Sunday, November 20, 2011

Climb Smarter & Safer

As ice climbing season approaches we are all ancy to get out and play. Early season routes are now coming in and the ice season (in the canadian rockies anyway) has begun. Ice climbing is a dangerous sport, but fun none the less. Over the years I have taken lots of pointers from partners and such that have really helped me progress in becoming a better and safer climber. Over the next little while I will be posting some of my own tips as well as some more from Climbing magazine (cause I think they do a real good job with awesome illustrations) Hope these help, feel free to comment...


By David Roetzel
Illustration by Mike Clelland

Regardless of how much better ice-climbing equipment gets — better tools, easier-to-place screws, heel spurs, or better clothing — ice climbing has a different learning curve than rock, and, in general, it’s best not to fall off. Trial, error, and experience are the keys to improvement. Here are a few tips to help you along the curve.
Tip your lid, you’ll be glad you did. Dodging dinner plates of ice is a dangerous part of ice climbing. Like any dodge game, you’re bound to take some hits, but where you take your lumps is the real concern. Use your helmet for what it was designed for — taking impacts. To be combat ready, your helmet’s front brim should be positioned just above your eyebrows and securely positioned on your head.
Always be alert for the sights and sounds of ice breaking loose — these are your best warnings that you’re about to contend with falling ice. Next time you’re swinging and a piece of ice comes loose, tilt your head down and slightly towards the arm that’s swinging. If done properly, the brim of your helmet should end up just lower than your eye’s horizontal plane. This is a subtle movement — tip your head too far forward and you expose your cervical spine; tip it too little and the ice might hit your face. Looking up with your eyes while maintaining the tipped-brim position allows you to see, and keeps you protected.
Perpendicular and flat make crampon placements fat. Unlike in rock climbing where we often stand on our tip-toes, sound crampon placements result from keeping your feet flat so your crampons remain horizontal. Standing on your toes brings your heels up, forcing your front points down, possibly causing them to sheer. To avoid the whip, keep your heels level with, or, lower than, your front points. This angle of attack provides the most secure crampon placement, and brings your secondary points closer to the ice.
This is obvious when you’re kicking straight in front of you, but what happens when you need to kick out to either side? More often than not, kicking to the side leaves your inside points touching and the outside points barely contacting ice. To counter this, move your heel away from your body by rotating the top of your leg inside your hip’s ball-and-socket joint. Your foot and front points should now be perpendicular to the ice. As you kick, remember to keep your toes up and your heel low, allowing both the front points and the secondary points to hit the ice.
Kicking with a stiffy to clear a bulge. Clearing an ice bulge can be difficult. Kicking in the typical manner (where your knee joint acts as a hinge) almost always leaves your front points pointing downwards, not straight in. Rather than using your knee like a hinge, gently lock it, lift the front of your crampons up and swing your leg from the hip. Ideally, your knee remains stiff throughout the motion, keeping your toes higher than your heels, which helps engage your front and secondary points at the moment of impact.

Recommended Route

Seeing on how it is now officially ice climbing season (not for all of us but close) I figured this would be a good time to start changing it up a little.

When I used to live in Banff, there was this amazing little route that was a few minutes drive from my house with a quick approach that was a great way to spend an afternoon (or morning). I never saw anyone else out there, I usually set the hiking track, and the ice was always so good. Maybe it wasn't this big pumpy grade 5 multi pitch but, with 25m of beautiful blue ice you could set an anchor and do as many laps as you wanted. Also, a very good place to get someone into the sport; comfortable. As far as I know this climb is only threatened by avalanche during big cycles (ie: high hazard, lots of storm snow) as it is located almost at the bottom of a drainage/creek. It is usually formed up by December and it just gets fatter as the season progresses. By March the sun starts to hit it more and the ice usually deteriorates, but from my experience it is pretty dependable every season by the start of December. A good Christmas climb???!!!

WI3 - 25M
Approach: Turn onto Highway 1A (Bow Valley Parkway) from Banff (10mins) and drive about 1.5km to a small interpretive pull-out (reference). Drive down another 150/200m or so until you hit a small stream that crosses the road (sparse trees). Pull-over, park here and head up the gully/creek for 1km to the route. At first the trail is in the woods and as you get further up you will notice the creek (icy under your feet). Eventually the creek will get steeper and more frozen (sometimes crampons will be needed here) to where it will become a small canyon where a big log jam will need to be passed. The falls should be visible from here.

Climb: Climb a little Wi1 to a beautiful curtain with lots of variations (the middle usually being the steepest. Rappel off V-Thread. Going exploring up the canyon is kinda fun too!

Recommended Route(s)

Just back from an excellent road trip to the U.S.A I discovered these fantastic climbs called 'Towering Inferno' and 'Looney Binge' at the Owen's River Gorge.  Both climbs are located at the Eldorado Roof area in the Inner Gorge. One route climbs up the roof and the other traverses the lip of it.

At first glance you don't know what to think of the Gorge (sure Im not the first), big power lines, and choss. But then as you enter the canyons you realize the vast amount of climbing here. From the first route we climbed I was pretty satisfied. Climb any route in Marty Lewis' guide 4 stars or more (lots...) and I guarantee you wont be disappointed. Here I will just outline a couple of climbs that really stood out for me, and that should not be missed!

5.11A - 42M - 15 Bolts - SPORT
Start on the far right end of the Eldorodo Roof in a quaint little belay spot underneath a big left facing corner/dihedral. Climb 4 bolts of stemming and crack climbing to the start of the traverse (crux). From here traverse left past many bolts across the face with great pleasure. A 70m rope will touch down when lowering off into the river, or continue on 4 more pitches of mid 5.11.

5.12C - 70M Rope - 18 Bolts - SPORT
Starts more towards the left side of the roof. Begin by climbing a steep bulge to an undercling (tricky) then into a funky dihedral. From here the fun begins, follow the crazy overhanging flake system (see photo) passing many bolts and trying to fight the pump until you hit the final vertical headwall. Take a rest and finish by climbing the face trending right to the anchors of the first pitch of 'Towering Inferno'. Likely one of the best roofs you'll ever climb!