Moderate to steep slopes

With steeper ice, other variations of the French technique are called for. At some point, the German technique of front-pointing comes into play.

French technique (flat-footing)

On moderate to steep slopes, you can switch the axe from the cross-body position (piolet ramasse) to what is known as the anchor position {piolet ancre) for more security. Your feet remain flat, with all bottom crampon points stamped into the ice at each step.

To place the axe in piolet ancre, begin in a position of balance. Grip the ice-axe shaft just above the spike with your outside (downhill) hand. Swing the axe so that the pick sticks into the ice in front of and above your head, with the shaft parallel to the slope (fig. 14-17a). With your other hand, take hold of the axe head in a self-arrest grasp. Now pull on the axe as you move two steps forward to a new position of balance (fig. 14-17c). A gentle and constant outward pull sets the teeth and keeps the axe locked into the ice. When you're ready to release it, push the shaft toward the ice as you lift the pick up and out.

In order to keep your feet Hat at these angles, your body must lean farther away from the slope, knees and ankles flexed, and the toes of your boots will increasingly point downhill. Try to continue advancing upward in the standard sequence, moving two steps at a time. At the steepest angles, however, your feet will be pointing downhill, and you will have to begin shuffling your feet instead, moving backward up the slope. But continue to plant and remove the pick from a position of balance. The foot that is on the same side as your direction of travel should be at least slightly higher than the other foot, allowing the upper body to rotate for a smooth, strong swing of the axe.

You can change diagonal direction when the axe is in the anchor position by using the same sequence as with the cane or cross-body positions. However, on the steepest slopes, where you are shuffling backward, you can change direction simply by switching hands on the axe and planting it on your other side. There won't be much diagonal movement at this point, because you'll mainly be moving backward straight up the slope.

The French also devised a position—called pied assis—that gives leg muscles a rest and provides more security for replanting the axe (fig. 14-18). From a position of balance, bring your outside (downhill) foot up and beneath your buttocks, with the boot (flat as always) pointing straight downhill. Then sit down on that foot. You'll discover a balanced position, a relatively comfortable one.

The invaluable technique of flat-footing, used with the ice axe in the cane or cross-body positions, will serve an experienced climber for many alpine routes. For short stretches of steeper ice, flat-footing combined with the ice axe in anchor position will often work, but this marks the upper limit of French technique.

German technique (front-pointins)

On moderate to steep ice slopes, use of the French and German techniques begins to overlap. They both have a place on these slopes.

The French technique (flat-footing) takes a lot of practice to perfect, but most people pick up front-pointing quickly because it feels natural and secure. Unfortunately, this encourages climbers to use it excessively on moderate slopes where flat-footing would be more efficient and just as secure. In Hat-footing, most of the stress is on the thigh muscles, where people usually have more strength than in the calf muscles strained by front-pointing. Even climbers who strongly prefer front-pointing would benefit from alternating the techniques to give calf muscles a rest.

Front-pointing uses not only the two forward points of each crampon, but also the two vertical points immediately behind them. These four points, properly placed, provide a platform to stand on.

Synthetic (plastic) boots provide a firm base for crampons and make front-pointing easiest. Full-shank stiff-soled leather boots also are good. Three-quarter-shank boots can be used in some cases, but require more muscular effort, while soft-soled boots are not suitable at all (fig. 14-19).

The best placement of the boot is straight into the ice, avoiding the splayed feet that tend to rotate the outside front points out of the ice. Boot heels need to be level in order to push the first set of vertical points into the ice and complete the four-point platform for standing (fig. 14-20).

Fig. 14-19. Problems of trying to front-point with soft-soled boots
Fig. 14-18. French technique: pied assis. The ice climber is using this position for rest and balance.

Fig. 14-21. Front-pointing, with axe in low-dagger position (piolet panne)

your heels, relax your level of concentration, and hurry. This is a formula for trouble because it could cause the crampon points to shear from the ice.

Except in extremely hard ice, a firm, deliberate kick is usually enough to make sharp points bite. Kicking too hard or too often wastes energy and may shatter the ice. After placing the points, avoid foot movement because it can make them rotate out of the ice.

Front-pointing encompasses a selection of ice-axe positions.

Low-dagger (piolet panne): This position is helpful in tackling a short, relatively steep section that requires only a few quick front-pointing moves. For piolet panne, hold the axe by the adze in the self-belay grasp and push the pick into the ice near your waist, to aid balance (fig. 14-21). This position tends to hold you away from the

Fig. 14-20. Correct boot position in front-pointing

Fig. 14-21. Front-pointing, with axe in low-dagger position (piolet panne)

Resist the temptation to raise your heels higher. This pulls the stabilizing vertical points from the ice, endangering placement of the front points and fatiguing calf muscles. Your heels will normally feel lower than they really are, so if you think your heels are too low, the odds are that they are in the correct horizontal position. This is especially important coming over the top of steep ice onto a gentler slope, where the natural tendency is to raise

Petzl Pickel
Fig. 14-22. Front-pointing, with axe in high-dagger position (piolet poignard)

slope and out over your feet, the correct stance for front-pointing.

High-dagger (piolet poignard): If the slope is a bit too steep to insert the pick effectively into the ice at waist level, in low-dagger, move it into the high-dagger position (fig. 14-22). For this method, hold your hand on the axe head the same as if you were in self-arrest and jab the pick into the ice above your shoulder. Use the high-dagger in hard snow or relatively soft ice that the pick can penetrate easily.

Anchor position (piolet ancre): For harder ice or a steeper slope, you can abandon the high-dagger position for the anchor position that is also used in flat-footing. As you stand on front points, hold the axe shaft near the end and swing the pick in as high as possible (fig. 14-23). Front-point upward, holding on higher and higher on the shaft as you progress, adding a self-arrest grasp on the adze with the other hand when you get high enough. Finally, switch hands on the adze, converting to the low-dagger position. When the adze is at waist level, it's time to remove it from the ice and replant it higher.

Piolet traction: The steepest and hardest ice calls for piolet traction (fig. 14-24). The axe is held near the spike and planted high; the ice is then climbed by pulling down on the axe as you front-point up.

It becomes necessary to use a second ice tool on very hard or extremely steep ice when it gets too difficult to balance on your front points while replanting the axe. It's possible to use two tools at the same time because, except for the anchor position, all ice-axe techniques associated with front-pointing require only one hand.

Using two tools provides three points of support—two crampons and one ice tool—as you replant the other tool. The placements must be secure enough that if one point of support fails, the other two will hold you until the third point is replaced. The legs carry most of the weight, but the arms help with both weight and balance.

In double-tool technique, you can use the same ice-axe method for both hands or a different method for each. For instance, you can climb with

Piolet Ancre

Fig. 14-24. Front-pointing with axe in piolet traction

Front-pointing, using axe in anchor position (piolet ancre)

Fig. 14-24. Front-pointing with axe in piolet traction both tools in low-dagger (piolet panne), as shown in figure 14-25. Or you can place one tool in high-dagger (piolet poignard) and the other in piolet traction, as shown in figure 14-26. The upcoming section on vertical ice spells out details of double-tool technique using traction with both tools.

Combination techniques

One fast and powerful technique combines flat-footing and front-pointing. It's called the three-o'clock position because as one foot is front-pointing, the other is flat and points to the side (to three o'clock if it's your right foot, or nine o'clock if it's your left). The French term for the position is pied troisième (fig. 14-27), literally "third foot."

Pied troisième is a potent resource for a direct line of ascent, much less tiring than front-pointing alone. The position lets you distribute the work over more muscle groups by alternating techniques with each leg. As you climb, seek out irregular flatter spots and any nooks or crannies for flat-foot-

Piolet Poignard
Fig. 14-25. Front-pointing, using low-dagger position (piolet panne) with two tools
Piolet Poignard
Fig. 14-26. Front-pointing, using piolet traction with the tool in the left hand and high-dagger (piolet poignard) with the tool in the right hand

ing, allowing you to rest calf muscles. With the ice axe, use whatever position is appropriate to the situation.

Climbers alternate crampon techniques depending on ice conditions. Flat-footing is usually more secure on frozen snow, ice crust over snow, and soft or rotten ice, because more crampon points dig into the surface. For soft snow over ice or hard snow, front-pointing or the three-o'clock position lets you blast through the surface to get points into the firmer layer beneath. Front-pointing is often the most secure technique for the average climber to use with very hard ice on all but gentle slopes. If you are having serious problems on a climb with flat-footing—perhaps due to fatigue, winds, high altitude, or fear—switch to front-pointing or the three-o'clock position.

Fig. 14-27. Three-o'clock position (pied troisième)
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Responses

  • Girma Berhane
    How to use the piolet?
    2 years ago
  • Steffen K
    What is a moderate grade slope?
    3 months ago
  • AMANDA
    What is a minor or moderate slope?
    1 month ago

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