/ Ice climbing technique

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dunnyg - on 07 Mar 2018

I've climbed a bit of ice recently and I have sometimes struggled to remove my ice axe from some placements. Fortunately this wasn't too much of an issue on the short routes I was on but if I was on some longer steeper pitches this would definitely start to be an issue. Any advice to help with this? Axes are BD vipers with t rated picks if that makes any difference. This has been on well travelled and virgin ice.



Eric9Points - on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

Getting the right placement just takes practice. Beginners generally err on the side of caution and bury the pick when a shallower placement would have sufficed.

Captain Solo on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

Sometimes you have to grip as normal and wiggle the shaft from side to side to loosen up the pick in the placement.

Sophie G. - on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

Whack in with as much shaft-length as possible. Pull out with as little as possible. If it won't budge when you try and lift it out from the hand-grip, move your hand up the shaft and pull on the back of the head of the axe.

KevinJ - on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

On well travelled ice, hooking in existing holes reduces the effort and the problems associated with burying an axe.

With virgin ice, I've seen many a climber (including me) struggle to release a leashless tool from the ice.  As has been said above, some wiggling can help, but think about trying to reverse the angle the pick has entered at.  Sometimes a good upward angled palm thump can assist.  Alternatively, use the other tool to 'shock' it free with an upward strike.

GarethSL on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

Get your feet higher then lever it out with a forceful upwards pull, the old petrol pump cranking technique.

An open palm hit to the handle can also help, but it's best to have your axes leashed to your harness when doing that. 

Or, as Sophie G suggests, plucking it out by the head can also work.

paulmck - on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

Let go of the axe and and with the same hand push up (or strike upwards) the adze or the hammer head with the palm of your open hand.  This will loosen it and then you can just lift it out.  If you keep wiggling it and pulling from the bottom of the shaft then one day it will come flying out and no matter how careful you are, you will end up with an adze or hammer buried in your face.

TobyA on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to Eric9Points:

I tend to think the opposite is far more a problem, you watch beginners placing feebly and pulling on totally marginal 'sticks'. Watching a beginner or an inexperienced ice climber lead is terrifying - saw quite a lot of this last weekend in an icy Cwm Idwal!

Sophie G. - on 07 Mar 2018

Toby A is right. You've got to monitor yourself. When your arms are tired you won't hit the ice hard enough to get secure placements. Watch out for feeble pecking, especially with your weaker hand.

Five remedies:

1. Train. Get stronger arms and hands. Can you think of *any* climbing situation where your problem is going to be that you're too strong? No, me neither. When you're at home, put your axes over a tree-branch or a piece of paintwork you don't care about and do pull-ups on your axes. See how many pull-ups you can manage before your arms turn to celery. Remember how many it was before you commit to something vertical on a real climb.

2. Mechanical advantage. Always swing the axe from right down the handle-end, and let the weight of the axe do the work.

3. Don't over-grip. If you do you will pump out in no time.

4. Use your feet as much as possible and your arms as little as possible. The steeper the ice, the harder it is to use your feet-- and the more you need to, unless you're as strong as an ox.

5. Climb in an A shape where you're hanging off ONE axe and free to move the other. Not in an H shape where you're hanging off BOTH axes and can't move anything. In this very good little video Matt Wade calls it building a triangle.

Post edited at 21:38
Roberttaylor - on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to Sophie G.:

That is some good advice.


If anyone wants a book to read about getting good at ice (and mixed), Gadd's 'Snow, ice and mixed climbing' is well worth a read. 

Wee Davie - on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

Have you tried profiling the teeth on your picks?

If you've not, filing them in certain ways can make them less sticky to remove. I've done it before on some of my tools. A bit laborious but it definitely works. Haven't bothered this time (Vipers) as I haven't been arsed yet.

john arran - on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to Sophie G.:

Reminds me of my first foray onto steepish ice. Transferring skills from rock, I would be searching for subtle differences in angle and doing contortions to make sure I was only using the 'best' footholds. Took a route or two to learn that front points work anywhere and that a foot placement directly underneath you is massively less tiring on your arms than one off to the side or too high up.

mick taylor - on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

something to avoid is:  you cant get one pick out so you wiggle it around loads, still cant get it out until it feels insecurely placed wobbling around a hole u have created.  you then do the same with the other pick.  u then ralise u have two insecure feeling placements, and whichever pick u then try and remove u feel insecure and less confident: not good when ice climbing.  a good tip is:  whichever pick i decide to remove, stick with that decision.  a good upwards jab with your palm on the hammer/adze works for me.

Agree about Gadds book, and he would advocate each placement should be bomber.

Si Withington - on 07 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

Usually if it won’t clean it’s because it’s too high above you when you try and remove the tool. Assuming you’ve got two good feet, place your high tool, step up with both feet, then a sharp movement outwards with the handle of your lower tool will engage the sharp edge on the top of the pick, cutting a slot to release easily when you’re ready. Identify your next placement, release the lower tool and place it in a T shape above you.

Trick is freeing it a little before you get too high. You should be climbing ‘tool foot foot tool’ Not ‘tool tool foot foot’ as a lot of folk do  but each to their own  

Works for me and I suspect this is what Mr G says, but can’t remmeber now tbh. 

Post edited at 22:31
Phil Tucker - on 08 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

Here's a video from will gadd showing good technique.


dunnyg - on 08 Mar 2018

Thanks all. I've read Will Gadd's book a while ago, and I am aware of the techniques people have mentioned - not that I always stick to them in the moment! Some good ideas here, hopefully i'll find some more ice to play on to see what works! 


Sophie G. - on 08 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

The master top-roping around at Ghost River. Notice how much he bends his knees so he can see his foot placements properly.

(Is this the same clip as the other? The link to that didn't work for me.)

teh_mark on 08 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

Following on from Si, when you sharpen your picks make sure you keep the top 'ridge' of your pick sharp as well as the obvious pointy bit.

dunnyg - on 08 Mar 2018
In reply to teh_mark:

I want to go to Canada now! I never made it to the ghost...

Phil Tucker - on 08 Mar 2018
In reply to Sophie G.:

Different clip. I think you may have to follow will gadds FB page to see it 

dunnyg - on 10 Mar 2018
In reply to Phil Tucker:

Did a bit more ice yesterday and think I was removing my axes when they were too high above me. Thanks for all the advice, hopefully one day I'll be half decent on ice! I think a bit of top roping to play around would be ideal, learning on the sharp end is probably holding me back a bit.

Rich W Parker - on 10 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

Pick and tooth profiling make a big difference; a couple of outward pulls from the grip rest then lift from the head if it proves sticky.

Post edited at 18:20
jasonC abroad - on 10 Mar 2018
In reply to dunnyg:

Jeff Lowe has a couple of good videos, not sure if this is the one I saw but I think it is, goes through a lot of stuff, he's good to watch

There are 3 parts to watch


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