Climbing With Crampons

Modern crampon technique, evolving from the French and German styles, moves an ice climber efficiently upward with minimum fatigue. Flat-footing is generally used on lower-angle slopes and where point penetration is easy; front-pointing is most common on slopes steeper than 45 degrees and on very hard ice. In practice, most climbers blend them into a combination technique. In any technique, the most important element is confident use of the crampons. Practice on gentle and moderate slopes helps develop skill, confidence, and


Fig. 14-12. Cutting steps on descent the aggressive approach needed at steeper angles.

A skilled ice climber, whether flat-footing or front-pointing, displays the same deliberate movement as a skilled rock climber on a difficult slab. The crampon points must be carefully and deliberately placed on the ice, the weight transferred from one foot to the other smoothly and decisively.

Boldness is essential to skillful cramponing. Exposure must be disregarded and concentration focused solely on the climbing. But boldness is not blind bravado. It is confidence and skill born of time and enthusiasm, nurtured in many practice sessions on glacial seracs and on ice bulges in frozen gullies, and matured by ascents of increasing length and difficulty. (See Appendix 2 for an explanation of rating systems that are used in assessing the difficulty of ice climbs.)

Fig. 14-13. French technique: duck walk combined with ice axe in cane position (pied en canard!piolet canne).

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