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Ice Climbing Gear 101

Ice Climbing Gear

If you’re a Gear Junkie, then Ice Climbing and high angle mountaineering may just be your kind of sport. The sheer amount of new gear you need to get started is dazzling, and  can be confusing. It’s one thing to take an ice climbing class at Eastern Mountain Sports or another climbing school where they loan you all the gear you need, but acquiring your own gear can be quite a challenge. It seems like you need to have slings, quickdraws, wire gate carbiners, ice climbing axes, ascenders, bent gate carabiners, wire gate biners, screw-gates, belay devices, static and dynamic rope, hollow core webbing, prusiks, cordelettes, and ice axes to do even simple climbs.

If you’ve just started ice climbing or are thinking about getting into the sport, here are some instructional videos that explain what gear you’ll need and why it’s important to have. However before you buy anything, get some qualified instruction and find some experienced climbers to climb with. Chances are they’ll have enough extra gear to get you started, and they can also help you understand what the best cost/features trade-offs are.

Carabiners

There are lot of different kinds of carabiners used in ice climbing, from wire and bent gate carabiners to screw gates. They all have different purposes and limitations. Understanding what these are and when to use them is a foundational ice climbing skill.

Quickdraws

Quickdraws are used to guide a rope around obstacles and make it easier to pull through a series of anchor. They consist of two different kinds of carabiners attached with a piece of webbing and climbers usually bring a half dozen or more, depending on the route.

Static and Dynamic Rope

There are two main kinds of climbing rope: static rope and dynamic rope. Static rope has very little give in it, so it’s good for rappelling. Dynamic rope has a significant degree of stretch in it which is used to brake a fall to prevent injuries. It is mainly used for ascents.

Slings, Prusiks, and Cordelettes

Slings, prusicks and cordelettes are used to set up anchors. Slings are very strong nylon loops. Prusick cord and prusik knots are used to set up backpacks for repel devices and an important safety technique. Cordelettes are short lengths of static rope that can be tied together using double fishermen’s knots.

 Webbing

Webbing is good for setting top rope anchors or or for creating an emergency harness. One type of webbing called hollow core or tubular core webbing is also useful for protecting your rope from excessive friction when straddling over base rock. It’s typically sold by the foot and is available in multiple widths for different sized ropes.

Belay Devices

Belay devices like the very popular air traffic controller or ATC are used to take up slack line and brake against a climber falling. Becoming a proficient belayer is also a foundational skill for any type of climbing.

Ascenders

Ascenders are mechanical devices used in climbing and high angle mountaineering for climbing ropes. They have teeth in them which grip the rope and prevent you or your gear from slipping backwards down it.

Ice Axes

If you’re going to climb ice, you need ice climbing axes. These are available with picks and either hammers or adzes for cutting steps in ice.There are lot of different types of ice climbing axes available in a variety of materials, some with additional hand grips and leashes. Axes may also be one of the most expensive pieces of gear you need to buy, so it helps to try before you buy, if at all possible.

Conclusion

Ice climbing is a lot of fun and surprisingly accessible to older climbers because it doesn’t require as much knee contortion as rock climbing. It’s an expensive by exclusive hobby that provides great rewards if you take the time to learn the required skills and maintain your gear properly.

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One comment

  1. My much-worn credit card is testament to the expense of ice-climbing kit.

    There is an easier, and less expensive way, to try it out though: top-roping. If you can *safely* access ice and set a top rope (or find some artificially created ice) then you can get away with your existing 12 point crampons, rock harness and maybe even your regular mountaineering axes – although prepare for some nicely bruised knuckles if you do.

    While it won't be the full experience, at least you'll know whether standing around in the mind-numbing cold belaying your buddy, who's hurling down TV set sized blocks of ice at you, and then climbing while your jacket fills with ice chips and your eyelashes freeze together, is your kind of thing or not…

    Without doubt, though, a trained guide is the way to go if you get serious about it.

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