This article contains impressions of my first season ice climbing gear selection-nearly 3 years ago.This is the gear that I use and you can use this as a rough guide for your basic needs to launch iinto this wintertime diversion, especially if you have no idea where to start. Everyone's needs will be different. This is merely one point of view. There will be many opinions pontificating on what you will need or how one item is better than another, but read between the lines for what it is worth; it's a narrative; besides, they can write their own article. I came into climbing ice with a background leading rock. Although not necessary, the fundamentals are similar. The skills needed for me were cultivated and honed on rock.
BASE LAYER: Starting from the inside out, I like to stay warm and dry. Patagonia's different grades of capilene, Marmot's base layer collection and REI's line of base layers are all good choices. I favor ZIP tops in case I have to ventilate. I wear 2 tops and a warm bottom base layer. I use expedition weight bottoms from REI, which serve to keep my legs and core temperature warmer; my legs don't really sweat nor do they generate a lot of heat, but I think it important not to waste energy re-heating blood coming from your legs.
SHELL: My first piece of ice climbing gear was a 3 layer XCR goretex Ice-Nine jacket from Patagonia; I think this one. Patagonia has gone to a proprietary waterproof-breathable materialsince that time. I favor Gore-tex brand material for shells, gloves and gaitors; It is exceptional in its ability to breath and repel water. (It excels in the price you have to pay for these garments). This can be critical when it is very cold and can make a difference, day to day, day after day, in keeping you warm, dry and alive; other materials don't work as well, or are recognised as industry standard.
Fancy PANTS:The sales person, tried to talk my wife out of buying these Arc'teryx Theta SK gore tex pants ($$$$) on my birthday for the popular Schoeller soft shell material ($50). Goretex isn't the crinkly, noisy material it once was. It is arguably more water proof and breathable that any proprietary product. My take, was, sure the soft shells have their application, blue skies-23 degrees, but if you are out making snowy approaches or you get caught on a belay on a windy white out, I think the schoeller is only going be able to steam off so much water/snow/ice, before you get soaked and die (so to speak). The salesperson had serious retail know-it-all issues in actually trying to steer the customer away from a BIG TICKET purchase. The whole soft shell scene is very different this year; I won a Mountain Hardware Offwidth soft-shell, so I'll use this as a test piece this year, but I'll keep my Gore-Tex close. The important point here is exactly this: know what you are shopping for and why you think you want a particular piece of technical apparel when you head out shopping. Be an informed target-oriented consumer. The most important question one must ask is: "do these pants make my butt look too small?"
Gloves: Essential gear. It is important to have a system that will work for you because it is essential to protect your hands from the effects of the cold. I have the BD Goretex Guide Gloves which are seriously dependable cold weather gear that I bought NEW on EBAY for $71. I also have a pair of Marmot Randonnee Gortex mittens clipped to my harness in case my hands get danger cold. I have a pair of what I call "approach" gloves that are lightweight and water proof/resistant. Many approaches involve scrambling around and if you constantly touch the snow and ice, your gloves will be soaked by the time you get to the climb. Lastly, I use Summit Ironclad brand work gloves for climbing sometimes. They are warm enough and afford ample dexterity for placing screws, etc...and if they get wet, BAMMM! I put on another pair. And yes, I carry with me a shit load of gloves to use.
Glove liners: UnderArmor glove liners rock. All it takes is a few seconds in sub-freezing air to illicit a physiological response that shunts blood from your limbs back to your core and your hands or feet get excruciatingly cold. ["Screaming Barfies"] Glove liners provide a buffer for the times you have to take your glove off for something.
Boots: This was a source of endless discussion. Choices generally are leather/hybrid or plastic boots. As a new ice climber, I thought it important to be warm and dry. Plastic mountaineering boots served this bill and they hike well. I bought the Koflak Degreplastic boots USED from the climbing school in North Conway. I'd seen club members sportin these boots and i love them as well. They fit, are comfortable and most importantly-warm. I wore these on Tendonitis with the temps just above zero. You can expound all day long as to the merit of leather hybrids vs plastics, but in the end, my choice was based on being warm , dry and comfortable. I didn't want to sacrific warmth for sensitivity when it really didn't make much differnce to me at the time and I haven't given it much thought ever since. You can scour EBAY for used boots. If you are entry level, you should know what model you want and find good used gear. Climbing schools make room for new rental gear and are a great source for boots at great prices. I bought used because I didn't know what to get and they turned out to be the bomb; did I say warm and dry?UPDATE: 11.11.2010: Last year i broke down and bought La Sportiva Nepal EVO Extremes cuz there were on a big sale at EMS. The difference is striking. There is so much more support as a platform atop your crampon. It really is night and day!
Crampons: I heard many opinions concerning my first crampon's front points: vertical or horizontal. There was even stronger opinion about monopoint configuration instead of dual points. I thought from the beginning I would use monopoints and I have never used anything else.Technique has a lot to do with it. My friend Dave Raboy gave me a brand new pair of Grivel EVO Comp-3's he'd never used for being such a club busy body. I watched Jeff Lowe's Waterfall Ice Climbing Technique video which detailed the hows and whys about gear and dug in to monopoint configuration. The club has this video for check out. It made sense to me that the monopoints were most like rock climbing and allowed for precise placements, reuse of pick holes and allowed your placements to pivot when high stepping without camming out and blowing off. Horizontal front points can be handy when in warm conditions. Jeff Lowe
UPDATE: 11.11.2010: I think I upgraded last year to Grivels Rambo-4 crampons. They are configured in radical rigid monopoint. These crampons are such a dream to adjust and usually happens in each parameter with just one screw. The other crampons , although trusty, required an engineering degree to adjust and about an hour to do so. A real pain in every sense of the word. Since i have never climbed with dual points, I have no reference but the monopoint is what I have always used and love it!
Ice Tools:Leash less tools vs leashed. The popular trend is moving towards leashless tools. I took a newbie ice class 2006 and I used the BD cobra and the Petzl Quarks. Hated it. I liked the KA_THUNK the cobras made, I didn't understand the Quark's lite handed SCHWIIINNGGG! Still Hated it... I felt trapped with these sharp tools strapped to the ends of my arms... It just felt awkward, to me, especially when I had to shake my numb hands out or shoot a snot rocket; what a pain in the ass to remove and then re-attach for a novice. You'll hear people who have never climbed leashless say everything from the risk of dropping a tool, to not having the ability to "rest" in your leashes. Physiologically speaking, you can only rest for so long before the blood is cut off to your hands at the expense of a rest. Now you are pumped, your hands are numb and cold. I had climbed rock with Freddie Wilkinson that summer on Whitney-Gillman and we talked about his ice climbing experience. He told me if I were learning to climb ice, to learn leashless. Ok. Made sense. I'd be on top rope for a few seasons and climbing leashless would be a transition that paralelled climbing rock. I Ran out and bought the new Petzl ERGOused, for $200 and loved these, my first tools which were leashless. I caught a lot of flak from the peanut gallery about when was I starting compettition using these compettion tools. These tools swung so nice and gave me confidence. The only caveat was the fixed handle didn't accomodate decent gloves to keep my hands warm; the handles were one size.Petzl came out with the new and improved Nomic leashless tools..I lucked out and got an insane deal on these tools; I sold my ERGOs for much more than I paid for them and the NEW Nomics i got for much less than half price at HTO. .Love at first sight all over again. These tools swung every bit as nice as their predecessor, had an adjustable handle, but lacked a hammer or adze. I don't have a reputation for being an "ICE BASHER", which I attribute to the way these tools perform. This tool is amazing. I have never looked back to leashed tools.I did however try John Smith's Pulsars or the quasars on positive reinforcement and I liked the solid feel of these relatively heavy tools; but I climbed them without leashes.I have ignored the tired reiteration that the tools don't plunge, the tools are only for cragging , the tools are only for mixed climbing competition or the tools are the devil's dandruff. BUNK! Well they absolutely don't plunge except for the picks and effortlessly into steep ice. I at once wanted an alternative to droppping my tools so I went in search of Grivell's Spring Leash made popular by Steve House's alpine ascent of some sick summit using leashless tools and the Grivell Springleash. Black Diamond now makes the Spinner leash which is a good product. When I wanted it, Grivell stopped making them so I contracted YATES to make one of my own design which worked very well; runner grade. I use it when there is a big consequence to dropping my tool on long mulit-pitch routes, but for the most part I have gone commando. I actually used them twice. I led about a dozen routes leashless without incident and have top roped and followed on grades up to 4+ with a grin, except for leading Weeping Winds, where i was weeping most of the time in thin conditions. This is my experience-you buy what ever you'd like. You should try everything. As a novice, there are many leashed tools that have the option to go commando, but don't limit yourself just because someone else says you should start climbing ice they way they diid; follow your passion.Okay If you are old school. If you are new school and you don't understand what the BFD is about leashless tools, watch the following video for the subtlies of climbing leashless. The moves are all mimicked while climbing with leashless tools except the juggling. Yea, watch it again!!!!!
Piolet: I sometimes get static for carrying this tool but it has come in handy on more than one occaision. I use it primarily as a stout walking stick alternative to treking poles. I saw people looking on with envy on the down climb at mulltiplication gully. Yes, they do plunge, and yes I can self arrest with this thing. Most of the places I climb however, I use it for support when I approach and especially tired, when I come down. If you had to self arrest with a leashless tool , I suppose you would have to do the best you could, otherwise you would die, but I submit it is not impossible to self-arrest with a leashlesstool. If you, as a begginer are climbing someplace where you had to worry about an alpine arrest then you may already be over your head. Most of the places I 've climbed I found my piolet to be very handy and never carried it for self arresting. On Chinourds once, there was no place to leave your pack so I flattened out a samll area, sunk my piolet into the hardpack and anchored my stuff to it.
Climbing Harness:Petzl Corax- has the double back system and the ability to tighten the harness from both sides. The picture in the ad may even be new for 2009 so it may even be 4th generation from what I have , the 2nd. CORAX has morphed into a great all around adjustable harness, with placements for "ice clippers" and the return to the haul loop. I love this harness (you might too). Santa Claus brough me the BD Blizzard Harnass last year and I had to sell it on EBAY to a lucky ranger at Mt. Hood. As some of you might remember on Chinourds Gully, this effin harnass was fallin off my effin hips, of course I had my Paul White Kitchen sink rack on, and I could NOT tighten it enough with the OLD SCHOOL single "double pass" buckle. It was absolutely terrifying that I had to unbuckle my harness to yard in some slack to tighten it; had I slipped during this process,I would have surely fallen out of my harness and fallen 30,000 feet to my death.
Climbing Pack:BD predator 50L: This pack comes in at least 2 sizes: 45 and 55 Liters. I looked and looked at a number of different packs for ice climbing. This pack was made for me. It is a top loading dynamo with a nifty side zipper for access to stuff at mid-level and the bottom. The pack sports a very handy crampon pouch. The picks fit into a protective compartment and secured with fastex buckles and stout velcro for the handles. The lid has a clever mesh HELMET holder (too cool), and 3 zippered compartments; the lid also comes off and doubles as a fanny pack (never used it that way ever). The pack's low profile and ice clipper holders makes it a natural for climbing. If you are looking for an ice pack, there may be others but this is definitely one you should look at.
Black Diamond BBEE (type of bullet pak): I carry belay jacket, cell phone, mittens, small thermos, snack, extra clips for my uzi and thermite grenades.
Safety Glasses: Essential Gear.I wear broad high impact work glasses, (not chemlab goggles) to protect my eyes from ice shrapnel. When it is bitter cold the ice shatters into razor sharp fleshettes that cut your face. I have had close encounters and it made sense to always wear these. I go for max protection in leu of stylishness. Mine are ugly and cheap and i bought them at lowes. The plastic glasses i have, have side panels. I am going to replace mine this year with something equally functional and stylish cha-ching!
Belay Jacket (BJ):Additional line of defence against the elements. In addition to all the stuff Ihave listed above to ward off death by cold, another peice of gear is prudent. The BJ, or puffy layer, as people call it, is an extra layer one wears during periods of relative inactivity on long belays. The "puffy" shoulfd be practical in that it shouldn't be too bulky, or heavy. It should be windproof and weather resistant; I prefer synthetic. Although, fiber per fiber, down is arguably warmer than down, wool or synthetic fiber, it quickly falls behind as soon as it get the least bit wet. Another feature that the BJ should have is a hood. There is a psychological factor, let alone insulative advantages to having a hood while hunkering down on a wind swept frozen precipice; sound like fun?!! I have the Patagonia Das Parka. Synthetic. Roomy. 2 Huge inside mesh cargo pockets for drying or storing gloves. Extra roomy hood that accommodates your helmet. Double 2-way zipper so you can see your belay device. Warm! This BJ stuffs right into my BBee.
Fleece layer: There are hundreds of fleece products out there that create a buffered layer of space that can be warmed and trapped with body heat. Patagonia has a layering system line called REGULATOR. I wear the Patagonia R2, it is so warm and offers great freedom of movement without a lot of bulk. Here is something new that I just gotta have:Patagonia R1 Hoody
Belay Device:BD guide ATC. Nice for double ropes in guide mode. Has friction teeth for a secure belay rappel device. DOUBLE 60 meter ropes: I like the idea of double ropes in the winter. There is an added element of safety to get off the mountain quickly with 200 ft raps if you have to bail in a hurry. The new kid in town is the Petzl reverso-3.
Screamers and Beiners: If you are going to be leading, it may be agood idea to have carabieners that work well for winter use. The Omega Five-O are large enough to be handle with the bulk of large gloves. Locking beiners of the screw type are also recommended over the bayonnet or william ball types that I use during the rock season.The screamers I like are the Yates Shorty which will add about a fourth more length on your rack as a traditional quick draw.
Ice Screws: Everyone should have a 22cm ice screw on their harness as a LEAVE IT screw and to be able to make an abalakov (v-thread), all for self rescue. I love the Black Diamond turbo express screws. I like the color coded handle, the ease of placement, and the cool video so you can sharpen them some day in your garage or hotel room. New for this year were the double hangers that come in handy building anchors. I like to stay wth one brand of ice screw on my harness for the simple fact that they rack up nicely and lay down neatly on your harness. I have seen climbers with a quiver of screws and it aint pretty. Look for stuff on sale. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the BD express screw sans handle, you can easily "palm" the hummer in there, but the handles are very nice. VIDEO LINK
Accessories:Grivel Candela: v-thread tool. The static I get when people see yet another gadget on my harness. The candela is specialized tool for making v-threads. It stores neatly within a 22cm screw for making abalakovs that I keep on my "bail-kit". It has a fold out ‘hook' for snagin cord, and a built in serrated knife for cutting cord or webbing. The tool also is THE tool to have when you need to clear out a frozen screw that you've forgotten to tap clean. Sure, you can carry that sharp piece of coat hanger, a knife to cut cord and rap the hell out of your screws and hope the ice comes out all you want, this is a great all-in-one tool. This gadget is a nifty addition .
Personal Anchoring System (P.A.S.):We all used a daisy chain until we watched that incredible video and the fear was injected into our imaginary souls. We ran out and bought this essential peice of safety gear. I used to call this thing a "safety runner" in the dawn of my rock climbing career, when I could clip into an anchor etc...Besides being able to tie your self off easily to an anchor, by placing your rappel locker and belay device on the first loop, you can keep the rappel system nearly at eye level and away from things that can jam you on the way down.
BAIL-KIT: I think everyone should be ready to self rescue. Consists of a 22cm "leave-it" screw, enough 7mm cord to make v-threads ( I have pre-cut v-threads ), omega rap-ring, t-blok, ball-less whistle, petzl spatha.
Buy stuff on sale. Buy stuff used from climbing schools. Patagonia Outlet in Dillon Montana has this awesome sale every 2 weeks of over stock, seconds and stuff out of season at crazy insane savings. Call them or fax them your email address and get on their email list pronto. EBAY is a great palce to buy ice climbing gear. Boots, know your model and size and shop. Just buy something, you can always, always re-sell it again on EBAY!
Instruction: The Mountaineering Section loves this time of year and we have SOME gear to loan for the expressed purpose of giving newbies a taste of ice climbing. Our gear is limited....The next best option are the ICE CLIMBING FESTIVALS on the east coast and Canmore , Alberta. These are a wonderful experience in that you can be with other novics or experienced climbers honing their skills. Vendors set up tables for you to demo their gear, everything from ice boots to ice tools, pants, shells, gloves helmets and crampons. Then their are local and celebrity Ice climbing guides to take you on the ice for your respective clinic(s). It is a hoot!
I found a number of things that worked; most worked, some things didn't. The amount of time it took me to analyze and poll more experienced ice climbers still boiled down to weighing valued opinions against research on the internet. In the end, I made a calculated choice with, price, practicality and style in mind. As you see, I talked about static I 've recieved. I have taken right to ice climbing, leading lower grades of ice after my first year. I love it! It is so much fun and that's what it is all about once you get past this gear jazz. The process was by no means an over night affair. I remain humble in the company of those I 've climbed with and taken me under their tuteledge and who continue to climb higher grades of water ice year after year.It is a wonderful winter sport one that everyone should try. In the end, be an informed consumer, do your own research and buy what you want and have fun shopping.