5 Pro Secrets To Keeping Hands Warm While Ice Climbing

Being cold sucks and there’s a few things in this world that are worse than cold hands while you’re ice climbing. Fortunately, if you follow a few of the following tips, you can keep your hands warm while you’re out there on the ice.
  1. Stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol and coffee which suck all of the water right out of your body. I know it’s hard to want to drink cold fluids on a cold day, so take a thermos and fill it with hot chocolate, tea or a warm hydration mix like Skratch Labs Apple Cinnamon drink mix.
  2. Go pee. Even though it can seem like a huge deal to peel back all of your layers and put them back in place again, don’t hold it all day. Your body works hard to heat the fluids in your body, so when you gotta go, go and you’ll stay much warmer.
  3. Use several pairs of gloves to keep your hands warm, about 3 pairs does the trick most of the time. A wind-bock fleece glove that you can wear from the car to the cliff to start out with. Secondly, you’ll need a nice thin soft shell type of glove that provides enough dexterity while you’re climbing and swinging your tools.The Outdoor Research Stormtracker is one of our favorites. Lastly, when it’s your turn to belay, switch out your climbing gloves for a nice insulated leather belay glove. The Black Diamond Kingpin is a great choice. A good trick for keeping your gloves warm and dry when you’re rotating between them is to stash them inside your puffy belay jacket next to your body. This will help them stay warm and dry out so they’ll be ready for your next pitch.
  4. Grabber Warmer ice climbingUse a chemical warmer like the Grabber Hand Warmers to keep hands warm. I like to stuff them inside the cuff of my jacket near my wrists because your arteries are very close to the surface of the skin and the hand warmers can heat the blood flowing in and out of your finger tips. I also like to stuff hand warmers into my pockets of my pants, and when it’s really cold the peel and stick body warmer can be applied on your sport bra to keep your core super toasty. If your feet get cold too, Grabber also makes a footbed warmer you can put into your boots at the beginning of the day.
  5. Move it. If your hands are still cold, try swinging your arms in circles as if you’re throwing a ball. Swing in each direction about 10 times on each arm and repeat until the blood returns to your fingertips. You can also take off your gloves and put your hands on the back of your neck or stuff them into your armpits. Finally take a brisk walk, preferably uphill to raise your heart rate and generate some heat.

Backcountry Basics: Tech Bindings

Welcome to the second article in Backcountry Basics, a helpful series of short instructional videos and tech tips to get you going for your backcountry skiing adventures! In this edition we will be focusing on tech bindings.

These are lightweight bindings that allow you to go from lock-down downhill skiing to freeing your heel for the uphill.  They rely on spring-tensioned pins to hold your toes and heel in place.  It’s a tricky mechanism to figure out at first, before it becomes your best friend in the backcountry later.  Watch the short video to learn how to step into your tech bindings for backcountry downhill skiing.

Tech bindings

Next up is a video of stepping in and out of your bindings for uphill travel.  This time, the heel piece is turned/ moved back, so that the heel pins are not engaged and the ski can pivot freely from the pins that hold your toes.

Tech bindings

A few details to note:  Make sure the pin holes in your boots are clear of snow and ice.  You can use your ski pole tip to clear them out if necessary.  Also, be sure that there is no snow or ice packed under the spring of your binding toe pieces.  When your tech bindings pre-release, it’s often because of user error:  Keep ‘em clean!

Tech bindings

 

Tech bindings

You can practice using your tech bindings at home before heading out on the slopes.

If you have questions, please comment on our website!  Ready to give it a shot? Check out our Backcountry Skiing program at on Feb 1-5 is the best place to get start earning your turns in the backcountry.

Backcountry Basics: Climbing Skins

Welcome to our very first Backcountry Basics, a helpful series of short instructional videos and tech tips to get you going for your backcountry skiing adventures! This month we will be focusing on climbing skins.

Climbing skins are the tools of the trade for backcountry skiing.  They are strips of material that stick to the underside of your skis or splitboard and give you traction for walking uphill.  Watch the short video to learn how to put skins onto your skis for backcountry skiing.

puttingonskin

A few details to note:  The wired loop should be sized to fit over your ski tip.  The width of the skins should be just narrow enough to show your metal edges.  Work from the top down along the length of the ski.  You can always pull the strip up a foot or two and correct your alignment if necessary.  Wet skins don’t stick:  Keep them out of the snow!

tip attachment

Tip attachment

Backcountry ski tail clip

Tail Clip

Our next video shows how to remove your skins when you are ready to ski downhill.

Removing backcountry ski skins

 

 

A few more tips:

Line your skins up carefully, so you don’t expose the glued side to dirt or other things in your pack.  You can use a small stuff sack to carry your skins.  If you store your skins for a longer time, use a mesh protector to keep the glue of your skins fresh.

long term storage backcountry ski skins

storing backcountry ski skins

Long term storage of skins

If you questions, please comment on our website!  And stay tuned for more backcountry skiing tech tips in our next newsletter.

Chicks Tech Tip: Choosing Crampons

If you ask ten climbers what type of crampons you should buy, you will get ten different answers. In reality, most crampons will work when you are top-roping a single pitch ice climb. I have seen some crazy concoctions defy the laws of physics in the ice park. Proving that only front points are really needed.

Like any style of climbing, footwork is the foundation to success. When you decide to buy crampons, you must think about the style of climbing that you are most likely to do. Will you be ice climbing? Or do you also plan to do some mixed or alpine climbing? All of this will play into your decision. To help you with your purchase, here are a few comments on each style of crampon.

No matter which crampon front point style you choose, you do not want a strap on system. Instead, water ice crampons should be stainless steel and have a metal binding system on the front and back of the crampon. Front and back anti-balling plates are also recommended. From this step, you now have to decide what frontpoint configuration is right for your ice climbing pursuits.

What not to wear, a front strap crampon.

What not to wear, a front strap crampon.

Crampons are like climbing shoes, you will find that you need multiple styles over your climbing career. What crampon you choose will really come down to your personal preference.

Each crampon recommendation below is for an ice climbing boot with a front and back bail system.

Vertical Dual Point Crampons:

This work horse of crampon is great for all around ice climbing. The dual points can offer a sense of stability to beginner ice climbers.  However, this crampon is not recommended if you plan to mix climb. Recommended models are the Petzl Dartwin, Black Diamond Cyborg.

Petzl Dartwin

Petzl Dartwin

Black Diamond Cyborg

Black Diamond Cyborg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horizontal Dual Point Crampons:

Every Canadian I know who climbs hard will swear by the horizontal front point. The idea is that you will have more surface area on the ice with a horizontal point. This frontpoint style is great for aerated or chandelier ice. The horizontal front points also do well on very thin ice. This crampon is great if you plan to do general mountaineering or alpine climbing. However, the dual points are limited on mixed terrain. Recommended model is the Camp C12 Automatic.

choosingcrampons2

 

Vertical Mono Point Crampons

A vertical mono point crampon will force a climber to have good footwork on the ice. Poor footwork will typically make the crampons shear out of the ice. The vertical mono point is great for very thin ice, or ice that requires dynamic movements. Steep vertical ice with overhanging blobs often require twisting and pivoting on the front point. The mono point allows for this type of movement. For mixed terrain, the vertical monopoint will work the best in cracks and small pockets. Recommended Models are the Petzl Dart and the Black Diamond Stinger.

Black Diamond Stinger

Black Diamond Stinger

Petzl Dart

Petzl Dart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horizontal Mono Point Crampons

This style of front point is only made by Black Diamond. The Snaggletooth is designed with the precision of a monopoint and the stability of horizontal front points. A small secondary point offers additional bite on steep ice and snow. The Snaggletooth is the perfect crampon for Ice Climbing and technical alpine routes in the mountains. The snaggletooth is also recommended on  mixed terrain with a lot of small edges.

 

Black Diamond Snaggletooth

Black Diamond Snaggletooth

Chicks Tech Tip: Avalanche Transceiver Check

Avalanche TransceiverWinter is just around the corner and we’ll be skinning for the goods not soon enough.  If you are relatively new to the backcountry, are you familiar with what we consider standard maintenance and safety checks for your highly technical avalanche transceiver?  These life-saving devices are critical equipment for every backcountry day and need thorough inspection pre-season, every year.

One of the most often overlooked details that lead to transceiver failure is leaving the batteries in the device over the long summer season or for extended periods without use. More often than not this leads to corrosion on the terminals and WILL cause malfunction.  When you remove the batteries make sure the casing and terminals are clean and dry.  Below is a list of suggested maintenance checks to keep your avalanche transceiver up to the task of its job.

  1. Inspect the battery terminals carefully. If there is any sign of corrosion, send the device back to the manufacturer for a complete inspection.  Do not touch the terminals with bare fingers but do check with gloves that the terminals are not loose.
  1. Use high quality alkaline batteries. Never use rechargeable batteries. Some devices will work with lithium batteries if set to do so but unless you are going into extreme cold environments, it is recommended to stick to alkaline batteries. You will get about 200 hours of use with fresh alkaline batteries. A daily battery check is the first thing you do when you turn your device on and if yours indicates they are 40-50% or less, replace them or follow the manufacturer’s recommendation.  Carrying a spare set in your pack is good insurance and often you’ll end up giving them to a partner to use.  Don’t mix brands and always renew all of the batteries at the same.
  1. Follow the manufacturer’s suggestions for inspections, life-span and use. This varies considerably.  Mammut recommends sending their Pulse in for a factory inspection every three years and their Opto 3000 every two, with regular practice sessions to check for any erratic behavior.  BCA recommends thorough and regular inspection but does not specifically recommend sending it in for checks.  Knowing what the recommendation is from the manufacturer of your beacon is important and following it could save a life. Be sure to check the harness system and casing of the device for any problems.
  1. This is all over the board with many manufacturers not specifying a lifespan for their device, to others such as Pieps recommending that 10 years is the maximum lifespan. Again, follow the manufacturer’s recommendation and retire any beacon that is malfunctioning or displaying erratic behavior.  Retire it as a practice beacon and practice regularly.
  1. Check the transceiver’s signal acquisition and transmit function and range. The manufacturer of your device has recommendations on how to do this and there are many good resources online.
  2. Check all the device’s display and buttons to insure they work correctly.

All of these checks should be done at the beginning of every season before your first day out and if there is any question about a device’s integrity, consult the manufacturer right away.  You may need to replace your device, which is a small investment in longevity.

Be sure to guard your device against impacts and drops.  The antennas are fragile.  If burying it for practice, it’s a good idea to protect it in a pack with tupperware or something that a shovel won’t damage.

For more information and a few additional tips, go to the link below for an interview I did with Women’s Adventure Magazine on this topic two years ago.

Have fun getting your winter kit together and stay tuned for more tech tips from Chicks Climbing and Skiing!

Build Lock-Off Strength

Weather is changing and it’s time to start thinking about training for two of our favorite winter sports, mixed and ice climbing!  One key strength area to focus on is our arms and shoulders specifically for locking off.  This gives you the power and ability to pull yourself in and reach for the next hold.  Chicks guide and owner, Dawn Glanc, shows us two simple moves getting started building your lock-off strength!

lockoff-training-video

 

Chicks Tech Tip: Building Climbing Anchors

You’re on the sharp end and you’ve finally reached the top – now it’s anchor time! You scroll through the running list of climbing anchors options you’ve got memorized for what type of anchor is going to work in this scenario.  Do you have your Sterling cordelette?  Consider the quad anchor!  Angela Hawse shows us how to apply this system in a variety of settings.

climbing anchors

Chicks Tech Tip – Retrieving a Quickdraw Using a Stick Clip

Ever had to leave a quickdraw behind? Never again – this month’s Chicks Tech Tip with Dawn Glanc shows you how to use your stick clip to quickly retrieve your draw!

dawnstickclip

Chicks Tech Tip: Climbing with Kids

Everyone one of us was born a natural climber. This is obvious when we observe young children. Each child has the natural curiosity to climb. Many of us grew up without the opportunity to rock climb. Instead we climbed on furniture, jungle gyms and trees. At some point parents stop this natural exploratory process by scolding the child and saying “get down, you are going to get hurt.” Kids will be kids, and they will continue to climb. When the child falls, the parent quickly scolds the child again and says “see, this is what happens when you climb on things”. Now many years later, most of us can reflect back and relate to being scolded by a parent for climbing. How many of us wish we could of started climbing at a younger age? With young kids, we should facilitate the learning process, instead of stifling the kids climbing tendency.I have worked with many kids of different ages and maturity levels over the years. Boys and girls both love to climb. However, anytime you work with kids climbing you can hit major roadblocks. Here are a few tips to help you have fun at the crag with kids.

Rope Swings

A child can start climbing as soon as they can wear a harness. Most major brands make a full body harness for very small kids. If the kids are completely new to the rope system, just have them move high enough off of the ground to swing and bounce on the ropes. Repeat the mantra “no matter how high you go, the rope and harness will always catch you the same”. The goal is to instill confidence with the rope systems and have fun swinging.
climbing kids

Indigo doing her “gnar wall unicorn dance”

It’s not about the top

Many kids are intimidated by the overall size of an objective. Break down the climb into more tangible steps. Encourage kids to set a smaller goal before leaving the ground. For example, If the goal is to get to “the Third bolt” just focus on getting to the high point with as many hangs and in as much time as it takes. Let the child hang and bounce on the rope whenever needed. The idea is to get comfortable with being off the ground and focusing on a task. If they don’t make it to the goal, that’s okay too. Make it a project and try again next time.

Chalk bag treats

A great way to help kids climbing on the wall is to fill a chalk bag with treats. Skittles,jellybeans and popcorn work well because they will not melt in the bag. As the child climbs, they can have a chalkbag treat when they get scared or if they just need to hang on the rope. This will encourage the kids to stop, relax and re-evaluate the situation when feeling distressed. It’s like a time out, but with reward.
Orion stopping for a chalkbag treat.

Orion stopping for a chalk bag treat.

Responsibility

Climbing is not rocket science. Many of the skills we do, are not mentally challenging. However, the skills and techniques we use have real consequences. Kids often want to take on some of the responsibilities when climbing. It’s okay to let kids belay if the are being closely supervised. This helps the kids engage with climbing on a different level and allows them to have more ownership in the experience. Sometimes after they get comfortable with the techniques and the process, kids like belaying  more than the climbing.
Kids at the voyager youth camp call the ATC the old fashion belay device.

Kids at the voyager youth camp call the ATC the old fashion belay device.

You are never too old or too young to start climbing. No matter your age, the goal is to have fun and enjoy the outing. Perhaps some of the tips can work on adults as well.

ClimbingwithKidsDawn

Dawn Glanc is a guide and Co-owner of Chicks. She works with kids and loves every minute of it.

Snow Anchor – How to Build a Solid T-Slot Snow Anchor

T-Slot snow anchor, backed-up and equalized

Backed up and equalized T-Slot Snow Anchor.

The last time I guided Denali my team came upon a crevasse-rescue effort by another party. They were using a snow anchor but it could have gone dreadfully wrong.

From hundreds of yards away we could see two climbers trying to rescue their partner by pulling against the anchor with their backs towards the lip of the crevasse.

Unbeknownst to them, they were multiplying the forces on their anchor and only adding friction to their pulling efforts. With two of them pulling on the rope against the anchor it could have failed, which would have been catastrophic. Fortunately we got to them quickly and pulled the climber out in less than 15 minutes.

Snow is a weak link. Stack the odds in your favor with the following tips to build solid snow anchors. In a crevasse rescue scenario this will increase your safety margin tenfold!

Building Solid Snow Anchors

The snow picket is a standard piece of equipment for traveling on glaciers and for steep snow climbing where anchoring in the snow for belays is likely.

Traveling in glaciated terrain with only a single partner, it’s a very good idea for both climbers to carry a picket for crevice rescue purposes. Traveling with a rope team of 3 or more, one picket per team will suffice for crevice rescue as there will be ice axes available for anchors if need be.

How many snow pickets should you bring to protect a climb?

It all depends. On the aforementioned Denali climb, I “fixed” the traverse across Denali Pass with 17 pickets!

Obviously, there are many factors to consider when deciding how many pickets to bring. The right answer is usually “it depends.”

Materials commonly used to construct a solid and equalized two-piece snow anchor:

Why two-piece snow anchors? Redundancy is always a good idea. Always back-up your snow anchors unless you are absolutely certain that the condition of the snow is ideal to withstand the greatest possible load.

  • 18’ Sterling 5.9mm PowerCord,
  • 2-3 locking carabiners
  • 1 snow picket. Yates makes a cable picket that is superior to the standard expedition-style picket but for simplicity sake we’ll focus on a basic kit.
  • Quality ice axe with an adze. (A light racing-style ice axe is not designed to be used as an anchor. I’ve seen them bend in half!)

PHOTO #1

Unless the snow is bullet-proof, building a T-Slot, or horizontal anchor will be the strongest method in virtually all spring/summer conditions.

A vertically oriented picket will only work if you can pound it in with 15+ extremely hard blows.

If ever in doubt, default to the trusted T-slot.

The depth of the slot depends on the resistance of the snow:

  • With very firm snow, 10” deep may suffice. For softer snow, go for 14″-18,” or more.
  • If you can’t make a snowball with the snow, deeper is best.

The swath for the sling should be cut as narrowly as possible. Use the ice axe pick or shaft, not the adze to do this. Avoid disturbing any snow on the load size of the T to keep it as strong as possible.

48 inch sling clove hitched around a Yates picket

A sling clove-hitched around the middle of Yates Expedition Picket.

Clove hitch a 48” Sterling Dyneema sling around the middle of the picket. (Yates cable pickets are more versatile as they eliminates the need for 48” sling.)

Place the picket horizontally at the bottom of the slot. It should be tight against the load wall with the 48” sling resting in the t-slot toward the load or crevasse.

to build a solid t-slot snow anchor, the sling slot or swath should be the same depth as the horizontal or picket swath

The sling should be placed at the same depth as the picket!

It’s crucial that the forward or sling-swath is dug to the same depth as the main slot.

This will prevent the sling from pulling the picket up under load.

snow anchor master point buried with snow and then stomped down

Bury the picket and stomp the snow down on top of it.

Use snow from the backside of the slot to bury the picket.

Then, stomp it down firmly. Stomping the snow down increases the strength of the anchor (This is commonly referred to as age hardening.). In very firm snow this may not be necessary, but it is still advised.

Tie a small master point in the sling. This adds redundancy and makes it easier to back up with a second anchor.

Dig a trench below the master-point to reduce friction on your hauling system. A trench also makes a cleaner working space.

A trench is dug out below a snow anchor master point to decrease friction and make a clean working space

Dig a trench below the master point to reduce friction and make it easier to work.

Tie the master-point in an overhand on a bight with a loop for the tail. The loop will be the attachment point for the second anchor, making it easy to equalize with a block and tackle system.

In the event of crevasse rescue, attach a locking carabiner to the master point and transfer the load from your harness to the master point.

For pitched climbing:

Simply attach yourself to the master point with your rope using a clove hitch. When belaying off of a now anchor, be sure to extend yourself well below (6-8’) the master point so as not to put any upward force on the anchor.  Typically with pitched climbing we belay off our body (belay loop or hip belay). This enables us to make the belay more dynamic and place less force directly on the anchor.

If belaying directly off the anchor it must be absolutely bombproof.

In a crevasse rescue scenario, all of this must be built while you are holding the weight of the fallen climber in self-arrest (or a knotted rope has jammed against the lip).

Holding the weight of your partner is assumed in this article and not covered, nor are skills such as how to tie in to the rope and carry extra coils needed to execute a crevasse rescue.

In a crevasse rescue situation, the next step may be going to the lip of the crevasse to communicate with your partner and pad the lip.

Before you descend to your partner (if necessary) or start hauling you need to enhance (back-up) the anchor with a second t-slot.

Equalize the back-up anchor to the main anchor. You may need to use your ice axe if you do not have two pickets.

a t-slot anchor backed up and equalized with a second t-slot anchor 2 feet behind

T-slot anchor backed up and equalized with a second t-slot anchor built 2 feet behind.

Dig another t-slot, ideally directly behind the primary anchor, but back at least 2 feet.

Take care not to disturb the snow between anchors.

Find the balance point of an ice axe by balancing it on your finger.

Finding the balance point for an ice axe.

Find the balance point of your ice axe. (Note: It will be closer to the head of the axe rather than the middle with the mass of the pick and adze.)

This is where the 18’ Sterling PowerCord comes into action.

8-10" overhand on a bight gives enough room for a clove hitch.

Clove hitch on the 8-10″ overhand bight.

clove hitch snugged up on the balance point of the ice axe which is placed firmly, pick down in the second, back up t-slot swath

The clove hitch is snugged up on the balance point of the ice axe, which is placed firmly, pick down, in the second, back up, t-slot swath.

To maximize usable length, use the power cord as a single strand. Tie an 8-10” overhand on a bight on one end. Make a clove hitch on this bight and slip it over the shaft of the axe. Snug the clove hitch up right on the balance point.

With the cordelette attached at the balance point, firmly place the axe with pick down in your second T-Slot swath. The cordelette should lie in the slot towards the crevasse.

Bury the axe with snow from behind the T-Slot and stomp it down to strengthen the anchor just as you did with the first anchor. Tie an overhand on a bight in the cordelette and clip a locking carabiner into it.
Snow Anchor

You can now equalize both T-Slots using a block and tackle.

Tie a block and tackle from this carabiner using the single strand cordelette to a second locking carabiner on the primary anchor, clipped into the small bight behind the master point.
Equalize snow anchor
Simply clip the single strand in a circular loop between both carabiners, at least twice to make a block and tackle. Take care to keep the strands tidy (not crossing or twisting them) to reduce friction. Pull tension through the block and tackle so both anchors share the load. Tie it off with a mule hitch or slip knot and secure it with an overhand on a bight.
Snow anchor
Snow anchor
You should now have a bombproof, inline anchor capable of withstanding potential forces you generate extricating your partner. You have to be 100% confident in your anchor system.

Many other key details for glacier travel are beyond the scope of this article.

You might need to rappel into the crevasse with your first aid skills, or position your partner upright with a chest harness. Ascending the rope to climb back out of the crevasse with your partner’s pack is another essential skill. You may need to knock considerable snow off an overhanging crevasse lip before doing either.

You need many competencies before you venture onto glacial terrain and attempt crevasse rescue. If you lack them, get up to speed on one of our Alpine Programs. Buff out your skill sets so you’re ready to get out in the mountains safely with your partners.