DMM Testing: SLINGS AT ANCHORS

SLINGS AT ANCHORS

October 4, 2013

A great video and report on the forces at work on slings in four different belay set-ups.

In a previous video we compared the impact forces generated using nylon and Dyneema® slings with a dynamic load. It clearly highlighted the importance of ensuring there is no slack in a system using slings. As an example, a 85 kg mass free-falling just 60 cm on to a 60 cm Dyneema sling (fall-factor 1), with an overhand knot in it, generated enough force to break the sling.

Extending this previous theme we’ve looked at using nylon and Dyneema® slings in four different belay set-ups

-DMM

I have always tied in with both ropes and used clove hitches…seems like this is the best way to tie in. – Doug Millen

Protecting The Ice We Climb

by Doug Millen

Feature Photo Ice Protection
It’s a never-ending battle! What will an ice screw hold? In real life situations. How can we best protect an ice climb with it’s ever changing condition.

What I do

1. I carry a variety of ice screw lengths. Ice comes in all thickness and densities. Many climbers carry only short & medium screws. They say you only need that amount of thread to hold and they don’t want the extra weight. But what about the surface layer? The quality of the ice? I have seen very few climbers clear away the first layer before placing a screw. If that layer is damaged, ie Sun baked, wet, new or other wises damaged or uneven, THE SCREW WILL NOT WORK AS ANTICIPATED! Use a longer screw or clear away the first layer to good ice. The weight difference in carrying longer screws is minimal. You could carry two longer screws versus two medium length screws for about the same weight as a light carabiner. Worth it…and the cost for of caring longer screws? At most only $1.00 ea.

2. Most popular climbs have a number of ice screw placements at common stances leaving less virgin & unfractured ice to place a screw. Where should you place your screw? Use a long screw and put in the best existing placement that will not bottom out. You will grab new ice, way back in where it counts. and save time and energy.

3. Ice screws are not bolts! The level of protection depends on the quality of the ice and the skill of the climber. Practice and learn the craft of ice protection.

4. Ice screws should be placed at 90 degrees to the ice or at a slight downward angle of 10-15 degrees. A positive angle for the screw may be better if the ice is of poor quality. In good ice conditions angle the screw in the direction of pull. It’s the threads that hold. If a screw bottoms out never tie it off with a sling, it has been shown that the hanger will cut most slings. If the hanger is 5cm (about 2 inches) or less from the ice, clip the hanger. Otherwise use a shorter screw.

5. In some situations, a tied off icicle is better than a screw and easy to place.  Look around, be creative and carry the necessary slings. They are light and easy to carry.

6. Protect often and closer together at the start of your climb. You never know when something could happen. As you get farther out, there is less chance of hitting the deck and less force on the system, and ultimately, the screws. Modern ice screws are easy to place and worth the effort to place them often for safe climbing.

7. Carry a Spectre. In bad ice and varied conditions, a spectre will hold when nothing else will. Frozen cracks, earth or moss are the perfect terrain for the Spectre. Black Diamond designed the Spectre Ice Piton to provide “alternative, pound-in protection on mixed and thin ice lines where traditional pro is just a pipe dream”.

8. Better to place 2 equalized screws from a stance than 2 bad screws on the fly when leading up steep ice. It inspires more confidence and uses less energy.

9. Screamers will provide added protection in climbing. Screamers not only absorb energy directly because of the stitch ripping effect, they also allow your rope to absorb more energy from the fall by increasing the time interval of the fall. The standard Screamer can effectively reduce peak loads by 3-4kN in any climbing system. You don’t need to carry Screamers for every screw. You only need them after leaving the belay where the most force could be put on a  screw with a fall. Other situations may require screamers to limit the force put on protection so carry a few but not one for every screw.

10. Never pass up rock protection. Rock is typically better protection than ice. If the climb looks like you might be able to use rock gear, bring it!

Placing Ice Screws

• You first need to clear away any rotten, soft ice or snow, until you reach good, solid ice. Use your pick to create a small hole in which to start the screw.

• A favorable location for an ice-screw placement is the same as for an ice tool. A good choice is a natural depression, where fracture lines caused by the screw are not as likely to reach the surface. Never in a bulge.

• Choose a spot in the ice near your waist rather than above your head for better leverage while twisting it in. This will also de pump your arms and conserve energy. In some instances it may be beneficial to place the screw as high as you can to better protect the climb.

• As you work the screw in, clear away any ice that fractures around it.

• Keep turning until the eye or hanger is flush with the ice surface and pointing down-slope in the direction of pull.

• Keep screw placements around 2 feet apart when setting up a belay.

• Back up sketchy screw placements with a second screw and equalize.

• After a screw is removed, ice inside the core must be cleaned out , immediately if the ice is wet and it is below freezing. Always tap the hanger end and never the threads. If you blow in the ice screw from the hanger end the worm air will melt the ice and eject it from the tube. Careful, don’t freeze you lips to the screw.

Energy-Saving Tips

• Climbing extremely steep ice is fatiguing, physically and mentally. To conserve energy and keep moving upward efficiently, plan ahead. Look for every rest and take advantage of it.

• Protect from stance to stance. Having a good idea where you will stop and place the next screw is key. Climb to that spot and don’t think about anything but getting to that spot. Stopping in route at a strenuous or awkward spot is not an option and will strip your energy.

• Look at the ice above and figure out what screws you will need and rack them for easy access. Re-rack at good stances for the upcoming ice. Nothing wastes energy like fiddling with gear and trying to reach screws on the other side of your harness.

• On moderate to steep ice, it may help to kick a step for standing on as you place the screw. Place your foot french style on any budge or flat spot you can find. This will save your calves.  On extremely steep ice, however, it’s too difficult, so save your energy. When it’s time to place an ice screw, do it from your front points, and then continue climbing.

• Keep the weight on your feet! Holding on to the axes too hard and supporting you weight from the axes strips your strength. Your legs are use to holding you up all day, use that advantage and the axes for balance and movement.

• Keep everything SHARP! Sharp gear conserves energy and makes climbing safer and more enjoyable.

V-Threads

Information on using and making a V-Thread

Links on using ice protection  from the manufactures

Black Diamond Equipment

Petzl

Sources and Images from: Black Diamond Equipment, Petzl & NEice Member Trarr3

 

 

 

 

 

Ice Climbing Anchor Strength

Clean V -Tread anchor

Ridgerunner & Larry show us that in solid dry ice you don’t need to leave a thread, just use the rope (a thin rope). Always backup the first person down and have them give a test pull. But as per the data, the orientation should have been vertical. But would this still work? Read below and you decide.

Updated!

How strong are abolokov threads, ice screws and re-bored holes for anchors?

Lots of data and strong opinions out there. Do the tests represent real world conditions? We have put together several resources for a broad view of ice protection strength. This will help us all understand how to better protect the ice we climb.

“Learning good skills at where and when to place ice screws remains an art, although our science is helping us compose a better picture of ice anchor behavior experienced in real-world conditions”  – George McEwan

– Rock-Ice.com

“Where to put the pro? It might be ok or even preferable to use someone elses ice screw placement to avoid pump, to be able to use that dull screw without bite, and to avoid ice fracture propagation.

Recently re-bored holes in a freezing environment were found to be strong enough in most configurations.

Abalakov ice anchors were also found to be strong, provided that enough ice area was enclosed by the anchor. This is accepted as a fact based on trial and few error among ice climbers, but maybe haven’t been examined in a proper experiment before.

Ready to change? Placing Abalakov anchors vertically appear to be stronger than placing them horizontally. A vertical “A-thread” Abalakov was superior to a horizontal “V-thread” Abalakov.

Climbers may actually have to change behaviour here. Will those results be all it takes, or do we need to hear this from authorities such as the UIAA and see it done by the elite in the glossy gear catalogs first?

Anyway, a 60 degree angle seems to be the best for Abalakov V-threads.

Feeling safer with a v-thread than a stubby? Don’t. A single re-bored short (8 cm) ice screw is generally about the same in strength as a horizontal Abalakov anchor.

During Petzl’s testing, ice screws were on average twice as strong as ice threads.”

Read the rest of the report […]

 

– PETZL


Ice anchor Workshop by Petzl-crew

“Petzl partnered with the “Ice Climbing Ecrins” event to organize a workshop to test the pull-out strength of ice screws and ice threads. Petzl built a mini test center on a frozen creek in the Fournel valley. The pull-out strength was tested using an equalized belay anchor attached to a jack and a chain. Ice screws, ice threads and ice axes were attached to the system and pull tested. The pull-out strength was measured using a dynamometer. The results varied a great deal depending on the quality of the ice. The workshop took place over two consecutive days and the results were quite different from one day to the next. Despite this, the tests showed that ice screws were on average twice as strong as ice threads.”

___________________________________________________

– Chad Pomerleau

January 2, 2010  / Comment

“The v-thread is a great piece of know-how to use. A few points.  It is my understanding that convexities in ice are weak points, as there is increase surface tension and studies have shown that when ice anchors (threads, screws) fail, the majority of the ice that is lost causing them to fail is lost from the zone of increased tension (above, in a downward pull) and next to no loss from the zone of compression. Or consider swinging into a bulge in the ice with a tool vs swinging into a concavity. Furthermore, when possible surface ice should be removed to expose the more homogenous ice below that isn’t as exposed to temperature variation, sunlight, and snow-cover; also providing a flat surface in in which to screw.

Also, some interesting reading can be found on vertical orientation of threads (‘A’-thread) vs horizontal orientatoin (v-thread)  below.”

http://www.beverlymountainguides.com/file_download/5/Ice-Climbing-Anchor-Strength.pdf

______________________________________________________

– UKClimbing.com

“Some time ago a study analyzing ice climbing anchor strength appeared on the internet. This practical field study was carried out by J.Marc Beverly and Stephen W. Attaway and was titled “Ice Climbing Anchor Strength: An In-depth Analysis”.

In it the authors set out to test several hypotheses about ice anchors – namely that re-bored ice screws were strong enough to hold a UIAA fall and that Abalakov threads were stronger than an ice screw. All these tests were done over the winter of 2007 – 2008 and followed up an earlier study they had done on ‘stubby’ (circa 13cm length) screws in 2005 – 2006 (Dynamic Shock Load Evaluation of Ice Screws: A Real World Look).”

– George McEwan

Read the report http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=4315

______________________________________________________

– NEice.com

How to make a V-tread by Dave Furman

An update from Dave:

First, on screw vs v-thread strength. I’ve seen the petzl video stuff and also seen a bunch of other testing. Most of it was done in lake ice or the “frozen slushy” ice in a bucket that used to get used for testing screws. My own experience is that many times the ice on the routes where I get scared is hollow, candled, full of air pockets, etc…I do not believe that the ice I have seen in the testing cited is comparable to the “bad areas” of ice on climbing routes that I’m referring to…so what I SHOULD have said is that a v-thread CAN BE stronger than a screw in SOME CIRCUMSTANCES. If the ice is good it probably doesn’t matter, they are both plenty strong–but if the ice is really bad, then my own non-scientific testing (i.e. placing a variety of gear in crappy ice and body-weight-testing to failure)has convinced me that the thread can often be the stronger option.

Regarding concavity vs convexity–again, I am going to claim it’s circumstantial. Much of the testing done in this area is dynamic, i.e. a fall. I am a bonafide chickenshit so when I rappel from a crappy anchor (or anything in ice) I am darn sure I am not bouncing around, so I consider any force I put on the anchor a lot less dynamic. When I’ve played with weighting and bouncing around on threads in different ice, convexities like a pillar don’t seem to fracture much at all that way they might under the force of a real fall–and remember, we’re backing all of these up, right? I do. For this reason I place my threads around a convexity IF IT SEEMS APPROPRIATE simply as a matter of convenience when placing the thread, because all other things being equal I haven’t found that it makes a significant difference in real-world strength (again, tested unscientifically by placing lots of threads in various ice and bounce-testing to failure). At the end of the day though, the best place to put a screw or a thread is going to be in the best ice, and you are going to have to be the judge of that–that seems obvious but I should have mentioned it. I would encourage anyone who has read this far to go and experiment for yourself–I would argue that if you do it in a thoughtful manner you’ll learn a hell of a lot more than I or anyone else or any book or article can teach you.

Thin Ice Protection

Now this is the ice I want to be able to protect!

An early attempt for good protection on bad ice. I used Tuna hooks from the local tackle shop. Just hook the hooks into what ever you can find and equalize. I see that in the photo the cord should have been tied with a knot, similar to an equalized belay with a cordelette. The system held a surprising amount of weight. I would say “enough to slow me down”. Protection at the extreme end!

-Doug

Source: Petzl.com, Beverlymountainguides.com, ukclimbing.com,Daily motion.com, Dave Furman, Chad Pomerleau, JP
Photo by Ridgerunner, NEice Photopost

Camping Trip Planner

New Smartphone App by Jimbl

Android System

A Camping planner pre-populated and customizable

A configurable planner with everything needed for any camping trip. Comes pre-populated with more than 225 camping items. If you are a camping person, this is all you need to ensure you don’t forget anything. Check/uncheck and reuse every-time you go on camping trips. Save all the time typing the camping list. Easy and very intuitive thumb friendly check/uncheck options.

So customizable that it could be configured for any trip…easy to use and it will share the list via popular networks and email.

Great App!

Worth every penny. At $.99 how can you go wrong. Find it at the marketplace on your android phone. Or  Go to the Web Site

Doug

Rope Tips #1

Skinny Singles: How Thin Can You Go?

by Justropes.com

Modern single ropes keep getting thinner and thinner, pushing the envelope of what is possible for a balance of performance and weight savings. Is a “skinny” single right for you, and if so, how thin you should go? The answers depend on the type of climbing you intend to do with these thin single cords.

“Skinny” single ropes are those below 10 mm in diameter, and they seem to keep getting thinner each season. While these ropes typically range between 9.4 to 9.8 mm in diameter, the cutting edge at present is 9.1 to 9.2 mm (the Beal “Joker” and the Mammut “Revelation”). Maxim will have a new 9.1 mm single in 2006, and the envelope will be pushed even further by a new 8.9 mm single that Mammut will market in 2006!

These thin single cords typically weigh in around a lean 53 grams/meter (for 9.1-9.2 mm), 58 grams/meter (for 9.4-9.5 mm) and 62 grams/meter (for 9.7-9.8 mm). For comparison, a 9.5 mm, 60 m single rope is almost 1.5 pounds lighter than the equivalent 10.5 mm cord! Of course, you don’t get something for nothing. As common sense would dictate, the thinner a rope is, the fewer falls it can hold, and the less durable it will be. Super-thin skinny cords (e.g. 9.1-9.2 mm) have UIAA fall ratings of about 5, while the fall rating improves to about 6/7 for 9.4-9.5 mm ropes, and to about 7/8 for the more beefy 9.7-9.8 mm skinny ropes. Compared to the typical UIAA fall rating of 11 for a 10.5 mm single rope, one can see that the weight savings of skinny singles is gained at the cost of fall rating and durability.

While a few of the skinny singles are UIAA Sharp Edge rated, by far most are not. At present, only the Beal Joker 9.1 mm is UIAA rated for use as both a twin and half/double, as well as single. Using this rope as a twin increases the fall rating substantially.

So, how do you decide if a skinny single is right for you, and just how thin you should go? The key factor in choosing will often be whether you intend to use the rope to climb long, wandering, alpine-style routes, where rope drag will be an issue, or whether you intend to mostly climb routes that are linear and don’t wander, such as typically found at the local ice or rock crag, or cliff. Another important factor is whether you intend to use the rope for hard redpoint/onsight attempts, or for working routes and/or toproping.

Skinny singles are a solid choice for rock/alpine/ice climbers expecting to encounter many pitches and looking to save substantial weight. They still offer a solid safety reserve in terms of falls rating, and on many climbs, any rope drag can be controlled by careful use of longer slings (if the skinny single is also rated as a half/double, it can also be used in this format for any wandering pitches). They are often a great choice for climbers working hard routes for redpoints or onsights, where you don’t want extra pounds holding you down. On the flip side, they are probably not the right choice for working routes or doing a lot of toproping, where a thicker more durable 10+ mm single rope is going to shine. And they are probably not the best choice for use on any type of route, whether alpine, ice, or rock, that is going to wander to the point where the only way to control drag is with a double/half rope system.

As for how thin to go, just remember that the thinner the skinny single, the less falls it will hold and the less durable it is likely to be. So, most climbers considering their first thin cord will likely want to consider something 9.5 mm and up, saving the super-thin cords for redpointing, etc. If you decide to grab one this season, Beal, Esprit, Edelrid, Maxim, Mammut, and PMI all offer a range of great skinny single ropes. Get out there and climb safe!

How to make a V-tread

by Dave Furman

More and more recently I’ve come across all sorts of gear left on ice climbs, left when people rap off or when people can’t finish a route and rap or lower off. In the interest of keeping the chat room posturing to a minimum and to help preserve everybody’s rack, here is how I place a V-thread and retreat from an ice climb. (I feel like I’m uniquely qualified to write this, as I have retreated off of ice climbs in fourteen states, including almost every route at lake Willoughby and in smugglers notch.) A V-thread is stronger than a screw because the surface area of the ice you are supporting your weight on is much greater than that of the threads on an ice screw. Many people don’t trust them however, so what follows is my method of backing up and testing rappel anchors in general, as well as directions for making a V-thread.

Once you’ve decided you’re done, whether you’re at the top of the climb or not, you’ll want to examine your options—if there’s an easy walk-off or if there’s a shiny new bolt station nearby, obviously it may be faster and easier to frig your way over there. That never seems to happen to me, but I do run into all sorts of sketchy looking fixed anchors attached to all manner of trees, shrubs, rocks, blocks, icicles, threads, pins, etc. Usually they have eleventeen different pieces of tat all semi-equalized somehow, and it still looks sketchy. My rule of thumb is always back up my anchor—but that may not mean leaving anything behind. Often what I’ll do is create my own separate anchor, unweighted by the rappel rope through the fixed anchor, so that I have the opportunity to vigorously bounce-test the fixed one. If anything rips, I’m protected by my backup, and then can start leaving all my own gear…more likely the anchor holds even my heavily aggressive more-than-double-my-body-weight testing, and I can safely clean my backup (after my partner completes the rappel) without leaving a thing behind. I do the same thing with fixed V-threads. Place a screw or two far enough away that if the thread rips it won’t undermine your placement, and clip it to the rappel rope as well—it’s important that the rappel rope does not weight your backup anchor, or you won’t be testing the fixed one. This way, any anchor you see on the ice, as well as most tree and pin anchors, can be tested to ensure their solidity. It doesn’t hurt to carry a small knife, some extra cord or web and a couple rings to replace (not just add to) the really ratty fixed stuff.

To place a V-thread, first find the area of solid ice that has the least air pockets or cracks through it. It helps to find a small pillar or convexity, as this will aid in placing the holes for the thread. Place the longest screw you can in the ice, at an angle and location that will allow you to drill another screw to meet the first hole (the convexity allows you to place a hole on either side of it, increasing the size of the ice column in between). It is nice to leave the first screw partially in the ice so you can use it as a gauge for the correct angle and location for the second screw. You will be able to see the second screw intersect the hole from the first. Push a piece of cord or 11/16’’ web through one hole, and pull it out the other with the hook you brought with you. (This can be either a homemade job from coat hanger, or a pre-fab one—several are available, Charlet Moser makes a good one that is easily available. See directions below to make one) Tie the ends of the cord together, and you’re done. If the hole is shallow, or cracked, or hollow ice, or you’re just into public service, place a second thread 18’’ or so above the first, so that the rappel rope weights the two cords equally. If you practice, this really only takes five minutes to make a double thread anchor—I’ve often been able to place a thread between the time that my partner finishes a pitch, calls off belay and finishes constructing an anchor, and when they put me on belay.

To make a v-thread tool, get one of the all-wire heavy-gauge coat hangers from your closet, and cut a piece of wire about fourteen inches long. Bend one end to form a loop that you can clip to a carabineer. Bend the other end into a hook that will easily fit through the inside of one of your ice screws, and sharpen the point of the hook with your file. You’re done. I fold mine into a loop, hooking the hook end through the loop so it doesn’t catch on my precious gore-tex, but be careful of this as the wire will fatigue and break before too long—luckily they’re really cheap! Good luck and be safe!

See an update from Dave, and comments below

IN PRACTICE – #2

By Scott Backes
Alpine Mentoring.com

Alpine Mentors  Canada Alpine Climbing

“IN PRACTICE”

What separates a good day of climbing waterfalls from a bad one? In the first half of this In Practice piece, we dealt with the physical factors that influence our ascents. This second half deals with a much more nebulous and individual topic. What psychological and mental attitudes are responsible for our experiences on the ice? What can we do to influence them, and what pitfalls do we need to avoid? Obviously the answers to these questions are as varied and numerous as the individuals who climb ice. There are, however some general principals and techniques that all of us can use to put ourselves in the best possible mind-frame given our circumstances. These ideas and practices will be the focus of this In Practice piece.

When I was younger my need for recognition from my peers, and my desire to prove myself to myself often drove me to undertake ascents of ice-climbs at or above my ability. These “skin of the teeth” ascents were often begun with a samurai’s nonchalance towards the outcome. But, when grappling with the ice itself, it was mostly a different story. Often shaking with fear and failing upwards, I would flail my way to the top. These are the experiences of youth and some of you will be driven to this path. This is what is called surviving the learning curve. I cannot recommend this course, but I will put a few addendum’s on it.

When you find yourself above your head in a dire predicament stop and breathe. Slow deep breaths can do as much for calming panic as anything. If you ice tools are secure, close your eyes for a few deep breaths. Just slowing your breathing and closing your eyes will give you back some of your perspective. After your break, steel yourself to the climbing above. What I mean by this, is you must accept where you are at and accept what work must still be done. Feet are often neglected when we are afraid. Take the time to look down and find good features to stand, at the least look for solid-non-chandeliered ice to frontpoint into. When I am afraid there is a tendency to stop looking anywhere but at the ice directly in my vision. I know this about myself, so I make a conscious decision to keep looking around at my environment. So many, many times when I stop to look, there is some feature to stem to, or some mushroom I can do a back-step or drop-knee on. If your arms are so tired that you can’t control your swing, you must drop one arm at a time, resting it enough to get a good controlled swing. Each placement must be tested before you drop the next arm. It is a slow excruciating experience, but I have managed on several occasions to climb the last half of a pitch using this method. If you can find the will to stay with it, if you can accept the discomfort and pace, you can make it off the climb (at least physically) intact.

So often I have seen climbers let panic overtake their skills. I see them hurrying their placements, or pulling on tools that I wouldn’t trust in a million years. Their feeling of panic is so painful to them, so overwhelming to them that they will do anything to make it cease, they will do anything to get it over with-even if it means risking their lives. Some times they get away with it-sometimes they don’t. But, the mistake they have all made is too let panic rule them. The difference between surrendering to panic and using your fear to propel you to the top, is attitude. Before you even get out of the car, think about the breathing and use your own reservoir of experiences to consider how you have gotten yourself out of difficult situations in the past. If you believe there is a way out, there is. If your panic adds hopelessness to its burden of overwhelming fear; there is a good chance you will be lost. If you can summon hope based on past experiences, and then focus it on the situation at hand, the deep breathing and some methodical climbing will bring you back from the edge.

As I continued my arc towards ice climbing excellence, I started applying my hard-earned knowledge to each new challenge. Instead of the Samurai’s nonchalance, I adopted the attitude of the journeyman. I had a quiver of techniques and mindsets that I applied as needed. The fear of the unknown became the fear of the known, which for me is much more easily managed. My systems were ingrained to a degree, that I was able once I left the ground to forget about them. This left more time for strategy and creativity.

As you approach your objective, take the time to view the route from a distance. See the formation’s cruxes and its natural rests. Consider in your mind how much energy and mental strain will be required for each of the difficult sections and how much you think you can get back from the rests. Plot out ahead of time which aspect of the route you will climb. If you haven’t scoped the route out from a distance, once you get right underneath it, all objectivity and route choices go out the window. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started up a route by what from underneath it looked like the wrong way, only to have my earlier scouting vindicated high up on the route. This however is not an absolute, sometimes when you are standing at the bottom; a better way-a way unseeable from a distance will present itself. Even so the work you did on the approach will still be of service. You will still know what is coming next. By keeping an open mind and by providing yourself with more options, you have spiritually strengthened your resolve and multiplied your chances for success.

Take your time at the base of the climb to secure a belay that is safe from falling ice, and one that you as the leader will have confidence in. If you have correctly positioned and set up the belay, it will be the last time you will need to concern yourself with it. You won’t be taken out of the moment by your partner shouting at you to quit knocking ice on him. You won’t have to consider when you are at the crux runout whether or not the belay will hold. Be methodical racking up and preparing your tools and yourself for the ascent. It is easy when you have adrenaline clanging around in your head to try and hurry. Usually, this results in something being dropped, something being left behind or gear being haphazardly organized. The hurried mindset carries over to the lead and it is a short step from there to panic. I am known for my speed ascents, but rarely do I hurry. I move continuously with intent and by the end of a day I have covered immense amounts of terrain. I take the time to chop away the surface ice for every screw placement, but I put each screw in at my waist to minimize the strength required to turn it and then clip it into the rope. As soon as the screw is in, I start climbing with focus and to emphasis the point again, with intent. I am always amazed at how quickly the screw is twenty or thirty feet below me, and how quickly I am at the belay.

For most of us, looking up at the first section of the climb is intimidating. The ice doesn’t look so good and the angle seems too steep for our abilities. There is a reason for this…its because its true. As I mentioned in the first piece, the first thirty to forty feet of most ice climbs is the crux. When you take that moment to compose yourself right before you start, think back to what you saw on the approach and what you’ve seen on other climbs you’ve led. The knowledge that most pillar climbs let off after the first bit can give you confidence to punch through that beginning section and get into the better ice just above. Perhaps the best compliment I was ever paid, was when one of my partners remarked to a mutual friend, “you can tell that Backes is headed for the belay”. I start up that first difficult section with fear and uncertainty in my heart, but also with a bigger measure of decisiveness and confidence that at the end of the struggle, I’ll be shouting down to my partner “off belay”

As I said earlier, there are as many strategies to cope with fear and panic, as there are climbers, but the ideas I’ve talked about here are pretty universal. The main idea with these pieces is to get you to think about your climbing from a different angle. I have found my greatest jumps in ability have come from new understandings of my self. If you are honest about what you fear and why, you can figure out methods to cope with them. In my experience, it is when I try to deny fear that it has the greatest hold on me.

Scott Backes

IN PRACTICE – #1

By Scott Backes
Alpine Mentoring.com

“IN PRACTICE”

One of the worst moments in every ice climb that is near the edge of our ability, is that instant when you stand with your tools in the ice, but your feet still on the ground. You’re looking at your belayer and he or she gives you the nod and its time to go. You feel the flush of chemicals course through you from head to toe. A more than reasonable doubt exists as to whether or not you can do it. There may be dread or a feeling of being over whelmed by the task at hand. You may even feel a little doomed as you bring that first foot up to start the process. You may even feel what I have felt on a number of occasions, “What the hell am I doing here?” So you commit to the route and lo and behold, it does suck to be you. The ice is worse than you hoped and it feels steeper than vertical. As you stop to place the first screw, the ice is airy and brittle. The screw won’t start, so you chop away some more ice and peck a little starter hole to help the screw get going, but it doesn’t help. Finally you feel the threads catch and you twist it home. The problem is, that half way through, the screw hits an air pocket and spins in with no resistance the rest of the way. It wobbles as you try to clip it. You start to feel the pump coming on almost immediately. Panic sets in and it’s time for either retreat or a real epic…

We’ve all been there. Grade III or Grade VII it doesn’t matter, if it’s near your ability you will undoubtedly encounter at least some of the fun described above. What the next two “IN PRACTICE” pieces will deal with is how to eliminate as many of epic makers as possible. The causes for our meltdowns are many, but can be divided up into two categories: The Physical and The Mental. This “IN PRACTICE” will deal with the physical  details that can enhance or derail your efforts. The physical factors I am referring to are not your fitness, but rather all the actual implements and the physical circumstances that can affect the outcome of your performance. The next “IN PRACTICE” piece will deal with  how to influence the mental and psychological circumstances of a difficult lead. These  conditions obviously include will and courage but also include a number of relatively easily amendable attitudes and assumptions that are often undervalued or overlooked. Taken together the sum of these parts can change a routine ascent into an emergency room vacation or, if properly applied, change an out of control “Shakefest” into a difficult, but memorable personal best.

The physical manifestations of ice climbing are many. From the medium itself: the flow of ice we’ve chosen to climb, to the instep strap of our gaiters, everything used to ascend has weight in the relative difficulty equation. Lets start with our mode of expression, the ice. Ice is by its nature a changeable medium. We can use this malleability to shape our ascent; even shape our experience with it. Hooking up fragile features with little or no protection during an early season foray is completely different than thunking hero ice in 28 degree March afternoon. You are in charge when and where you go climbing and you are in charge of what routes you do. Be careful to chose your ice climbing objectives to match your needs. Early in my career, being in Canada in March helped me to have the confidence to tackle big routes right at the edge of my ability. The solid blue single swing ice meant that I would have good gear to keep my head in the game and the ease of placements allowed me to marshal enough power for the crux. Conversely, these days easier routes of wonderful quality often times are left untouched. With limited time and unlimited ambition I have often neglected easier classics in favor of an at my limit hit list. Early season ascents have changed that somewhat. By visiting areas right at the start of the season, I have been forced to backed off of climbs two grades below my “normal” ability and have put adventure into routes that I would have normally left for retirement days.

The knowledge of how ice forms and having enough experience to know what to expect, can make a difference in how we go about our ascent. After years of climbing steep pillars I finally started to notice some patterns in the way they formed and the way the difficulty was laid out due to those patterns. In most cases the first 15-35 feet are the technical crux of the route. Because it is the last section of the climb to form, the ice at the bottom of the pillar is more aerated, more brittle and steeper than anywhere else on the climb (umbrella roofs excepted). Obviously knowing this gives you a psychological edge, which I’ll talk about in the mental factor section. But, there are also concrete steps you can take if you know this information. Where are you going to stop for the first screw? Because the ice will most likely be funky, always make sure the first screw on your rack or clipper is a 22cm(long) one and that you have a screamer for it. Look carefully to see where the telltale white/gray ice gives way to blue. Is one side of the pillar a better color or better consistency (even if its steeper) than the other?  Lastly look for rests-mushrooms to stand on, grooves to stem, or subsidiary pillars to lean against or stem out to and plan your ascent around them. My biggest mistakes on those early test piece leads were failing to look ahead and failing to reap the benefits of foresight.

There are two other physical contingencies’ that affect your experience on the lead. The first is the set-up of your gear. The second is the mobility of your clothing system. The single most important lesson I can teach you about gear, is that it needs to be dialed in to the point of invisibility. Your tools leashes, your racking system for your screws and other hardware, your crampon straps-basically every piece of gear you climb with needs to be set up correctly. The experience you are looking for, is one of having all your gear work together so well, that you never think about it. Every time you have to fight to get the right size screw, every time your leashes come loose, every time you are taken out of the moment to deal with circumstances outside of the climbing, you have failed. It might be as minor as a single curse-it might mean a leader fall. Take the time to have your gear in order before you launch up that cauliflower pillar, and you experience will improve immeasurable

The last issue I want to touch on, is mobility. Once again the principal I want to stress here is invisibility. Gone are the days when a set of heavy Gore Tex bibs and jacket was the only real choice to climb ice in. by taking advantage of “soft shell” technology, we can feel much more like rock climbers in tights and a tee shirt than a knight in armor. Scheoller, Powershield, and a host of other like fabrics have set us free. By taking advantage of these stretchy warm and durable fabrics we can let go of another distraction and concentrate more on the matter at hand-surviving our lead. The energy savings that come from unencumbered movement can be put towards the crux.

Taken together, all of the physical factors I have talked about can make a major difference in your next difficult lead. I hope you will take advantage of my learning curve. Next time I’ll talk about the intangibles that come in to play on difficult leads.

Scott Backes

Logan Bread

Looking for an alternative to power bars? Logan bread could be the answer.
This is a bread developed for the numerous Canadian ascents on Mount Logan. A 2-by-2-inch square was said to be able to sustain a man for a day.

1 quart water
4 pounds whole wheat flour
1 1/2 pounds raw sugar or brown sugar
12 ounces non-fat dry milk
2 tablespoons baking power
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 cups honey
1 cup blackstrap molasses
1 1/4 cups oil
1 cup sesame seeds
1 1/2 cups wheat germ

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees
2. mix all ingredients together very well and turn into a greased roasting pan. Bake one hour. 3. Cut into squares and then allow to air-dry until squares are semi-dry.
Yield: Enough to sustain two men 16 days.

From The New York Times Natural Foods Cook Book by Jean Hewitt 1971

X-treme Tape

Originally developed for the military, this new silicone tape is ideal for wrapping your ice tool. And with the 6 different colors it is easy to individualize your tools.

It’s self-fusing, and requires no adhesive since it only bonds to itself. X-treme tape stretches to 3 times its length, conforms to irregular shapes easily, and withstands UV rays, acids and fuels. Won’t melt to 500° F. Remains flexible to -60°F. Insulates to 8000 volts. Forms a permanent air and watertight seal. Once wrapped over itself, it forms a bond immediately, and is permanently fused in 24 hours. Each roll is 1″ wide x 10′.

This is the best tape I have found for wrapping ice tools and is similar to the original tape that comes on the Petzl charlet Nomic. Sticker but not as durable.

Available from

Duluth Trading Company