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Ice climbing is the recreational activity of climbing ice formations such as icefalls, and frozen waterfalls. (Dry-tooling is climbing rock using the tools for ice climbing.) Depending on the slope and texture of the ice, different equipment and techniques can be employed by the climber. For example, on flat ice, almost any good hiking or mountaineering boot will usually suffice, but for serious ice climbing double plastic mountaineering boots (or their older stiff leather equivalent) are usually used, which must be crampon compatible and stiff enough to support the climber and maintain ankle support. On short, low angled slopes, one can use an ice axe to chop steps. For longer and steeper slopes or glacier travel, crampons are mandatory for a safe climb. Vertical ice climbing is done with crampons and ice axes (generally called ice tools if they are specific to vertical ice); the climber kicks his legs to engage the front points of the crampons in the ice, and then swings the axe into the ice above his head. This technique is known as front pointing. The strength of the ice is often surprising; even if the axe only goes in a centimeter or so it is enough to pull up on. If the climber is leading, he will need to place ice screws as protection on his way up (see climbing system).
Most mountaineers would only consider the last scenario true ice climbing; the less steep variations are routine aspects of winter mountaineering.
Ice Climbing Techniques
There are different ice climbing techniques an aspiring climber should learn. These include rope systems, tying in, belaying, leading, abseiling, and lowering. Beginners should need to learn these techniques before attempting to ice climb. It is highly recommended to acquire knowledge from the experts and experienced ice climbers.
Single, twin, and double rope are the three main rope systems used in ice climbing. The single rope system, which is suited for straight climbing routes, is the most commonly used system in the world. Also often used in climbing is the double rope system which is a more flexible system than the single rope system. Lastly, the twin rope system, which uses two twin ropes in a single rope system, is used for longer multi-pitch routes. However, this type is not often used in climbing.
Tying in entails attaching your rope to the climbing harness. This technique is a must particularly when leading a climb or belaying. The commonly used tie-in knot is the figure eight. Once you tie-in, you will create a belay loop which will contain your belay device when needed. This technique should be done properly to ensure your safety when ice climbing.
In this climbing technique, you are going to use either running belays or fixed belays. A running belay on ice is similar to a running belay on rock or snow. The leader of the climb puts protection and clips the rope through it. The next climber puts away the protection. There should be at least two points of protection between the leader and the next climber. Fixed belays, on the other hand, require a belayer, belay anchor, and points of protection. A belay anchor is attached to a cliff in supporting a belay or toprope. In using either a running- or fixed belay, it is necessary that you have enough knowledge on boot/ice-screw belay techniques.
Leading refers to the act of leading a climb and thus, requires a leader and a follower. This ice climbing technique entails putting protection while ascending. In doing so, leading is done in sections. The leader places the protection as he climbs until he reaches the top. Then, as the second climber climbs, he removes the protection placed by the leader. When the second climber finishes, they both proceed to the second pitch.
Also called as repelling, abseiling uses a fixed rope to descend. This technique is not only used to go down after a climb. It can also be used when trying new climbing routes and when there is a seemingly difficult access to the start of a climb. Careful execution is important in doing abseiling. There are the possibilities of jammed ropes, ropes becoming severed after getting in contact with sharp edges, and other cases of equipment failure.
Lowering is one of the most common methods of getting down. A belayer at the base of the vertical wall ensures that the climber is lowered safely. This climbing technique is used when going down routes where there are short, steep walls. This is also used when you want to go down faster.
These are the different techniques used in climbing activities. Keep in mind, though, that it is very crucial to learn these skills from expert climbers before attempting them yourself.
Rock and ice climbers and mountaineers often belong to Clubs, some of which were started in the very early days of the sport. Clubs are often responsible for the publication of Climbing Guides. The article Alpine Club lists some of these organizations.
In the UK and Ireland there are several prominent clubs, including:
- Alpine Club (UK) - Founded 1857
- Climbers' Club - Founded 1898
- Fell & Rock Climbing Club - Founded 1906
- Scottish Mountaineering Club - Founded 1889
- Irish Mountaineering Club - Founded 1942
In the United States several venerable clubs are:
- American Alpine Club - Founded 1902
- Sierra Club - Founded 1892
- Colorado Mountaineering Club - Founded 1912
- Chicago Mountaineering Club - Founded 1940
- The Mazamas - Founded 1894
- The Mountaineers - Founded 1907
- Ice climbing photos
- Vertical Resources - information on mountaineering, ice and rock climbing. Based in New Zealand
- Ice Climbing Techniques and Skills
- Photos iceclimbing in Switzerland
- Photos iceclimbing in Switzerland
- The Ice Pit, Wisconsin
- Ice Climbing Equipment - review/overview of basics
- Ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies from ericandlucie.com
Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills