Friday, January 12, 2007

Ice Screw Testing

I met the guys doing some human "crash test dummy" testing with ice screws when I was in Ouray last year. They've put together a nice trailer of hucking themselves off various ice climbs (link below). The fact that most of the ice screws held is encouraging for sure, but a few notes:

-No crampons on the test falls. My biggest concern with falling off while ice climbing isn't that a seemingly good screw will blow, but that I'll catch my crampons on the way down. I've done a few rescues involving various smashed lower appendages, and had several friends toast their ankles from even relatively short falls. The problem is that the crampons tend to bite in, and then either rip hell out of various soft tissue attachments or bones as the climber falls by. I've also seen climbers flipped upside down really violently as their crampons catch and the climber does a fast 180 around the frontpoints and smacks his head into the ice... This happens in the video even without crampons on.

-Very controlled setting. No ledges to hit, relatively smooth ice. Not really your typical fall scenario.

I think testing ice screws for holding power is good, we do a lot of it at Black Diamond, but the focus of the trailer seems to be on learning to trust ice screws to hold falls. That's sort of interesting, but equating the sorts of falls in the video with those experienced in combat really misses the point that falling on ice climbs is a really bad idea, even if the screw holds. My own personal maxim is that if I don't believe fairly strongly that I can climb the pitch without falling then I back off. I don't think I would have lasted this long while ice climbing if I were operating under the assumption that a fall is an acceptable outcome on an ice climb. It's almost always possible to simply stop and hang off a tool while ice climbing, there's no reason to be whipping off (either clip into the hole in the spike or loop a sling over the lower hook if it's a leashless tool if the pump starts to interfere with safe climbing).

Still, definitely worth watching this video, and good work by the guys involved. I love redneck engineering and this is classic, plus it's well-shot.

PS--thank to Brian Spreadbury for sending me the link, I lost it somewhere.

1 comment:

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Nice recommendation. I just love the ice screws and I will go to Ouray next month. I will do my best to remember all this post.