black & white shots, which really tell a thousand words.


Monday, 15 November 2010

Your winter ice climbing kit

Firstly have a look at your ice axes, and make sure they’re in good condition and check all the nuts and bolts. If you’re changing the pick then sometimes it’s a good idea to replace the nuts as some have nylon threads.

Check your leashes for any wear marks and make sure they’re right for the job. What I mean by that is that, for me, the right leash system is so important. The leashes attach you to your tools so they need to be the right length and comfortable around your wrists. You also need a system, so that when you’re hanging from your axes on steep ice, you can release one hand to place or retrieve an ice screw without using the other.

For this reason, clipper leash systems have become very popular as they stay firmly secured around your wrists but when you need to release a hand you can do so by unclipping the whole leash from the shaft. It takes some time getting used to them but they work very well. Just be careful when placing or taking out screws on steep ground and near your head as the leash tends to whip you in the face!

Clipper leashes are not everyone’s cup of tea.

Some people like the fact that the leash is always secured to the axe and you take out your hand. The main advantages of this, is that your hands are left free to place screws and to belay, without the leash getting in the way. It’s also nice to have a leash hanging from your axe when you’re on the lead and placing a screw as if you get pumped very quickly you can clip into it or use it as an interim runner to calm the nerves!

A lot of people today climb leashless and there are many axes out there which perform perfectly without a leash i.e. the Petzl Nomic, which is designed for steep ice. The steep curved shaft gives great clearance and importantly the shape & angle of the hand grip allows you to grip comfortably without stressing the wrist & also allows you to use the bigger bicep & shoulder muscles easier on the steep stuff.

I used the old Quarks for years without leashes, the rubber grip was good but on vertical ice you needed to hold on so tight to the shaft it was tiring, hard on the wrists & didn’t use the best muscles. Sure the shaft is curved and it’s a fantastic shape but put that with the Nomic hand grip which kicks back towards the ice and you have a great leashless tool. The Nomic grip allows you to through the pick in with better direction and accuracy, it’s also more relaxing using the bigger muscles and doesn’t stress the wrist – its design for leashless climbing, the old Quarks were designed to work best with leashes.

I tried a Grivel trigger which I bolted near the top of the Quarks hand grip to try and make the grip less effort, more relaxed and help with the direction & accuracy of the throw. The Grivel trigger helped with all that, but the trigger kept catching on ice bulges & fouling the swing so I took it off again.

The other addition was the heal spur Petzl brought out later which attached to the base of the Quark allowing you to rest the heal of your hand in while cranking up the steeper ice. This was a great addition and also allowed you to swivel the base of the axe on that point for a more relaxed throw. I also found it more relaxing and restful while climbing, but it’s still the same shaft and still the same wrist stresses and a firm grip needed.
The Nomic is completely different & was designed for leashless climbing with a hand grip shaped for ease of holding, accuracy of throw and allows you to use of the bigger muscles with less wrist stress.
So if you want to go leashless then get a specific leashless tool, one designed for the job.

But break into the whole leashless climbing gently as the ice is a serious environment and you can’t afford a fall, either by getting pumped or dropping an axe. I’ve seen a lot more climbers taking falls as leashless climbing has become more common place which is a bad thing. Icefall climbing is not sport climbing in winter. Get some mileage under your belt first building technique, strength and an understanding of all the different types of ice before going leashless all the time.
A clipper leash can be attached to the Nomic & its there in back up if you get pumped/tired or mentally needed them for that final crux pitch at the end of a long day or just to help make the transition to going leashless. Also a week, lead climbing steep ice everyday is hard work and probably miles away from your normal day to day life. Give thought to the week and don’t overcook the last day, by climbing your hardest route having just started leashless climbing, you’ll be tired physically & mentally and it’s a time when you may very quickly & without warning get pumped!, build up to it and don’t feel as though you ‘should be’ climbing leashless, do what you feel is right for the conditions and your experience.
One last point is that they’ve replaced the old Nomic & Quark with new revamped models for this winter. The Nomic now has an adze & hammer which was much needed and the only let down of the old Nomic and the Quark is now also being sold as a leashless tool & comes with a trigger. I’m not sure what other differences either tool have, but I’m looking forward to having a play with both this winter

Sharpen your crampons with a fine file so the teeth are sharp and will bite into the hard waterfall ice. Check they fit your winter boots well and that all the nuts and bolts are tight. Also check that the crampon straps are in good order and with no frayed ends. Nothing worse than trying to thread a frozen frayed strap through two small eyelets with gloves on! Go for the dual vertical points which have serrated teeth on the underside which bite into the ice. The classic flat horizontal points with no teeth on the underside, will skate around on the cold hard ice. Climbing both rock & ice is all about footwork & if you lose confidence in your feet then you’ll be using your arms more which will be massively more tiring to the point that it’s too hard to get up the route let alone placing or retrieving gear.

I also feel that dual points are more stable than mono points making the footwork & climbing less tiring. It also allows for a more relaxed toes out slightly technique giving the calves a much needed rest (the actual dual points sit closer to the outside of the crampon, closer to the underside point allowing you to just stand on those points above the big toe easier)
Also go for a lightweight crampon allowing you to enjoy using the features of the ice accurately and efficiently.

Kiernan pulling hard high up on Hydrophobia, The Ghost, Canadian Rockies

Give your harness a good check over for any bad wear marks and give some thought to how you’re going to rack the ice screws to it? You could either two Simond Racks or a mixture between the Simond Rack, for your right hand which is the hand most people place most of my screws with and a plastic Black Diamond clipper with a lightweight wire gate for your left.
These systems save you loads of time and energy racking about 10/12 ice screws and work well. These systems also allow you to clip and unclip ice screws from you harness with one hand, while the other is still holding onto a secure axe placement. Just remember to have a system on both sides of your harness as you can’t always predict where the best ice will be and with which hand you’ll need to place the ice screws. You could also make your own system by tapping a large bent gate karabiner facing downwards to your harness. Clip it through your harness waist band first and then tape it so it doesn’t move and the screws will rack in the end where the gate opens. The ice screw hanger pushes against the gate of the karabiner, opening it allowing you to hook the screw onto the karabiner.

Last winter I went back to a system Simond first brought out in the 80’s where the quickdraw is always attached to the ice screw cutting down on weight as you only need one snap link on each quickdraw for the rope. It works brilliantly for ease and speed of clipping. You just drill in the screw and then clip the rope whereas before and like most people, you drill the screw, then clip the draw to the screw and then clip the rope. It also means that you could clip the rope mid-way through drilling in the screw giving you some security in a difficult and stressful situation & I’m all for that!

Although I made my own by taking off the snap link from one end of the quickdraw and threading the now spare loop on the end up the shaft of the ice screw and taping it tight so it didn’t drop back down. I also threaded the hanger before securing the snap link on the other end. It worked well & something I’ll tweak further for this winter. Climbing Technology now do an ‘Ice Hook’ which has been manufactured to do this specific job, which I’ll try this winter.

Abolokov threader or ‘V’ threader, and some 8mm (old climbing rope for abseil tat) don’t leave home without it!

Finally give your boots a good airing and change the laces if necessary.

Give some thought to your clothing and choose a layering system that will not only keep you warm but also allow you plenty of movement. Gloves are very important and two pairs of thick finger gloves are best. Wear one pair and carry the other, so that when one pair gets cold and wet you can change them and your hands will keep continually warm. Keep the thick pairs for climbing and wear a thin fleece pair on the walk in as if you do sweat in the thick ones you will have cold hands from the word go.

Always carry a small headlamp in your ruc-sac as the days are shorter in winter and plenty of food which you can carry in a pocket and eat on the belays.

Take a fleece hat that fits comfortably under your helmet and carry a pair of sunglasses, as generally the best ice in cold temperatures will be found in the sun.

The main thing with all your kit is that you know how it all works and that its all sorted as the more organised you are with your leashes, racking your ice screws etc. the easier, less pumped and warmer, safer you’ll be.


Friday, 12 November 2010

The Dent Blanche

The Dent Blanche 4356m
It’s one of my favourite peaks in the Alps, always capturing my imagination every time I drive up the Val D’Herrens towards Evolene.

The west face of the Dent Blanche & the righthand skyline is the south ridge

It just magnificent, standing alone, huge, towering and impressive from all angles. The summit feels like the hub of a wheel, with all the Alps spread out like spokes around it.
And it’s a climbers peak. The easiest route to the summit via a small high hut at the foot of the classic south sometimes referred to as the Wandflue ridge, also the route of the successful first ascent back in 1862 by J.Croz, Kennedy, kronig, Wigram.

Our route up the south ridge of the Dent Blanche

As a technical AD/AD+ mixed snow, rock & ice high mountain ridge to the summit of a 4000m peak, with few people and from a beautiful classic Swiss mountain hut, it doesn’t get much better.
It’s a real adventure with a long approach up from the village of Ferpecle just above Les Hauderes. The parking several kilometres up from the village is next to an impressive Dam holding back a huge reservoir of glacial melt from the huge catchment that is the Glacier de Ferpecle and surrounding peaks.
A steep track heading S/SE climbs up to Alp Bricola, flattening for a spell before climbing again over steep moraine to where it finishes at the bottom edge of a now well receded glacier. The way on now less defined works its way over areas of awkward scree and loose rock all strung together with water/glacial washed smooth slabs. You head now east and the ground steepens again to where a small summit is reach and snow/ice leads over a dome and up the Dent Blanche Hut or Cabane de Roussier – 5hrs

Adrian Walter outside the Dent Blanche hut taking in the awesome views

Well this is what I’ve done in the past! In June of this year I found myself breaking trail from just above Bricola at 2400m to the hut at 3500m – 8hrs
It was immediately after the spell of bad weather at the end of may running through till the end of the third week in June. On the Saturday of the fourth week the cloud lifted to reveal a very snowy Alps, the sun came and everyone started to wake up.

A view of the Arolla peaks from the Dent Blanche hut

We stocked up on gas & provisions as the hut was still closed, then headed off on the Monday. We should have taken snow shoes which would have made for lighter work, anyway we eventually got to the hut and set up in the winter room. It was just fantastic, fresh tracks and the first climbers in this year, we had the place totally to ourselves. We chopped wood, drank tea and took in the summer sun, blue skies and fresh white snow everywhere.

The view west from the Dent Blanche Hut

This is a big peak to be attempting in these conditions with the snow knee deep in places and no tracks, so we decided to use the next day as a semi rest day but recci and put a track in the first part of the route up to the grand gendarme.

A beautiful view across to the Matterhorn

Just looking up at the ridge once on it proper was very intimidating, with fresh deep windblown snow and the ridge heavily corniced. Few rocks pocking through on the ridge and all the rock sections just stacked out with snow.
We were down early for food, tea and an early night before setting out the next day for a proper stab at the summit.
I have to say, the route felt pretty serious & committing, decisions on snow conditions, route finding, cleaning snow for protection and to expose holds, snow mushrooms on top of the pinnacle’s which you had to negotiate and break through & iced up cracks all made the going very slow. We had crampons on all the way and all the climbing was with axes which felt like it pushed the grade up a touch.

Adrian negotiating the heavily corniced ridge high up the south ridge

It was incredible, we were totally alone with hardly a cloud in the sky but very technical under crampon. Unsettlingly, we had a few bolts of lightning which came from no-where maybe the moisture from the new snow and the 20+ degrees? I don’t know, but it seemed the right conditions as we had it a few times.
The summit ridge was amazing, steep & corniced and on a knife edge. the views stunning although on this occasion we turned straight back around still on the final 20m summit ridge and headed back down the way we’d come. Time was of the essence now to get back down and over all the obstacles again before dark. It took us 16hrs hut to hut.

Our view of the Dent d'Herens left, The Tete de Valpelline & the Tete Blanche on the right

Day four, we woke late and headed back down to the valley, continually stopping and looking back at the route with our tracks clearly visible. It was just such a fantastic adventure and one I won’t forget in a long while.

Looking across to the Matterhorn & the Monte Rosa chain to it's left

Adrian & I both went rock climbing down in the valley on the Friday and even that felt like an effort!
It’s a cracking route on one of the most beautiful peaks in the Swiss Valais and if you see it from any of the surrounding peaks or maybe when you’re down in Arolla or Evolene you'll be drawn to it, like I’ve been over the many years.

Me on the final 20m summit ridge a couple of years earlier with Steve Martin

Steve Martin just below the Grand Gendarme, south ridge Dent Blanche

Lief Liverson traversing one of the pinnacles, south ridge Dent Blanche

On the summit last year with Greg Paul behind me


Wednesday, 10 November 2010

It's all about the Ice

With winter upon us, it's all about the ice now and I've put down a few thoughts on placing ice screws, along with some other important considerations

Firstly, be aware that as with many rock routes, good protection can be difficult to find and placements aren’t always reliable and possibly spaced out. This is true on many steep ice routes where the formed ice or nature of the route make placing a good ice screw difficult or even impossible.

So with any real adventure there will always be an elemnt of risk, but hopefully some of my  thoughts below will cover a few important points to remember when out on the ice. 

Longer screws generally help in these difficult conditions where the ice is aerated, cauliflowery, chanderliery or has formed in steep columns, which have then been welded together. This is because they go in deeper and over the length of the screw there may be enough ice around it giving the strength to hold a fall.
Longer screws also help in easier angled slushy or sun bleached snow.
I also try to use a longer screw to make up the two screws that I use to build a solid anchor for a belay.
Long screws are also best when building an Abolochov or ‘V’ thread anchor so the bottom of the ‘V’ is as deep in the ice as you can get it.

Medium length screws are marginally less reliable in these types of conditions and it’s only the short ‘stubbies’ where you see a marked difference in pull strength but even then that may not be true!
All the BD express stainless steel screws I use, whether it’s a long or stubby, all have the same length of thread and it’s just the shaft length that changes, meaning that you are able to place them deeper.
It’s not always the longer screws that give the most security.
Example - A long screw placed up to the hanger may have started off in good ice but part way through screwing it in you’ve hit an air pocket or a hollow, the thread is now not into anything.
The highest pull strength of a screw is straight out, pulling against the screw threads in good ice.
So if the thread is in a hollow or air pocket the screw is likely to pull during a fall. In this example a shorter screw or stubby would be best, where the thread of the screw bites into the better solid outer ice.

A great indicator to the quality of the ice is what comes out of the screws tube when you place it. If it dribbles out over the top in granular dry ice then the structure of the ice is very weak and brittle. Conversely if it comes out in a solid bar with very little air then the ice is very solid and structurally sound.

Place the screws at ninety degrees to the ice and try to get them in up to the hanger. If you can’t then try to replace the screw in thicker ice or use a shorter screw. Sometimes you’ll need to clean the surface of the ice with your adze to turn the hanger and get it flush with the ice. If you don’t have a choice and no shorter screw... then with a thin 4ft sling, loop a clove-hitch over the hanger and tighten around the tube of the screw and push it flush with the ice and then clip to this. Don’t clip directly to the hanger unless it’s only a centimetre proud of the ice and in which case you don’t need to tie off a sling to it.

Old screw placements can be some of your best placements, but only in certain conditions. If a screw was placed the day before by a climber and during that day the ice has been in the sun & melted a little, this will have melted out any cracks or weaknesses of the placement. An overnight freeze will have welded the cracks together and iced over the surface. The following day as you place your screw in the old narrower hole you create your own thread but into a much more solid tube giving a quick and solid placement.

Also place as many screws as you feel comfortable with not as many as you think you should, just leave a couple of belay screws on the back of your harness for the belay so you don’t use them.


Always, always carry an Abolochov or ‘V’ threader, for if you need to abseil off a route eg the ice has formed thick this year & the bolts are hidden under a foot of ice so you need to abseil without leaving a screw behind, or half way up a route and you need to bail out then you could drill in a screw and thread a pillar or something, or the bolts have been flattened by rock fall or the route doesn’t have a bolt descent.

Carry your screws on a ‘Simond Rack’ or something similar & have one on each side. This means they’re easy to get on & off with one hand and always available whether it’s a left or right-hand placement, depending on where the better ice is.

Look after the screws, always keep them capped when you’re carrying them anywhere which will keep the cutting teeth & points sharp. Take off the caps at the end of the day and dry the screws out well. I don’t bother with caps which I loose anyway and now have a sleeved roll up bag that I keep the screws in. At the bottom of the sleeve is a hole to drain out any moisture and it also keeps the threads sharp.
Buy two of these with six sleeves in each so your twelve screws can be split evenly between you and your partner.

Look also for softer less brittle ice.

I climbed a route last winter when during the day, temperatures where high, it was literally hot and sunny, but overnight the temperatures plummeted to -12degress.
We walked in and the icefall looked great. The ice was well formed and had been climbing recently – a good track in the snow up to the base of it.
We kitted up and I set off climbing up the first pitch.
As I started up the route the temp was very cold as was the ice, the ice was also very brittle and I heard big cracking sounds around where I was placing my tools. I saw some horizontal large cracks in the ice & I wasn’t happy, so I down climbed and we headed back down the hill.
We went for a coffee in the village.

We headed back up to the route around lunchtime, when it was just starting to come into the sun.
I set off and it felt like a different climb, the sun had immediately transformed the ice as it was so hot, relaxed the ice and made it safe to climb again. You could feel there was less tension in the ice and it was a joy to climb and now perfect conditions with first time placements.
I still kept all my ice screws out of the brittle ice in the shade and placed them in more relaxed ice just getting the sun, they all felt solid.
In the bar if you’d have asked me what we climbed today I’ve had told them the climb and what a great route it was and that it was in fantastic condition. I would have also told them that we waited till mid-day till it was in the sun.
You may not always get the full story and just the best bits such as ‘it was in great shape and get yourselves on it’.
Ice is changing all the time and you need to follow your own instincts and treat each day as a new day and with a blank sheet with no baggage, what was last night’s temps, what’s last week’s temps, what’s the snow doing, when did it last snow...... paint a new picture every day.

The hardest thing sometimes is not to climb the route but to turn around and do it another day.

Another thought should go to the snowpack & what effects that has on the icefall. Is there a steep bowl(feed) above the icefall which is heavily loaded with unstable snow, out of sight & in the full sun while you’re at the base of the icefall in the shade? Also give thought to the wind and the effects of strong winds cross loading powder snow and depositing them into gullies above & feeding the gulley you’re climbing in. Also the wind depositing snow and creating wind slabs in bowls above or the bowl you need to cross to get to the next pitch. Also wind slab on the slopes leading up to and off from the route you’re climbing.

Try not to climb under other teams as you’ll more than likely get hit by falling ice – get to the climbs early & get down early unless it’s during a very cold period and you want to climb later in the day.

If you do climb under other teams then take extra care, let them get a pitch ahead. Don’t think that they’re two pitches up and that’s ok because in dry conditions with little snow around the ice bounces all the way down to the bottom. Safer conditions is when there is a lot of snow around, ice knocked off by a leader a pitch or two up may be caught by the deep snow lying around.

Kandersteg in all it's glory

The icefalls in the Alps are world class & with the luxury of thousands of routes all being in a relatively small compact area, you have choices and short walk in’s, you can climb on different aspects & at different altitudes each day or in a single day if you need to. And everyday day is an adventure.

Take care & enjoy – I love it!