Black Diamond Reactor – Gear We Use | Ice Climbing

black diamond reactor

Black Diamond Reactor Ice Tool | Gear We Use ©Black Diamond.

Sold Out!

Black Diamond has done it again!

Their latest and greatest Reactor Ice Tool could be the best ice climbing tool on the market.

Over two years BD’s R&D team developed and refined this axe with their athletes. The end result… sold out!  Our inside scoop let us know the Reactor will be available again soon. But it just goes to show they’ve come up with another winner.

Key Nuggets that Set the Black Diamond Reactor Apart:

Versatility

The Reactor climbs steep, mixed and moderate waterfall ice well and converts to an alpine machine simply by swapping out the head for BD’s alpine adze or hammer.

Swing and Weight 

A steel head & aluminum shaft combo gives the Reactor a well-balanced swing with good driving power.

Shaft

Generously bent for clearance over bulges.

Grip

Refined and innovative. An adjustable insert makes the grip more comfortable for different hand sizes. An upper grip is versatile for mixed climbing and ice climbing.

Pick

A new design makes it like “a needle going in and out of the ice,” explains BD’s Colin Powick in this quick video (along with some good ice climbing footage from Austria). 

Basically, like-a-needle means BD shortened and thinned their classic ice pick to create a more precise and penetrating Reactor pick.

If you’ve climbed on and like BD Fuels or Cobras you’ll love Reactors. 

We do!  And, we’re stoked to get them into the hands of Chicks for all our upcoming ice and mixed climbing clinics.

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

Black Diamond Snaggletooth Crampon | Gear We Use

Kitty Calhoun and Rennie Jackson climbing in black diamond snaggletooth crampons in Zanskar, India

Kitty Calhoun, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, and partner traversing the Stegosaurus in Black Diamond Snaggletooth crampons, Chilling II, Zanskar, India. ©Jay Smith.

What’s the best all-around crampon?

When it comes to choosing crampons the first question you need to ask yourself is what kind of terrain or climbing objective do I want them for?

  1. Technical ice climbing
  2. Mixed climbing
  3. Alpine climbing
  4. All of the above

If you chose D, or all of the above, then sit tight and keep reading about the Black Diamond Snaggletooth crampon, the best all-around crampon out there.

Typically, for glacier travel, alpine climbing and neve (firm snow), horizontal points feel more stable because they provide more contact beneath your feet. On the other hand, vertically oriented front points are better suited for steep, technical ice climbing,

Why does it matter if the points are horizontal or vertical?

The answer is stability. Stability equals security and security equals confidence.

So if you’re into bagging summits like the North Ridge of Mount Baker, where you have a long, snowy approach, followed by steep neve, a section of technical ice, and a summit ridge, there’s only one crampon that excels in all of these types of terrain. The Black Diamond Snaggletooth blends the best of all worlds.

The genius in the Black Diamond Snaggletooth crampon design is that it features a horizontal mono-point. This horizontal monopoint is unique. And it’s supported by a smaller, secondary horizontal point, hence the name Snaggletooth.

One of the first things you notice when climbing with the Snaggletooth is how secure you feel whether edging on rock or standing on thin ice. The horizontal points provide a stable platform for you to perch upon, no matter what’s underfoot. Made out of stainless steel, the Snaggletooth won’t rust. It resists balling which is a real hazard in heavy snow conditions. It’s strong and lightweight and can handle all terrain and conditions. The Snaggletooth is the best all-around crampon on the market.

Try out Black Diamond Snaggletooth crampon at our Ouray, Colorado | Ice Climbing Clinics.

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!

How to Choose the Right Ice Climbing Tool

The Grivel factory solar-panel-clad roof in the Italian Alps. Using the sun to power climbing.©Grivel

The Grivel factory solar-panel-clad roof in the Alps. Using the sun to power climbing.©Grivel

I’ve had my hands on a lot of ice axes since climbing on Terrordactyls in the ‘80s.

For me, choosing the right ice tool is hard to describe because it’s about feelings. It is about the emotion of the body, heart and mind.

Body

With the right tools, I feel joyful. I feel invincible. I feel ready and motivated for action. I feel strong and focused and fearless.

The right tools have a balance and swing weight that makes intuitive sense. It’s as if the tools become natural extensions of my arms.

Looking for this feeling, in fact coming to expect it when I climb, I always find myself going back to Grivel tools. I swear I could put a blindfold on (with many different tools to chose from) and, guarantee, I’d pick Grivel.

Heart

Deeply seated in my psyche is an undeniable connection that draws me loyally to Grivel.

One of my most influential mentors, George Gardner, climbed on Grivel tools. I’ll always remember the way he so deliberately gripped the narrow shafts of his Mont Blanc’s with his frozen Dachstein mittens. My relationship to this most present and encouraging mentor instilled in me a connection to Grivel tools that is more than an extension of my arms, it is an extension of my heart.

The truth is, the real essence of climbing is about our partners and relationships. George has passed now but when I climb with my Grivel tools, I am reminded of him. I feel as if his inspiring presence whispers through the mountains and I climb with focus and strength to meet the standard that he set for me.

Mind

As I’ve personally become more aware of and committed to reducing my carbon footprint, I love that Grivel makes all of their products in the Alps of Italy. And at the foot of Mount Blanc, Grivel harnesses the power of the sun with solar panels the size of a football field. Every day Grivel saves 1000 barrels of oil and eliminates 1500 lbs of CO2 gases from entering the atmosphere because of their investment in renewable energy and environmental sustainability.

Grivel’s committed action to the environment and addressing climate change matters to me. When I’m climbing with my Grivel tools, I think about this and I know I’m on a team turning our passion into purpose.

In summary, I want to encourage you. When choosing the right ice tools for you, let yourself be swayed by emotion, feeling and intuition.

If the tool feels right, it is.

Safe Belay Technique for Top Rope Ice Climbing

The Schoolroom, Ouray Ice Park, Colorado. Belaying top rope climbers from the other side of the river--Out of the way of the impact zone. ©Karen Bockel

The Schoolroom, Ouray Ice Park, Colorado. Belaying top rope climbers from the other side of the river–Out of the way of the impact zone. ©Karen Bockel

Chicks’ home venue is the Ouray Ice Park—the best place to learn ice climbing from beginners to experts alike, hands down.

The Uncompahgre Gorge narrows down to the tight Box Canyon, which transforms into a beautiful Mecca of icy walls begging to be climbed.

In the Ice Park, one of the first things we teach is how to belay safely for top rope ice climbing.

Ice climbers swing and kick at the ice to get purchase.

Consequently, we need to consider the high likelihood that chunks of ice will break off and fall down right below the climber. This area (anywhere the ice chunks might fall) is called the impact zone—and it’s a place to be avoided!

In order to avoid the impact zone it’s best to belay from a short distance away—in the clear from falling ice.

However, belaying a horizontal distance away from the base of the climb creates another problem. When your climber loads the rope (either because they fall or they are lowering), you will feel a strong pull towards the base of the climb. This horizontal pull is a big deal!

Here is the physics of this big deal:

The pull you feel is directed right along the rope. The pull is upward towards the anchor at an angle. This angle, or force vector, has both an upward pull and a horizontal pull.

The upward pull is easy to resist. Simply resist it with your body weight by sitting back into your harness.

The horizontal pull, however, is much harder to resist. It can drag you along the ground and slam you into the wall. You could lose control of the rope and possibly drop your climber.

The solution to this big deal is a back anchor.

Clipping into a back anchor will hold you against any horizontal pull towards the wall. You can use trees or established bolts for back anchors. In the Ice Park there are often fixed ropes that extend the back anchors, elsewhere we bring our own ropes.

Setting up a Back Anchor

If you are using a tree, make sure the tree is strong and big. Tie a chunk of rope around the base. Then tie a bight knot into the rope.

If you are using a bolt, clip a bight of rope (or other anchor material) to the bolt. Then tie a bight knot into the other end of the rope.

Using a locking carabiner, clip the bight you created on either your tree anchor or bolt anchor to your belay loop. Clip it underneath and out of the way of your belay set up/device.

Make sure your back-anchor extends just far enough to let you stand comfortably with the rope snug. This allows for no surprises if the climbing rope suddenly gets loaded by your climber.

Back anchors are extremely important when you’re in an area like the Ouray Ice Park’s Schoolroom. There are often many climbers on side-by-side top ropes. Lots of ice chunks go flying through the air. Belayers need to be a large horizontal distance away from the ice in order to belay safely. This puts them on the far side of the river. Getting pulled into the river is a sure way to end your climbing day, cold, wet and possibly much worse.

Use a back anchor!

Black Diamond Fuel vs Cobra Ice Climbing Tools

Black Diamond Fuel Ice Tool

Black Diamond Fuel Ice Tool

I love my Black Diamond Fuel Ice Tools.

This reflects a change of heart.

Recently, I dumped my Cobra tools and took up with a pair of Fuels.

For years the Cobra and I were in a solid and trusting relationship. They were my favorite ice climbing and technical alpine climbing tools.

I loved the Cobra for its intuitive swing—similar to a tennis serve or throwing a ball. With the Cobra much power and momentum comes with little effort. I also appreciated the Cobra for its exaggerated arc and clearance when climbing over bulges.

However, one day while climbing with my Cobras, I got extremely pumped on a strenuous lead. I lost all the strength to raise my elbow and drop my tool back. I could not execute a “proper” swing.  Instead, I found myself moving with an abbreviated and more downward motion. After this, I started looking for another tool.

What I found is that the proper swing of a Fuel is more abbreviated and downward.

The Fuel’s swing fits perfectly with the only kind of swing I have left when I’m totally gassed.

Since then, the Fuels and I have been tight.

But there is another reason why the Fuel has become my favorite ice climbing tool.

When I climbed with my Cobras, I was afraid to use the upper grip. I found the Cobra easily popped out of the ice if I exerted the least bit of outward pull.

Since, I was scared that my tools would pop, I climbed with an outdated technique. I glued my hands to my ice tools. Meanwhile, the newer, or more evolved ice climbing technique is to freely move ones hands, both between tools and up and down the shaft, as the terrain and climbing moves dictate.

The shape of the Fuel’s upper grip and shaft, on the other hand, are more forgiving of an accidental outward pull.

This means the Fuel has the potential to transform my ice climbing. Using the upper grip on an ice tool is extremely useful for maximizing reach. Also, the upper grip is useful for getting into an extended repertoire of body positions.

Thank You, Black Diamond Fuel, for giving me the confidence to continue to learn and grow my climbing.

Train Muscular Endurance for Ice Climbing

learning to ice climb in the ouray ice park from Chicks guide, Carolyn Parker

Thumbs up for core endurance. Learning to ice climb in the Ouray Ice park. ©Carolyn Parker

Train muscular endurance for ice climbing this season!

Ice climbing is different. There are no crimpers or slopers. You always have a jug to hold onto—your tools! But swinging a tool overhead, holding on while placing or removing protection, longer pitches, the weight of winter gear (boots, crampons and multiple layers of clothing) and often climbing with a pack, all add up.

Ice climbing can give you a full body pump and gas your arms like never before.

So, we need to train muscular endurance.

First, before you start to train, you should determine if you are on your game strength-and-fitness-wise.

Go to Swing! Training for Ice Climbing where you will find:

  1. Questions meant to help guide you towards understanding and building your foundational fitness
  2. Specific strength training exercises for ice climbing

Now, you’ve decided that you’re ready to train muscular endurance for ice climbing, but you don’t live anywhere near readily accessible ice, or you have to train inside due to that funny thing called work, then read on…

10 Steps to Muscular Endurance for Ice Climbing

  1. Head to the climbing gym with your climbing pack and approach shoes or light-hiking boots.
  2. Load your pack with a few full water bottles (start with 8 – 10 lbs).
  3. Pick easier routes to focus on big muscles. Steep is still ok, but with big holds.
  4. Warm up with a few shoulder openers, wall squats, a few push-ups, Turkish get-ups and pull-ups
  5. Wear your approach shoes or light-hiking boots to climb (if the gym is ok with it). The point is to climb with shoes that are less precise then climbing shoes.
  6. Use the auto belay or find a partner who is stoked to train too.
  7. Climb with your weighted pack. Use a reasonable load to start. If climbing with no pack is hard enough, then start there. The pack will pull on your upper body and help mimic the torso position required to swing a tool overhead while ice climbing. (Hint:try a 10 min session without the pack first to gage where you are.)
  8. Climb continuously for 10 minutes. Climb up and down. Don’t lower or rest on the ground. While you are climbing, practice working through the pump: shake, breathe and keep moving. We are working on stamina.
  9. Try four rounds: 10 minutes of continuous movement, followed by 10-15 min rest. Work/rest can be alternated with a training partner using a you-go, I-go approach. If you are training on your own then do mobility work, foam rolling, and core work during the rest period.
  10. If four rounds goes well, increase the time you stay on the wall or add more weight, or both for the next session.

This workout will give you a full upper body pump and a nice pump in the arms too, for “icing” on the training cake!

Enjoy and get the stoke high for the Chicks Ice Season!!

If you need information for a specific climb or trip of any nature you can contact me at:

carolyn@rippleffectraining.com

970-773-3317

Carolyn Parker

Founder Ripple Effect Training

Gym Jones, Fully Certified Instructor

AMGA Certified Rock Guide

Swing! Training for Ice Climbing

How to swing a tool? Carolyn Parker, founder Ripple Effect Training, teaching ice climbing in the Ouray Ice Park. ©Carolyn Parker collection 

How to swing a tool? Carolyn Parker, founder Ripple Effect Training, teaching ice climbing in the Ouray Ice Park. ©Carolyn Parker collection

All outcome-based training must be laid on a solid foundation.

So let’s check in first.

Ask yourself:

1) Do I have a well-developed cardio vascular system, good resting heart rate, rapid heart rate recovery? Do I have a regular aerobic fitness program, 4 – 5 days a week 30 – 90+ minutes?

2) Have I addressed my postural and mobility issues? Do my joints have good range of motion? Have I taken steps to correct my posture if necessary through yoga or other stretching routines?

3) Do I have a well-rounded, balanced strength base on which to begin more difficult training to avoid injury? This could come from rock climbing, body weight workouts, or gym strengthening classes, or best yet all of the above.

If you answered NO, you will benefit not only in your climbing but also in your health, life and injury prevention if you build foundational fitness first.

Please reach out to me directly if you are interested in an online coaching plan carolyn@rippleffectraining.com.

If you can say YES to all of the above let’s dive in!

Ice climbing is a unique sport. It requires strength overhead to swing an ice tool, solid core strength to stabilize the body while swinging and while moving upward on single points of contact, good leg strength and muscular endurance, especially calves, to hang out on front points while placing gear or finding the perfect tool placement.

Following are some strength exercises that will help you get fit for ice climbing.

Upper Body:

Overhead Triceps Extensions

Pull Overs

Pull Ups (can be assisted)

Pull Ups on 1” dowels or your ice tools to orient hands and forearms into the necessary alignment for ice climbing movements.

Strict Press, although this is considered an arm/upper body movement, it’s also a test of “core” strength to stabilize mass overhead.

Core Strength:

KTE (knees to elbows) arms locked off if possible, this will also help with grip strength. Do these on dowels as well.

Anchored Leg Lowers, legs weighted with light med ball or ankle weights if appropriate, mimics weight of boots on feet.

Leg Strength and Calf Endurance:

KB Swings and Ball Slams will help you “learn” to effectively use your hips and legs while climbing. Both are “hip, glute, leg” driven movements but also challenge grip strength, core strength, and are so complex that they become a great challenge for the cardio vascular system.

Calf Raises: Perform standard calf raise on a step or platform for 30 seconds. Complete as many reps as you can but don’t go crazy! This gets hard fast. Then hold a static position, feet parallel to floor for 30 seconds. Then go right back to 30 seconds of calf raises for the second set. Don’t rest until all rounds are complete. Begin with a few sets of 30 secs work/30 secs hold. Then increase the challenge by doing more sets. Walk around bit afterward and stretch.

Note: If you hike, run, bike, your calves are tight!

Now for a workout using the above movements:

Ice Climbing Workout

10 minute warm-up: row, bike, run

Then:

2 × 8 Shoulder Openers

2 x 5 Cuban Press

3 × 5 Wall Squats

3 x 6 Goblet Squats

Then:

5 x Overhead Triceps Extension

10 x KTE

10 x Ball Slams

5 rounds – rest as necessary

Then:

5 x Pull Up on dowels

10 x KB Swing

5 x Strict Press

5 rounds – rest as necessary

Then:

4 x 30/30 Calf Raise and Hold

Then:

Cool Down

This can be broken into two different workouts if the volume of work is too much. You can supplement with the other movements that are referenced above.

And most importantly have fun with this and your ice climbing season!

 

If you need information for a specific climb or trip of any nature you can contact me at:

carolyn@rippleffectraining.com

970-773-3317

Carolyn Parker

Founder Ripple Effect Training

Gym Jones, Fully Certified Instructor

AMGA Certified Rock Guide