is the winter counterpart to summer crag climbing. By definition the grade is 5th class or beyond and may include rock climbing with your crampons on (mixed) or short sections of aid (pulling up on gear rather than the ice, rock or your tools). Homo Sapien "the tool user" is tested to the max. - there is plenty of opportunity to utilize your ingenuity, endurance and boldness. On ice we take our "handholds" and "footholds" with us - the subtlety is learning to read the ice and knowing where to place them for the best security and energy conservation. Nothing is more beautiful than to be out climbing in the solitude of winter - the ice is three dimensional - it's features, depth and color are both alluring and mysterious. At first foreign, the ice can become a pathway to solitude and harmony. Nothing else is quite like it.


EQUIPMENT Like aid climbers, ice climbers are totally dependent on their tools and equipment for support and upward progress. Ice gear takes a beating. We walk and climb on rocks with our crampon points, we smash picks through thin ice or torque them in cracks. Our helmets are tested with every 'plate of ice that the leader knocks off and we are constantly trying to miss the climbing rope with every swing of our axe! Therefore, every piece of equipment must be in good shape and inspected carefully, often and rigged properly before charging off. Fitting crampons, filing picks & screws and rigging tools should be done before each trip. You don't want to experience a crampon popping off or hassle with a ill-fitted leash while trying to make moves!

Team Gear Personal Hardware Extra Hard
double ropes (dry) ice tools (2-3) 6-8 draws/biners cams
emergency bivy gear crampons 10 free biners blade pitons
food stiff boots 8 full runners lost arrows
thermos alpine harness 6 wedges (plus tricks for
first aid kit belay device 4 tri cams mixed)
  helmet 10-14 ice screws  
  headlamp/batteries 2 + ice hooks  
  anchor sling    
  daisy chain    
  climbing pack    

PERSONAL GEAR Alpine harnesses need less padding and should have adjustable leg loops for your convenience. Size appropriately for you and your clothing layers. Tools are matter of personal preference and opinion (just like debating about which fly rod feels the best or will catch the most fish) - stay with a matched pair (hammer & axe) for interchangeably and consistency of feel. Boots and crampons should be compatible (flex, bindings, fit) and optimally purchased as a unit (or get expert advise). What you want is a honed fit, low vibration and points to suit your style. Mono points make a lot of sense, are stable in solid ice and open up a lot of possibilities for mixed technique. Practice belaying and handling gear while wearing specialized ice climbing gloves or mitts to make sure everything works together. You can also top rope practice "dry tooling" - be careful (the forces per cm2 exerted on rock are very large) and be sure to maintain a snug belay.

TEAM GEAR Ice screws are expensive! but will last a long time if taken care of. Try to pool these with friends. The most expensive polished steel screws are the most functional. Crank handled screws will be most appreciated when you start to run it out and your adrenal glands have kicked into overdrive. Titanium models are strong, cheap and could be left as emergency rappel anchors. Pound in ice hooks are great "panic pieces" - quick to place and give potential to thin ice placements. Dyneema or Spectra slings will soak up very little water and are less likely to freeze, likewise ropes that have a good waterproof treatment won't freeze up and feel like a fully charged "fire hose". There's not much rope drag on ice routes but long slings can be useful for tying around pillars or "coring" out a threaded placement. Don't overlook rock placements - behind ice curtains, under roofs and in corners. Tapping a familiar nut or piton into an icy crack or placing a "bomber" cam just might make you feel better.

CLOTHING/WEATHER Alpine clothing is the ice climbers armor. Dress in layers and keep in mind that you will "build up a lot of steam" when climbing and loose a lot of heat hanging around at the belay. Pit zips on Jackets will get a lot of use. A warm "belay parka" for the colder of the two is a good idea as ice leads can take more time than rock. Gaiters protect expensive waterproof -breathable pants and reduce snagging of crampon points. Gloves or mitts should be warm, padded and "easy on - easy off" for hardware handling chores. Balaclava or Helmet liner is essential as are good closures at wrist, neck and lower leg.

WHAT ELSE? Bring plenty of water or a stove to heat/melt some - we loose a lot of moisture via our breath in winter. Ice climbing is also one of the more energy intense sports so don't forget lots of "snacks" that can be munched throughout the day, electrolyte-type drink supplements, and a hearty meal before heading out. Transportation to the climb is usually via snowshoes (or suffer the consequences of post-holing fatigue). Skis are for experts as the terrain is usually very steep and convoluted. Make sure to pack a first aid kit, repair kit (leatherman tool, Swiss knife, spare parts) head lamp w/ spare battery, emergency space blanket.

Thoroughly test all your gear before you leave and become familiar with it; develop a pattern for packing your pack and stick with it--you'll remember where your gloves are when you need them, which side to pull your sleeping out from so it doesn't get wet, etc. Remember to break in new boots and waterproof them at least twice before your trip. If you're using old rain gear be sure to revitalize and enhance it's performance with a waterproofing product like Nikwax.

To save weight try to find gear which performs multiple functions: Insulated cup can be used as bowl, a pile sweater can be stuffed to serve as a pillow, a light day pack makes a versatile sleeping bag stuff sack. Carry the ten essentials with you on day hikes as well as in your pack on the longer trail. A repair kit can be shared among the group or be tailored for your personal needs.

OTHER SKILLS Wilderness first aid training, snow physics & avalanche safety, self rescue, back country skiing, snow shoeing, snow cave construction.

CLIMBING ICE - Chouinard

ONE ICE - Experts climb radical flows and falls in the U.S. & Canada
WATERFALL ICE - Lowe 180 mins. (tools, techniques - beginner to expert)

Sequoia - Tokopah Falls WI3-4
Tahoe - various routes of Hwy 80 (Cold Stream, Donner Summit) and 50 (Horsetail, Echo Lks),
Carson Pass - (Hwy 88) north of (behind) Cal Trans Station
Lee Vining Canyon - Various WI3-WI6 and mixed routes
June Lake - practice slab WI2-3+ and other routes up to WI5 in area
Yosemite Valley - expert! extreme conditions, thin or poorly bonded ice WI4-6
Mt Shasta - practice / top rope crevasse or serac walls