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.
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.