Ice Climbing Safety

Ice Climbing Safety
Developing safe ice climbing skills can help you to reach the summits of alpine peaks that would otherwise be untouchable. Learning proper ice climbing skills can also take you to the realm of waterfall and mixed climbing. No matter what kind of ice climbing you wish to attempt, everything from the boots you wear and the tools you use to the climbing partner you choose are important to your safely and success.

Wear the Right Stuff

Wear a climbing helmet that accommodates a hat underneath and glasses for eye protection from falling ice. Acquire a layering system with wicking base layers and flexible waterproof and windproof shell layers. Your gloves should be warm enough but also have a sticky coating on the palm for a better grip on your ice axes. Boots should be stiff enough that your heel won't pop out when you are on the wall. Crampons should be semi-rigid when wearing stiff leather boots and rigid crampons should be worn with plastic mountaineering boots. Wear a climbing helmet that accommodates a hat underneath and glasses for eye protection from falling ice.

Keep Sharp Tools

Vertical ice tools have a shorter shaft than mountaineering axes. Use ice tools that have slightly curved shaft and a reversed curved pick and make sure that the grip is comfortable for your size hands when wearing gloves. Make sure your picks are always sharp and inspect for cracks before climbing. Use wrist leashes if you are worried about dropping a tool or often need to rest your grip.

Use the Right Gear

Always inspect all gear before using on an ice climb. Make sure your rope doesn't have any cuts or lumps or flat spots in it. Usually 10 to 11 millimeter ropes are used for ice climbing. Be careful not to step on your rope with your crampons. Use load-limiting runners when the protection you have placed is in questionable ice. These will help absorb the total energy of a fall. Make sure you have enough ice screws, carabiners, slings and webbing and place your ice screws into the ice with the screw head angled up about 10 degrees from the direction of a possible fall.

Practice Techniques

Practice placing ice screws, making anchors and V-threads while standing on the ground before actually climbing if you have never done it before. Learn to decipher what good and bad alpine ice looks like and good and bad waterfall ice. Always observe a climb before going up and use your best judgment as to if it is safe and climbable at your experience level. Become comfortable with rappelling as this is often the method of choice for descending steep ice. Top-rope as many times as you need to feel comfortable with your footwork (keep those heels down), pick placements, strength and protection placement techniques before leading on ice.

Choose a Safe Partner

Choose the right climbing partner. Your own skills must be mirrored by that of a partner whose skills are equivalent or better. Someone who has the skills and also uses their best judgment will never risk a questionable climbing situation. You and your climbing partner should use gut feelings, senses and brain to asses climbing situations together.

Article Written By Naomi Judd

Naomi M. Judd is a naturalist, artist and writer. Her work has been published in various literary journals, newspapers and websites. Judd holds a self-designed Bachelor of Arts in adventure writing from Plymouth State University and is earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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