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Techniques: Placing Ice Tools

By Don Graydon.

The objective of placing any ice tool is to establish a solid placement with one swing. Each swing saved during a pitch will mean that much less fatigue at the top. It takes a lot of practice to learn pinpoint placement. But with a combination of proper technique and equipment, you should be able to place a tool easily and precisely so that it?s secure for as long as it takes you to climb through a particular section.
 
Placing Ice Tools

  • At the base of your route, try a few tool placements to get a feel for the plasticity of the ice which varies tremendously with temperature and age of the ice.
  • As you climb, study the ice for good placements.
  • Experiment to discover which tools work best for you. You?ll find that one tool may be good for a particular type of ice climbing but that different conditions will call for a different tool. Investigate each climb well in advance to decide which tools to use.
  • Because of differences in climbing ability and background, two climbers may have different experiences even though they are using identical tools.

Removing Ice Tools

In addition to learning the proper force to use in placing a tool, you also need to learn the best way to remove it. Try to remove the tool in reverse of the motion used to set it.

  1. Loosen the placement by rocking the tool back and forth in the same plane as the pick.
  2. Try to remove the tool by pulling up and out.
  3. If this fails, release your grip on the tool and try to knock it loose by hitting up against the adze with the palm of your hand. Never try to remove a tool by torquing it from side to side because the pick could break.
Placement and Removal Techniques, by type of pick that is on the ice tool.

Technically curved:
These picks, also known as alpine picks, result in an ice tool that is most like a standard ice ax. However, the picks are curved more than on a regular ax to hold better in ice, and the shaft is shorter to permit an easier swing on steep surfaces.

Requires a natural swing, from the shoulder. The first swing should result in a satisfying, solid ?thunk??the sound and feel of a well-placed ice tool. The pick is usually removed from the ice by lifting straight up on the shaft.

When to use: This tool is used in conditions ranging from soft serac ice to hard water ice, though you may need to weight a lighter tool (perhaps with lead sheet taped to the head) for good penetration on hard ice.

Reverse curved:
While technically curved picks take a natural swing, the sharp angles of the reverse-curved and straight-drooped picks require a shorter, choppy swing. A reverse-curved pick, featuring a drooped pick with a slight upward curve, penetrates waterfall ice with a straight, downward hooking motion. It is usually easy to remove.

When to use: Works well for hooking holes in the ice, a common technique in waterfall ice. Large icicles often form in clusters on vertical sections, creating slots or gaps between them that are ideal for secure hooking placement of the pick.

Straight drooped:
This sharply angled pick requires a decisive downward flick of the wrist at the end of a short swing, making it penetrate well in ice from soft to hard. It is fairly easy to remove by using an up-and-down levering motion. The straight-drooped pick also makes a good hooking tool.

When to use: Penetrates well in ice from soft to hard. Also makes a good hooking tool.

Tubular:
A tubular-nosed tool works best with a short-arc swing and often grips securely on the first try. A tubular pick is moderately easy to remove by twisting sideways while holding the head (up-and-down levering can fracture the nose). The nose dents easily and is particularly vulnerable if the climb involves ice with sand or rocks close to the surface.

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