How to Use Mountain Climbing Gear

How to Use Mountain Climbing Gear
Mountain climbing involves specialized gear to get you to the top. Proper use of the gear is paramount to safety and success. Adapting the least amount of gear to safely accommodate rock, snow and ice is the ideal. Practice these alpine skills and you are on your way to high and wild places.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Boots Gaiters Crampons Ice axe Seat harness Software: rope, webbing and cord Hardware for general, rock and ice
  • Boots
  • Gaiters
  • Crampons
  • Ice axe
  • Seat harness
  • Software: rope, webbing and cord
  • Hardware for general, rock and ice
Step 1
Combine boots, gaiters and crampons to give your feet protection and traction on steep snow or ice. Gaiters cover the upper boot and lower leg, keeping out snow and dirt. Adjust crampons to fit your boot type, strap or snap them on, and stride carefully up the snow field. Crampons can be left on when crossing short stretches of rock. If you feet sink in the snow too deeply, use snowshoes which can still negotiate steep slopes.
Step 2
Learn the basic use of the ice axe. Essentially a walking stick, it has three points: the spike at the bottom of the long shaft, and at the head, the serrated pick and the short adze. Ascend by gripping the T in your uphill hand, keeping the serrated pick to your rear. Use the adze to chop steps if needed. Self-belay is the basic ice axe technique, done by simply sticking the spike into the snow every two steps for balance and to prevent slips. If a slip occurs, jam the axe down firmly with your grip on the head. With your free hand, grab the shaft where it enters at the surface of the snow, thus using both hands to hold the axe solidly, maintaining your position.
Step 3
Know how to perform self-arrest with an ice axe. It is a last resort maneuver, but must be mastered. Self-arrest uses the long, serrated pick blade to cut into the snow, causing drag to bring you to a stop. No matter what awkward position you might find yourself in accidentally sliding down a snow field, the first thing to do is get into the basic position: face down to the snow, head uphill and feet downhill. Once in this basic position, bend your knees to keep from catching a boot edge or crampon and cartwheeling out of control. Then pull in the ice axe toward your center chest underneath you, gripping the head and adze with one hand, and with your other hand gripping the shaft near the spike and holding it into your hip. Like a bandoleer, the axe will be diagonal between you and the snow. Laying over it, put your chest weight over the pick until coming to a stop. All other falling positions require you to recover to this basic position by dragging your axe in whatever hand you find it, and allowing your legs to swing around downhill, and to roll over, if on your back.
Step 4
Familiarize yourself with the use of rope and other software. Ropes and knots are used to connect climbers to belay falls. Webbing is used to make loops of all sizes to encircle rock outcroppings or snow horns for protection or anchor points. A seat harness is webbing sewed like a diaper to comfortably attach you to the rope. Webbing is also looped onto hardware so it can be attached to the rope with a carabiner. A prussic is another useful loop of usually small diameter perlon cord that allows a climber to ascend ropes.
Step 5
Learn to use general climbing hardware. Carabiners are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment a climber possesses and can be used in many configurations. Belay devices, such as the Figure 8 or another called a tube, simplify belaying and rappelling. A helmet is important especially if you will be climbing in areas of potential rock or ice fall.
Step 6
Use rock climbing hardware on rock, including cams, chocks or stoppers, and hexes. These are all set by properly wedging them into cracks and using small slings or cord loops with carabiners to clip them into the rope.
Step 7
Use ice climbing hardware on snow and ice. Hollow ice screws are manually applied, and set into the ice angled downward in the direction of a potential fall to allow the threads to hold. A snow anchor is a general term for describing techniques using various types of stakes or plates (snow pickets, flukes) hammered into the snow to provide an anchor. Snow conditions dictate their viability. Two other important techniques are the bollard, shaped with an ice axe and the Abalakov V-thread, made by using ice screws.

Article Written By Vaughn Clark

Living in Boise, Idaho, Vaughn Clark has been a freelance writer for 18 years. His articles have appeared in "Backpacker" magazine, "The New Times," the "Ventura County Star," and "Santa Barbara News-Press." He has also published poetry and written three full-length adventure screenplays.

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