The New ke Age The Great Curve

Of all the early pioneers of Alpine north walls, Anderl Heckmair is probably the most well known because of his brilliant leadership of the first ascent of the Eigerwand. In a virtuoso display of talent, he frontpointed the ice fields with such confidence that years later Heinrich Harrer still wrote with amazement about the performance in his classic book. The White Spider. But Heckmair's technique was not the only thing he had going for him. There is an old black-and-white photograph taken during the Eiger

31 T The New Ice Age; The Great Curve climb that shows Heckmair using a short axe with a distinct down-curve to the pick. This simple curve increases the security of an axe placement many times over, thus allowing faster and safer climbing. In the late 1960s this "revolutionary curve" was discovered once again.

In 1966 the American climber and equipment designer Yvon Chouinard climbed one of Europe's great ice walls, the North Face of Les Courtes, with Layton Kor, another American, On this climb they

Yvon Chouinard Early Equiptment

Yvon Ctwinard almost single-handedly brought modern ke climbing to America. Seen here in the Cairngorm Montuni of Scotland in 1974, Cbwbwd introduced the revolutionary curved pick in the late 1960s. THs invention, combined with Ms teaching and writings an the subject, which always championed finesse ond simplicity, mode Chouinard one of the most influential ice climbers in history. {¡halo; Jeff tows)

Yvon Ctwinard almost single-handedly brought modern ke climbing to America. Seen here in the Cairngorm Montuni of Scotland in 1974, Cbwbwd introduced the revolutionary curved pick in the late 1960s. THs invention, combined with Ms teaching and writings an the subject, which always championed finesse ond simplicity, mode Chouinard one of the most influential ice climbers in history. {¡halo; Jeff tows)

used frontpointing technique, along with an "ice dagger" and an ice axe. The security of this sort of "clawing" was minimal, but Chouinard suggested that in time of trouble, the dagger, which should be attached by a cord to the climber's waist, could quickly be driven in, thus providing a makeshift belay. The future of that particular idea was limited, but Chouinard was inspired by the climb in two important ways that, in retrospect, created the future.

First, the long session of frontpointing on Les Courtes nearly destroyed Chouinard's and Kor's calf muscles. This led Chouinard to adopt and proselytize French technique, which, though harder to master, is more relaxing on climbs that are not overly steep. (He later went on to develop rigid, adjustable crampons that made frontpointing less strenuous.) More importantly, French technique forces the climber to carefully study the ice, thus coming to know it better—-the first step on the road to creative ice technique, where the ice becomes a medium for expressing the climber's art and craft rather than an enemy to be "conquered." Although pure French technique is seldom used anymore, it is worth practicing.

Secondly, Chouinard's experience in Europe prompted him to experiment with the pick of the ice axe, curving and drooping it to make it stick better in the ice. He also added a curved pick to his widely used Yosemite hammer, With one of these modified toots in each hand, normal 40° to 60° ice slopes suddenly became much less difficult, and, although it would be a few years before it happened, the way was now open for extended climbs on extremely steep and vertical ice,

Heckmair's Eiger performance had been thirty years ahead of his time. With the popularization of Chouinard's drooped pick and Hamish Maclnnes's concurrently developed Terrordactyl (an axe with an extreme downward angled pick that worked exceptionally well for hooking on mixed climbs and soon became the favorite tool in Scotland and the

Canadian Rockies), ice climbing was changed for all time Now even the greatest of the existing routes was possible for average climbcrs

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