Over the past few decades, changes in outdoor equipment have made it possible to travel safely to countless destinations. The summits of peaks like Mount Rainier and Mount Whitney were once reached by only a few climbers. Today, hundreds of people reach the summits of these mountains every year. Without the evolution of climbing gear like crampons and ice axes, these mountains would not be so accessible. As more people take on these climbs, it's important they understand how to use their equipment before they leave home.
General Crampon Use
Crampons attach to a climber's shoes, allowing traction over icy terrain. They enable a climber to travel where it would otherwise be impossible to pass. In many areas and through countless climbs, traveling without crampons has led to dangerous falls.
Hunters first used primitive crampons in the 16th century to travel over snow and ice in Europe. Since the early 20th century crampons have undergone several evolutions, from a 10-point crampon designed by Oscar Eckenstein to a 12-point design by Laurent Grivel that made it possible to travel over steep terrain. Technology continues to change, making crampons lighter, stronger and more suitable to climbers' needs.
Glaciers cross miles of mountain ranges, creating a snow- and ice-filled blanket. Crampons are essential gear for glacier travel. While the terrain on a glacier is not always steep, crevasses make it imperative to walk with care. Crampons give climbers the extra traction they need to stay sure-footed.
If a climber falls into a crevasse, crampons help him ascend the steep, icy walls to safety. Crampons let the climber participate in the rescue so his partners aren't left to haul his weight without assistance.
In the 1960's, Yvon Chouinard developed an ice ax with a shorter handle and greater arched pick. This new ice ax, coupled with crampons with front points, allowed climbers to ascend vertical ice. During ice climbing, climbers ascend like they would on a rock face. An ice ax takes the place of their hands and crampons replace their climbing shoes.
Article Written By Kathrine Cole
Kathrine Cole is a professional outdoor educator. She teaches rock climbing, backpacking, cycling, and bike maintenance classes. She is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School, a Wilderness First Responder, and a Leave No Trace Trainer.