Swing, Thunk - Swing, Thunk, Thunk - Clink...Clink. My arms scream and begin to quiver like frightened chihuahuas. My calves turn into tight spirals of pain. My brain begins to lecture me: you're not twenty any more, you can no longer muscle your way up. So much technique has been forgotten while living in the Pacific Northwest. I shake my head as a smile warms my face. Marveling at what was once so elusive on the west coast and is so absolutely bountiful here in the Adirondacks , I swing my picks and let my arms scream with glee! But despite the good time I'm having, if I don't start getting back to the basics I'm not even going to make it through this single pitch, never mind an entire day of WI4+.
Back to Basics - Don't expect to throw the figure 4's like Ines Papert right off the bat. Just like climbing rock, ice climbing is a sport that requires patience, skill and time to develop proper technique. Here are a few pointers if it's your first time out (or if you're just a little rusty like me):
Rules of the Swinger:
- Start off with a good book. Will Gad's book is a great one. This book is truly an invaluable resource for any ice climber to keep - novice or expert.
- Don't swing unless you need to. Keep an eye out for pick placements, these sweet spots are a gift to be used for energy conservation.
- Keep 'em close - When you do swing, be careful not to overextend your arm. Think of it as hammering a nail into a 2x4. Wouldn't it be much more comfortable if that nail were closer to head-level? Not to mention that keeping those arms closer your heart makes for much warmer paws.
- The best way to stick it is if you flick it - Remember: it's all in the wrist (isn't it always?)
- Heads down - When it's time to remove that pick from it's icy grip, for God's sake don't look at it! Adze and eye don't make the best of bedfellows.
- Spread 'em - Swinging from a stable & balanced position equals less falls. Create a triangle by spreading your feet fairly wide, allowing them to be the triangle's base. Allow your non-swinging arm to be the point - just above your center of gravity. After you get a good feel for ice, you can move on to more advanced techniques.
- Drop those heels - Unless, of course, you are an absolute glutton for punishment. It is oh so very tempting to want to keep those front points sharply angled and buried into the ice. Remember, by trusting your front points and keeping your heels down, you'll create a stable base that will save your calves from a lot of unnecessary torture.
- Stay warm. Remember, you're not going to be climbing all the time. For half the time, you'll most likely be belaying your climbing partner. During this down time, bundle up and have some rockin' gloves or else you can fall victim to the screaming barfies. Believe it or not freezer gloves work wonderfully.I poked fun a my climbing partner on our entire ascent of Liberty Ridge because he looked like he was dressed to clean dishes while wearing these things. But when the climb was over, I was the one with frostbite.
- Keep your cool. When your thoughts become a bit too heady and you start wigging out because your feeling ridiculously exposed, your hands are cold, your anchors are making a funny creaking sound and the mountain goats are giving you the stinkeye, just remember that you're carrying your holds: your frontpoints and the shafts of your tools. As long as you still have them, you're still in the game!
Technique - it's what we develop to conserve energy and climb longer. It's byproduct is a beautiful display of grace and fluidity. Develop this and you are well on your way to a bright and shining ice climbing future.