How Rock Climbing Relates To Ice Climbing

Chicks ice climbing clinic participant demonstrates how rock climbing relates to ice climbing by hanging on a straight arm

Amy, Chicks Ouray, Ice Climbing participant climbing with her shoulders down and her arm straight. Ouray Ice Park, Ouray, Colorado. ©Kitty Calhoun.

Rock climbing relates to ice climbing in many different ways.

The following 4 tips will get you into the swing of things – from rock climbing to ice climbing.

Rock Climbing Relates to Ice Climbing when you Relax Your Grip

Rock climbing relates to ice climbing in that you don’t want to over grip. In ice climbing, just like rock climbing, over-gripping wastes energy. Worse, over-gripping when ice climbing squeezes the blood out of your fingers (making for cold hands). And over-gripping stiffens your wrists so your tools won’t roll off your hands properly when you swing.

Keep Shoulders Down and Arms Straight

Keeping your shoulders down and your arms straight helps you conserve energy on both ice and rock. When your shoulders are down and your arms are straight, you use your skeletal system for support instead of using precious muscle energy. Don’t hold on with bent arms! Straighten your elbows and hang off your shoulders so that your shoulder blades are pinned down your back.

Keep Your Elbows In

You don’t want chicken wings on rock or ice. Chicken-wings happen when your elbows aren’t in line with the front of your shoulder. When your elbows are out of line (maybe up by your ears!), your shadow will look like a strange cactus. Whether you’re on rock or ice, keep your elbows close to your center and not chicken winging out. Keep your elbows in when you’re ice climbing and you’ll get more powerful swings and better sticks.

And Rock Climbing Relates to Ice Climbing When You Make Eye Contact

Your attention goes wherever your eyes go when you’re rock climbing or ice climbing. Don’t take your eyes off the sweet spot when you place your foot or swing. And don’t squint. If you look away, or squint, you’re more likely to miss your mark. Keep your eyes on the prize when you’re ice climbing and you’ll be able to see if your tool’s teeth have engaged after you’ve struck the ice, or not!

Happy Swinging!

For more ice climbing specific technique and training beta check out:

Cramponing Technique, by Ice Climbing Guru and Lead Chicks Ice Climbing guide, Lindsay Fixmar.

Swing! Training For Ice Climbing, by AMGA Rock Guide and Founder Ripple Effect Training, Carolyn Parker

Cramponing Technique

Lindsay Fixmer using good cramping technique climbing in Newfoundland

Lindsay Fixmer, Chicks Ouray, Colorado | Ice Climbing lead guide demonstrating superb cramping technique while ice climbing in Newfoundland, Canada. ©Alden Pellett

Cramponing technique starts with fundamental ice climbing footwork and is based on two key movements: 

  1. Shin Engagement
  2. Precision 

Shin Engagement

You can practice shin engagement for cramponing technique while standing on the ground or floor of your home in regular shoes or socks … or at the base of an ice flow! 

Simply raise your foot and pull your toes up to engage your shins.

When you pick your foot up, if you don’t engage your shins, your toes will naturally drop down. Boots & crampons weigh the front of your foot down even more.

Kick with a dropped toe and three problems arise:

1. Lack of Surface Area: 

With a dropped toe, the top of your crampon points hit the ice. The problem is the top of your crampon point is too small to appropriately displace your weight. Further weighting the top of your crampon point creates a pressure spot that breaks off in the ice. The ice cannot hold with the small amount of contact and the large amount of pressure. 

2. Pain

With a dropped toe, you will kick your toe into the ice. And if you’ve ever had a bruised toenail…oof.

3. Burn-out: 

If you kick with a dropped toe, you will end up on your toes. As graceful, strong and elegant as Ballerinas are, ice climbers are not ballerinas. Ice climbers need to weight their feet, not stand on their toes. 

Instead of kicking with a dropped toe, engage your shins and kick perpendicularly to the ice. 

A proper ice climbing foot placement meets front and secondary crampon points with the ice: 

 In order to do this, pick up your foot, toes to the sky, and kick!

*Note: If someone tells you to ‘drop your heels,’ you’ve already made contact with the ice incorrectly. Fix that ineffective crampon placement by taking your foot off the ice, engaging your shin muscle, then re-placing your foot.

Precision

On the rock we watch our big toes in order to be precise. 

For cramponing technique your crampon front point(s) are extensions of your big toes. Watch your front points in order to be precise when ice climbing.

Before each foot placement, locate your contact space (What does it look like? Is it a small divot? Is it a ledge?). 

Decide: “Am I kicking or placing my foot?” 

Pick up your foot, pull your toes toward the sky, and watch your foot make contact. 

Making a kicking contact usually only requires one swift, controlled kick. 

Bullet hard ice can require more kicks, but this is rare. Cold, wind-sculpted, or north facing routes with severely cold temperatures can create solid slabs of ice that require kicking. While places like Ouray have softer, more ‘picked out’ ice with ledgy placements. 

In order to work on foot precision, you need to watch your feet make contact. 

To watch your feet make contact, you need to be able to relax on your tools. 

To relax on your tools your pinky fingers should be in the pummel, your arms should be long, your shoulders relaxed, and your hips out away from the ice.

Learn more about ice climbing technique join me on a Chicks Ouray, Colorado | Ice Climbing Clinic.

22 Years of Avalanche Fatalities | Ice Climbers At Risk

avalanche above camp bird road

Helicopter assisted avalanche mitigation – big release into a gully above one of the many ice climbs on the Camp Bird Road, Ouray, Colorado. ©Angela Hawse

A recent study, 22 Years of Avalanche Fatalities by Activity and Trigger Type in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks, Canada reveals that 43% of avalanche fatalities were ice climbers, 32% were skiers, and 18% were snowshoers. The study also reveals almost a 50/50 split between victims triggering avalanches themselves or getting hit by a natural from overhead.

table showing avalanche fatals by activity in the last 22 years in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay Parks, Canada

Looking at this study, it’s odd that many ice climbers and mountaineers throughout the world do not carry avalanche rescue equipment. This long-standing culture of climbers not carrying avalanche rescue equipment is especially odd considering ice and alpine climbs often involve avalanche terrain i.e. gullies or exposure on the approach or descent.

In contrast, backcountry skiers have always accepted responsibility for avalanche risk. The backcountry skiing code-of-conduct insists that everyone carries avalanche rescue gear.

Avalanche rescue gear is considered fundamental gear for backcountry skiers. Not only do backcountry skiers expect their partners to be properly equipped, they expect them to be adequately skilled in the event of an avalanche.

Although we see a shift towards avalanche awareness in climbing culture, Chicks wants to encourage all ice climbers and mountaineers to adopt the fundamentals of avalanche safety: always climb with avalanche gear and know how to use it. Don’t climb with anyone who doesn’t.

The best way to familiarize yourself with avalanche rescue gear and fundamental skills is to take a 1-day Avalanche Rescue Course.

Avalanche Rescue courses are not only for skiers. They are for everybody (skiers, boarders, climbers, snowshoers, sledders) who gets out in the mountains in the wintertime.

If you can’t afford to buy avalanche rescue gear, it’s easy to rent.

Again, having avalanche rescue gear as well as the ability to properly use avalanche rescue gear is the only chance for survival in the unfortunate event you or one of your partners is involved in an avalanche.

Together with the Silverton Avalanche School , Chicks is hosting three early-season, 1-day Avalanche Rescue Courses. Each course will be held in a different, yet equally fantastic Colorado San Juan Mountains location.

These clinics are offered throughout the country. Check out the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education’s Upcoming Public Avalanche Training Courses List. Get signed up for one before you set off pursuing your winter ice!

5 Questions To Help You Plan And Prepare For Climbing Success

Caro North on a mission to send in Salvan, Switzerland. ©Karen Bockel.

 

1. Where?

Bring your guidebook (or topos) of your desired route(s).

Read and take notes on directions to the trailhead, approaches and route description(s).

Use tech resources such as gaia.gps, mountainproject or sumitpost for beta for information.

Pro Tip – If the guidebook is too heavy, take photos of all relevant pages.

2. When?

Make yourself a time plan.

How long does it take to drive to the trailhead?

How long is the approach?

When do you want to be back?

How long does it take to get back?

How much can you climb in the rest of the time?

3. What?

Is your route the right objective for the day?

Are conditions appropriate?

Do you have the gear and experience for the send?

Have a Plan B if things don’t line up.

4. Why?

Is it a project?

Just getting mileage?

Happy to enjoy a leisurely day at the crag?

Define your goal!

5. Who?

Who is the most important part!

Are you in the right mind space?

(Put away the distractions and hidden agendas.)

 

Is your partner on the same page?

 

Communicate your plan for the day.

Teamwork makes the dream work!

 

See you in the hills,

Your Hips Are Your Power Center

Magali Lequient climbing "Liquid Zipper" (11b) at "The Pipeline Crag" in Maple Canyon, Utah.

Magali Lequient climbing “Liquid Zipper” (11b) at “The Pipeline Crag” in Maple Canyon, Utah.©Chris Noble

“Do the Elvis!”

Two young men, whom I barely knew but had eagerly suggested we go sport climbing together, yelled up at me.

“What?” I yelled back, trying to maintain composure. What the hell were they talking about?

I was struggling at the crux of a moderate sport route and when I looked down both of the guys were grinning and gyrating their hips.

At the time, most of my experience was in trad climbing. “I must be missing something,” I thought. I’d never heard of “doing the Elvis” in trad climbing.

Later, I went to a local climbing gym to learn better technique from a coach. After many sessions, it finally dawned on me: my hips should not act like an anchor on a ship! They are in fact my power center.

If you think about it, you can move your hips in many ways to your advantage, just like those boys were trying to show me all those years ago.

  • Move your hips out from the wall so you can see your feet.
  • Once you place your feet, rock your hips over them so that you can stand up.
  • Engage your hips forcefully (as if doing a squat) to get power from your lower body rather than trying to do all the work with your less powerful upper body by pulling only with your arms.
  • Wind up with your hips for momentum when making a big side-to-side or upward movement like a deadpoint or dyno.
  • On steep technical rock, focus on keeping your hips “married” to the wall for better balance.

I bet Elvis never dreamed he’d be invoked as a model for efficient climbing movement!

Alpine Butterfly Knot

alpine butterfly knot

Alpine Butterfly Knot. ©Elaina Arenz

The Alpine Butterfly Knot is primarily used to create an attachment point to the middle of a climbing rope in alpine or glaciated terrain.

However, for rock climbing the alpine butterfly knot is also great for isolating a bad section of rope and using the rope for the anchor.

The reason why an Alpine Butterfly is a good choice for the middle of the rope is that once it’s tied, the knot can be loaded in any direction. This makes it the perfect choice for roping up several people on one climbing rope—for crossing glaciers or other low-angle terrain that might be easy but where you still want security.

To clip into a butterfly knot it’s best practice to use a triple action carabineer designed to protect against cross loading like the Sterling Falcon Talon. Clip the bite of the butterfly knot to your belay loop.

As with any knot, it’s important that you can recognize a correctly tied knot. Be sure to dress it by pulling both strands tightly.

The simplest way to tie the Alpine Butterfly is the hand-wrap method. The advantages are:

  • Easy to tie while wearing gloves
  • You’ll consistently tie it correctly
  • Easy to untie after it’s been weighted

Check out this video demonstration of the Alpine Butterfly Hand-Wrap Method, watch it and then practice until you commit it to muscle memory. Remember, perfect practice makes perfect.

One-Handed Clove Hitch

Attach to the anchor with a clove hitch

Attaching to the anchor with a one-handed clove hitch. ©Aimee Barnes

Attaching to the anchor with a one-handed clove hitch is beneficial for a number of reasons.

  1. You are hardwiring into the anchor and you need no other tether.
  2. A clove hitch is easily adjustable.

twist the rope towards yourself and clip it into the anchor

With anchor at head  or chest height, raise rope and intentionally back clip the carabiner twisting the rope towards yourself.

one-handed clove hitch step 2

Pick up the rope that is coming from the back.

one handed clove hitch step 3

Twist toward yourself again and clip it. Creating a clove hitch.

finished clove hitch

Clove Hitch!

Flat Overhand Bend | Climbing Knots

Two ropes tied together with a flat overhand bend and set up for a rappel

A flat overhand bend used to tie two ropes together for rappelling.

Use A Flat Overhand Bend To Tie Two Ropes Together For A Double-Rope Rappel

When I got into climbing longer routes during my college years, I started to also encounter lots of long rappels.

The endless question of how to tie the ropes together never got a simple answer at that time. I saw people use anything from a double fisherman’s to a reverse-threaded figure eight with back up knots. These knots were cumbersome and often got stuck in cracks or under overhangs. Everyone seemed to have a different solution, and none of them were all that practical. I remember being frustrated and unsure.

Enter the flat overhand bend (also known as the offset overhand bend). This is a simple but plenty strong enough knot for joining two ropes together when you need to do a double rope rappel.

The most important part of a flat overhand bend is to leave plenty of tail, at least 12 inches. Also, make sure you dress flat overhand knots very tidily, avoiding any twists. Lastly, make sure to pre-tension flat overhands by pulling all 4 rope threads snugly.

A flat overhand bend

holds a lot of weight (6kN or the equivalent of about 10 climbers hanging with their full bodyweight) before it might fail by rolling—that’s why long tails are important. Long tails will keep your ropes connected even if the knot did start to roll.

It is also worth noting that the flat overhand bend had a bad reputation in the past. But fear not, there was mislabeling and misapplication that caused this “bad” reputation.For example, some people called this knot the European Death Knot or EDK. Meanwhile others used that same name for tying two ropes together using a figure eight instead of an overhand.

(People often think that a figure eight knot is stronger than an overhand knot but in this case, because the running ends are being pulled apart, the opposite is actually true. A few accidents may have resulted from the use of the figure eight in that application, but even that is not entirely proven…)

Use the flat overhand specifically to tie ropes together for rappelling.

If your knot is well-dressed and pre-tensioned with long tails, you are good to go.

You might also be interested in:

Use the Rope to Connect to the Anchor | Chicks Climbing

Sterling Powercord Cordalette | Chicks Climbing

 

The Rest Step

Click on the video above to watch Kitty Calhoun explain and demonstrate the rest step while carrying a heavy Indian Creek climbing backpack.

Use the Rest Step to conserve energy when hiking in the mountains and approaching rock climbs. You can also use the Rest Step while backcountry skiing.

Learn more about climbing and skiing from Kitty on a number of different Chicks Programs.

Learn more than the rest step. Kitty teaches Spring 2019 Chicks Indian Creek participants how to tape up before climbing

Kitty teaching Spring 2019 Chicks Indian Creek participants how to tape up before climbing.

Unplanned Bivouac, West Face – Grand Teton, 1984

morning after unplanned bivouac. Kitty Calhoun traversing on the west face of the grand teton, 1984

Kitty Calhoun, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, traversing back on route the morning after a forced bivouac on the West Face of the Grand Teton, 1984 ©Kitty Calhoun Collection

There is nothing like an unplanned bivouac to make me swear:

“I will never make that mistake again.”

When I first began doing winter alpine ascents, almost 40 years ago, what I feared most was getting benighted.

Yet, as these things go, in January 1984 I found myself near the top of the West Face of the Grand Teton, in the dark. There I sat, bumping my head against my partner, Bobby Knight. The head bumping was my way of forcing us to stay awake to keep wiggling our toes. I was terrified that if we dozed off our feet would freeze.

It turns out we were off-route. Bobby and I were supposed to be on the Black Ice Couloir. But, instead we were in a nearby dihedral. The dihedral had suckered us with endless, blissful mixed climbing. However, hours of joyful climbing soon turned to concern, as it grew dark. Using night vision and our weak, circa 1984 headlamp, we were able to keep climbing. But when the dihedral ended at the base of a dark, blank-looking face we were stuck. There was nothing to do but sit on a ledge, bump heads and wait for daylight.  It’s a good thing I have a hard head!

Eventually morning came, finding us sleepy but unfrozen.

In the daylight we traversed out right onto the Black Ice Couloir and continued to the summit.

Looking back, I’m certain that if we’d had a modern, Black Diamond Icon Headlamp with 125 feet of 500 lumens we could have kept going and avoided that frightening unplanned bivouac.