Placing Ice Tools

With any ice tool, the goal is accuracy and a solid placement—the first time. One or two swings saved at the bottom of a pitch mean that much more energy at the top. It takes a lot of practice to learn pinpoint placement. But with a combination of proper technique and equipment, you should be able to place a tool easily and precisely, keep it secure for as long as it's needed, and extract it with less effort than you took to place it (fig. 14-36).

Study the ice for a good placement. A slight depression above and slightly to the side is likely to be good. Ice is more compact and holds the pick better in depressions than in bulges, which shatter or break off under the impact of an ice tool. Try to make placements in opaque ice, less brittle than clear ice because it has more air trapped inside. Minimize the number of placements by planting the axe as high as possible and by moving upward as far as you can with each placement.

Different climbers will have different experiences, though they may be using identical tools on the same climb, because of differences in ability and climbing background. The more experienced climber, for instance, may climb confidently with only a small bite of the pick into the ice, while another climber might not feel comfortable without

Fig. 14—36. How to remove an ice tool

slamming the tool deep. On most tools, only the first few teeth provide any useful bite in the ice, and the upward angle of the pick in the ice provides most of the holding power. (On an ice tool, small teeth often perform better than large teeth.) Keep your tools sharp.

Placement and removal techniques will vary somewhat, depending on the type of pick that is on the ice tool:

Technically curved: These picks result in an ice tool that is most like a standard ice axe. However, the picks are curved more than on a regular axe to hold better in ice, and the shaft is shorter to permit an easier swing on steep surfaces. A tool with a technically curved pick requires a natural swing, from the shoulder. The first swing should result in a satisfying, solid "thunk"—the sound and feel of a well-placed ice tool. This tool is used in conditions ranging from soft serac ice to hard water ice, though you may need to weight a lighter tool (perhaps with lead sheet taped to the head) for good penetration on hard ice. The pick is usually removed from the ice by lifting straight up on the shaft.

Reverse curved: While technically curved picks take a natural swing, the sharp angles of the reverse-curved and straight-drooped picks require a shorter, choppy swing. A reverse-curved pick, featuring a drooped pick with a slight upward curve, penetrates waterfall ice with a straight, downward hooking motion. It is usually easy to remove.

Straight drooped: This sharply angled pick re quires a decisive downward flick at the end of a short swing, making it penetrate well in ice from soft to hard. It is fairly easy to remove by using an up-and-down levering motion. Avoid sideways twisting.

Tubular: A tubular-nosed tool works best with a short-arc swing and often grips securely on the first try. A tubular pick is moderately easy to remove by twisting sideways while holding the head (up-and-down levering can fracture the nose). The nose dents easily and is particularly vulnerable if the climb involves ice with sand or rocks close to the surface.

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