Techniques: Climbing without Crampons
By Don Graydon.
If the slope is too steep for secure balance climbing and you plan to proceed without crampons, you could take another route or try cutting steps. Step-cutting may be the answer if they can be cut quickly and efficiently.
The adze of the ax can be used in one of two ways for step-cutting.
- The adze can be used to slash the ice by swinging it in a nearly parallel motion to the surface of the ice to create a slash step.
- It can be used to chop by swinging it perpendicular to the ice to create a pigeonhole step.
In softer conditions, the pick can often aid in creating steps, by using it to slice through snow and ice in one smooth swing.
For all step-cutting, attach the ice ax to your wrist with a leash to help support your hard-working hand and to prevent loss of the ax if you drop it.
The most frequently used technique for step-cutting is the slash step, for traversing up or down gentle to slightly moderate slopes (up to 30 degrees).
- To cut ascending slash steps, stand in a position of balance, holding the ax in the inside (uphill) hand.
- Swing the adze parallel to your uphill foot and away from your body.
- Swing the ax from your shoulder, cutting with the adze and letting the weight of the ax do most of the work.
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