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Top 10 tips for beginning to ice climb

Updated: Jan 7

1. Drop your heels – This is the most classic and common problem for people beginning ice climbing. Raising your heels too high can cause your front points to shear from the ice quickly and unexpectedly. Ideally heels should be so that your boots are completely horizontal, regardless of ice angle.

2. Remember the triangle - The triangle is the triangle formed between your two feet and the pick of your tool. Feet should be slightly more than shoulder width apart with tools directly in line with the centre of your body. Tools should also be staggered with one high and the second lower with the pick at roughly the height of the handle of the upper tool. For every tool placement there should be two foot placements.

3. Get out of the way - Ice climbing is not rock climbing! The idea of standing under the leader to belay is a complete no, no! In ice climbing huge lumps of ice can hacked off with ever pick placement and while ice may not be as dense as rock it can be just as hard and just as capable of causing serious injury, so get back!

4. Try not to fall – While this may be intrinsic in the ideal of ice climbing it is still very important. While ice gear may have improved dramatically it is still absolutely dependent on the ice it is placed into and this can be very unpredictable, combined with crampons and ice axes makes falling on ice very undesirable. As a result top roping and seconding is absolutely essential before taking the sharp end on a new grade.

5. Place screws at the hip - To place a screw there are 3 phases: The initial bite, half turns and then the main drive. The initial bite are half turns where you never let go of the screw, this is done until the screw can support itself. Then screw can be driven in for half turns, this should be completed until the screw does not wiggle easily. Then the final stage should begin, the handle can be flicked out and the screw can be driven in until it lies flat with the surface of the ice, this may require the ice around the screw to be chipped flat, and rotten surface ice removed. However all of this requires a lot of force and time hence placing screws from the hip is essential.

6. Protect bulges – The top out of an ice climb is almost always the most dangerous, you're off the steep, pumped and moving fast on the easier ground, however this is not the time to relax. At the top of a climb water can pool and produce various layers of, rubbish and very dinner plate prone ice. This can be very unreliable and break off unpredictably, so not only place screws before bulges but spread tools wide once pulling over them so if one blows all is not lost.

7. Place feet – The more you can place your feet the better. Often ice is as featured or more featured than rock so placing feet on ledges and bobbles in the ice is a great way to save energy. If you do find yourself on a featureless slab of ice try and kick in already dinner plated sections of ice created by your tools, there are no awards for excavating more than you have to!

8. Get 100% confident in your tools - There are only 2 ways really to fall in ice climbing; pumping out and your tools blowing. Having terrible feet is not going to help either of those two, but so long as your tools are solid and you're holding on, you still can't go anywhere. So it's of vital importance that your tools are solid as rock, if you don't have confidence in your tools you will over grip and pump out. The same is true if your tools are able to twist, doesn't matter how big the pocket is, if they can twist around in there the amount of effort your muscles are going to exert keeping hold and keeping your tools still is going to be more. The solution however is simple, hit harder, just keep on going until you're 100% confident in your tools!

9. Loads of gloves - Like most things in mountaineering everything is linked. Get cold hands and not only are you going to be miserable, but you won't be able to climb as hard, can permanently damage your hands and even effect your decision making. Thus making sure you look after your hands can really change your day, but this can be hard. Often ice is dripping, the walk in can be sweaty and the belays cold, the only real solution is having a huge number of gloves. Example, a typical set up would be: leading gloves, spare leading gloves, seconding gloves, belay mitts, walking in gloves, thin liners for handling gear at belays, and then a spare set of gloves for emergencies. So get used to having lots of gloves, changing them regularly and storing them down your front to keep them warm and dry.

10. Get organised! - Ice climbing is punishing enough as it is, with short days and cold temperatures, so it really isn't the location to be having a clustering session. The key, as always, is practise: get your gear organised, systems sorted, your calls nailed (and your backup routine encase you can't hear) and work out what clothing works for you. Still expect your first couple of days to be a bit clunky, but doing some solid multi-pitch climbs with your partner beforehand is highly recommended to iron out the worst of it.

Most of all get psyched! Ice climbing is an amazing full value sport that can take you to fantastic locations around the world. While it might seem a bit hard to get into the swing of it (pardon the pun) at first, it really does grow on you until you find your self wondering how you can get a year off to go live in Canmore.

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