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.

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