Sunday, December 05, 2010

How to hold an ice tool, "small stuff."

I've done a whack of ice climbing and coaching the same in the last two weeks, and it's made me think of a few "small things" that make a huge difference for climbing ice. Most of this stuff is in my book or other writing somewhere, but I have to relearn it myself every season.

The basic technique of steep ice climbing is pretty well diagrammed now (Put in a high tool, straight arm, walk feet over and then up keeping arm straight, stand, not pull, up, place high tool, repeat to top) but there are endless refinements. So here's a list of "small stuff" for ice climbing that makes a big difference.

-Look where you're going to swing next and swing there. Probably 90 percent of the people I see ice climbing don't do this. Same with your feet, LOOK before kicking.

-Most people don't swing leashless tools very well, mainly because they wrap their hands too far around the shafts of the tools and the human wrist just won't swing well in that position. This "wrapped" position feels solid and is how you hang onto leashless tools, but it sucks for swinging. If you're climbing leashless, and most people are, rotate your hand around the grip about 15 degrees to the outside or the side or away from your chest while swinging, and rotate it back again to "grip" while hanging on the tool. If you hold your hand in karate-chop or thumbs up thin hand crack position and keep all the fingers straight then move your thumb so it's making a sort of half-oval at the same horizontal level as your index finger your ice tool will fit exactly into that groove. The knuckle on your thumb will naturally be in the middle of your ice tool's shaft. Now close your pinkie and ring finger around the ice tool. The groove between your thumb and index finger guides the swing, the index and ring finger hang on... That's the "swing" position. After planting the tool (and I plant mine, not peck), close all your fingers and rotate your hand slightly so it's easy to hold the tool. That's the grip position. This system works whether you're on Cobras or any other tool I've seen out there. I'm sick of seeing bumbling swings with leashless tools even by otherwise decent ice climbers, no reason for it, we can do better.

-Fluffy pants. Like belaying in a sleeping bag, absolutely dreamy when it's cold out. Love 'em. I have these.

-I just figured out how to describe the last tip in this list, and I'm really stoked about my geeky discovery. Here it is: If your right rear deltoid is feels tight or feels "strung" while climbing I'll bet a dollar that your crampons (edit, ADD strikes) off to the left side of your tool. That "barn door" feeling usually happens when both feet are too far to the inside of the tool, and one foot is lower than the other. So, if you feel "tight" and slightly out of balance while your rear delt (and probably also most of your rotator cuff...) is freaking out move your feet under the tool. Cool, I've been trying to describe this for years but just figured it out. For some the "rear delt" visualization works well.

I could write pages on this stuff (and have!), I just love thinking about ice and working with people on how to climb better--it's an endless challenge to find the right way to explain something to somebody, whether they will be leading grade six this year or have just started ice climbing. And ice climbing changes as our gear and understanding evolves, cool.

In about a week I'm going to do a couple of "Review" and "Gear" issues of this blog. For some reason people I don't even know have been sending me stuff, ranging from foot warmers to little crampons for your street shoes. I have sponsors obviously, and any "review" of their gear would be compromised by that relationship in the justifiably scornful eye of the public, but I'm going to go through what I'm using for this season and why, hopefully that isn't too materialistic. I put links to my sponsors on this page, but there are no ads from them or anyone on here, I try to keep it as honest as I can on these pages.

Looking forward to a show tomorrow night in Seattle at the Mountaineers, and then off to Bozeman for the Arcteryx ice festival there, I imagine I'll see a bunch of you out there!


PS--If you are a telemarker reading this blog, welcome! I sure stirred some people up with the last couple of posts on skiing, it's all good fun, let's SKI!!! The funny thing to me is that I still likely ski better with my heels loose; I only got back into AT skiing a few years ago, and do most of it on my ice boots. 25 years of telewhacking doesn't just disappear overnight.


Anonymous said...

clear as mud that explanation was,

Bruno Schull said...

Hi Will, glad to find the ice climbing tips for the new season...I always learn a great deal from reading/thinking about/experimenting with your ideas. With your grip advice, it seems as if the fulcrum for the swing is really the pinky and ring finger and the other fingers act to guide the you ever find it useful to swing a tool from higher up on the shaft, for example, from the higher grip on a leashless tool? And if so, does your advice about technique still apply, or would you hold the tool differently? Thanks again!

PS-good job stirring the pot with the tele skiers! Tele skiing seems incredibly challenging, aesthetic, and fun, but I think you're right about the practicality of AT gear.

Aaron M said...

What about the old Fusions? Any tips on how to swing them?

Will Gadd said...

Anon--I'll take some photos, might help.

Bruno--Yes, fulcrum is the lower two fingers, changes a bit depending on the tool but yes. Grin on the tele skiers...

Aaron--swing the old fusions with your index finger, not your little finger--exactly the opposite of the above, ha ha! There's a trick for putting the 90 degree bend exactly into the web of skin between thumb and index finger and holding the other side of the 90 with your index finger, letting it all rotate around your index but keeping a little pressure with the web between your thumb and index. Try it out with a tool in your hand, makes more sense. The Fusion has a very high pick angle (this may start an argument, but it does in terms of swinging). This trick can work well for other leashless tools going over bulges too. Bluntly, the old Fusions are the single best hooking tool ever made in my opinion, but they do not climb ice naturally, took me a while to figure 'em out. But the index finger swing trick works really well, I've done some long ice bits with 'em. HTH.

Erik W said...

Hey Will, cool article. I think a shorty vid of this 15 deg outward rotation would be helpful to see what you're talking about, because sitting here at my desk swinging my Vipers at the computer monitor (Darwin Award in the making) isn't getting this rotation down like I'm guessing you meant it.

I often swing with my thumb vertical against the spine of the grip as opposed to wrapped around it, and this seems to produce a small outward rotation of the wrist on it's own and feels really efficient. Maybe what you're describing is similar in rotation, but just with the thumb still wrapped.

Will Gadd said...

Clip up now that might explain thing the grip concept a little more.

The rotation in your hand is closer to 30 or 45 than 15 degrees I think.

You know, an editor is a good thing--I write a lot for Explore magazine, James is real good about catching this sort of thing, thanks.