Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Notes on Simple Tricks for Speed

There's been a bunch of discussion over on about the last speed post, thought I'd post a few things that answered good questions on there:

-We use a single rope not necessarily to save weight (although if you add up the grams/meter it's a close contest), but because it keeps the belays a lot more organized and is generally a lot faster to deal with at transitions. Using two lead ropes invariably turns into a cluster once the ropes get a little icy or the belay is hanging, especially when block leading where the leader is on the "bottom" of the stack. Add in gloves, cold hands, fatigue, etc. etc. and a single lead line is just better when it's better. I use twin ropes, half ropes and single ropes depending on the situation, all have their place. For long relatively fat ice routes without a major approach (more than a few hours) I use a 70 or 80M 9.2 to lead on and a 7.7 (sometimes much thinner, but that gets technical and often isn't worth the hassle either) tag line. The tag line either goes in the second's pack or is towed by the leader or second depending on what's going on...

-A good belay on an ice climb is often one where the belayer can't even see the leader. A cave, a nook, some place that totally protects the belayer from falling ice is essential, and to not establish sheltered belays while leading a block is a crime punishable by free hotel-priced scotch for the second (if he or she isn't in the hospital). An attentive belay is always good, but ice climbing is a very different game than hard rock climbing... On a 70M pitch you're often run five to ten meters between screws, the belayer's main job is to catch a catastrophic fall and not short-rope the leader. There are of course times when every inch counts, and a good team will recognize those situations and respond appropriately.

-I'd generally rather have a belayer using a gri-gri than the other options while he or she is taking a leak, eating a piece of pizza, drinking, finishing a V-thread, and all the other chores that go into being a good team on a long route. I'm comfortable with that, but if you're not then by all means don't do it. Seriously, no sarcasm, you have to know your partner and the situation. Some partner's I'd trust with just an ATC while doing all of the above, some partners I assume I'm soloing even if they are looking at me the whole time. Definitely do use an auto-lock for belaying the second, no reason not to.

-All these points are about making the transitions and climb faster. There are likely safer ways of doing things; four screws at each belay, a screw every two meters on each 70M+ pitch, etc. etc. These transition ideas work great on relatively fat pure ice routes like Polar Circus, Willoughby routes or most Norwegian ice routes.


Scott said...

One of the things I love about climbing is talking to other climbers about their systems because everyone believes that their system is the best system. The truth is no system is perfect and it is often impressive to watch the ‘best’ system applied in the right situation.

Seems that some climbers, especially ones who are just getting into it just follow the ‘rules’ instead of understanding the ‘why’ behind the ‘rules’ and deciding weather to follow them or not. Perhaps it has something to do with the way climbing is often taught, using words like ‘always’, ‘never’ and ‘must’.

Great posts, always fun thinking about this stuff.

ed hannam said...

damn right there scott.

theres an old martial art saying that, once you understand the principles you dont need to stick with the rules.

never applied better than to climbing, and especially ice with all its hourly, daily and seasonal variations.

im no cutting edge climber, but i do recall the moment i realized its all up to me, that i could mix and tweak and totally reorganize the way i did stuff. after years of following the exploits of the big guys who had thrown away the rule book it finally sunk thru to me - creativity and facing the apparent facts were more of a key than join-the-dots ascending.

thanks heaps will for making people think

Anonymous said...

Will has showed us a possibly way of gain speed and efficiency.

As I am used to ice climbing in the Alps, the ice is far away from the Canadian Rockies/Norwegian ice quality, pillars and these things normally are awful precarious, the ice quality controls mostly the way we climbed, the way we all should be climbing, sometimes in the Alps people climb and put 10 screws in a dead vertical pitch, perhaps none of them will support a lead's fall, rules of compromise. I do not know too much about this but in the Alps you have to learn that ice quality dictates primarily our decisions.

Will's speed ideas are fantastic, I will be adding them next season for sure but we all have to know our level, skill and adapt them to us, because top ice climbers climb and do things in a way that the rest of us only dream about it.

Thanks for sharing these ideas.


Olin said...

I agree with the appreciation expressed in the other comments. I really love long routes, but it has been a struggle trying to get efficient and wrap my mind around what I need to do to keep advancing the dream. Thanks for sharing your ideas and methods.

Anonymous said...


You mention both using a gri-gri for belaying the leader and an ATC-Guide for belauing the second. Are you actually climbing with both?, Does the perason leading have the ATC while the person following has the gri-gri?

Will Gadd said...

Anon 12:02--

Yes, for simple block climbing the leader has an ATC guide, second with Gri Gri.

Good luck.