Snow and ice climbing hardware is the equipment that is particular to operations in some mountainous terrain. Specific training on this type of equipment is essential for safe use. Terrain that would otherwise be inaccessible—snowfields, glaciers, frozen waterfalls— can now be considered avenues of approach using the snow and ice climbing gear listed in this paragraph.
a. Ice Ax. The ice ax is one of the most important tools for the mountaineer operating on snow or ice. The climber must become proficient in its use and handling. The versatility of the ax lends itself to balance, step cutting, probing, self-arrest, belays, anchors, direct-aid climbing, and ascending and descending snow and ice covered routes.
(1) Several specific parts comprise an ice ax: the shaft, head (pick and adze), and spike (Figure 3-24, page 3-22).
(a) The shaft (handle) of the ax comes in varying lengths (the primary length of the standard mountaineering ax is 70 centimeters). It can be made of fiberglass, hollow aluminum, or wood; the first two are stronger, therefore safer for mountaineering.
(b) The head of the ax, which combines the pick and the adze, can have different configurations. The pick should be curved slightly and have teeth at least one-fourth of its length. The adze, used for chopping, is perpendicular to the shaft. It can be flat or curved along its length and straight or rounded from side to side. The head can be of one-piece
construction or have replaceable picks and adzes. The head should have a hole directly above the shaft to allow for a leash to be attached.
(c) The spike at the bottom of the ax is made of the same material as the head and comes in a variety of shapes.
(2) As climbing becomes more technical, a shorter ax is much more appropriate, and adding a second tool is a must when the terrain becomes vertical. The shorter ax has all the attributes of the longer ax, but it is anywhere from 40 to 55 centimeters long and can have a straight or bent shaft depending on the preference of the user.
b. Ice Hammer. The ice hammer is as short or shorter than the technical ax (Figure 3-24). It is used for pounding protection into the ice or pitons into the rock. The only difference between the ice ax and the ice hammer is the ice hammer has a hammerhead instead of an adze. Most of the shorter ice tools have a hole in the shaft to which a leash is secured, which provides a more secure purchase in the ice.
c. Crampons. Crampons are used when the footing becomes treacherous. They have multiple spikes on the bottom and spikes protruding from the front (Figure 3-25). Two types of crampons are available: flexible and rigid. Regardless of the type of crampon chosen, fit is the most important factor associated with crampon wear. The crampon should fit snugly on the boot with a minimum of 1 inch of front point protruding. Straps should fit snugly around the foot and any long, loose ends should be trimmed. Both flexible and rigid crampons come in pairs, and any tools needed for adjustment will be provided by the manufacturer.
(1) The hinged or flexible crampon is best used when no technical ice climbing will be done. It is designed to be used with soft, flexible boots, but can be attached to plastic
mountaineering boots. The flexible crampon gets its name from the flexible hinge on the crampon itself. All flexible crampons are adjustable for length while some allow for width adjustment. Most flexible crampons will attach to the boot by means of a strap system. The flexible crampon can be worn with a variety of boot types.
(2) The rigid crampon, as its name implies, is rigid and does not flex. This type of crampon is designed for technical ice climbing, but can be used on less vertical terrain. The rigid crampon can only be worn with plastic mountaineering boots. Rigid crampons will have a toe and heel bail attachment with a strap that wraps around the ankle.
d. Ice Screws. Ice screws provide artificial protection for climbers and equipment for operations in icy terrain. They are screwed into ice formations. Ice screws are made of chrome-molybdenum steel and vary in lengths from 11 centimeters to 40 centimeters (Figure 3-26). The eye is permanently affixed to the top of the ice screw. The tip consists of milled or hand-ground teeth, which create sharp points to grab the ice when being emplaced. The ice screw has right-hand threads to penetrate the ice when turned clockwise.
(1) When selecting ice screws, choose a screw with a large thread count and large hollow opening. The close threads will allow for ease in turning and better strength. The large hollow opening will allow snow and ice to slide through when turning.
• Type I is 17 centimeters in length with a hollow inner tube.
• Type II is 22 centimeters in length with a hollow inner tube.
• Other variations are hollow alloy screws that have a tapered shank with external threads, which are driven into ice and removed by rotation.
(2) Ice screws should be inspected for cracks, bends, and other deformities that may impair strength or function. If any cracks or bends are noticed, the screw should be turned in. A file may be used to sharpen the ice screw points. Steel wool should be rubbed on rusted surfaces and a thin coat of oil applied when storing steel ice screws.
Note: Ice screws should always be kept clean and dry. The threads and teeth should be protected and kept sharp for ease of application.
e. Ice Pitons. Ice pitons are used to establish anchor points for climbers and equipment when conducting operations on ice. They are made of steel or steel alloys (chrome-molybdenum), and are available in various lengths and diameters (Figure 3-27). They are tubular with a hollow core and are hammered into ice with an ice hammer. The eye is permanently fixed to the top of the ice piton. The tip may be beveled to help grab the ice to facilitate insertion. Ice pitons are extremely strong when placed properly in hard ice. They can, however, pull out easily on warm days and require a considerable amount of effort to extract in cold temperatures.
f. Wired Snow Anchors. The wired snow anchor (or fluke) provides security for climbers and equipment in operations involving steep ascents by burying the snow anchor into deep snow (Figure 3-28, page 3-26). The fluted anchor portion of the snow anchor is made of aluminum. The wired portion is made of either galvanized steel or stainless steel. Fluke anchors are available in various sizes—their holding ability generally increases with size. They are available with bent faces, flanged sides, and fixed cables. Common types are:
• Type I is 22 by 14 centimeters. Minimum breaking strength of the swaged wire loop is 600 kilograms.
• Type II is 25 by 20 centimeters. Minimum breaking strength of the swaged wire loop is 1,000 kilograms.
The wired snow anchor should be inspected for cracks, broken wire strands, and slippage of the wire through the swage. If any cracks, broken wire strands, or slippage is noticed, the snow anchor should be turned in.
g. Snow Picket. The snow picket is used in constructing anchors in snow and ice (Figure 3-28, page 3-26). The snow picket is made of a strong aluminum alloy 3 millimeters thick by 4 centimeters wide, and 45 to 90 centimeters long. They can be angled or T-section stakes. The picket should be inspected for bends, chips, cracks, mushrooming ends, and other deformities. The ends should be filed smooth. If bent or cracked, the picket should be turned in for replacement.
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