By Matt Wiech
The hardware used by climbers to protect alpine climbs and winter ice climbs is varied and includes tools such as snow pickets, ice screws, pitons, camming devices and nuts, as well as a variety of slings and carabiners to build solid anchors. While all of this equipment is useful, most waterfall ice climbs require a rack of mostly ice screws.
Choose a Variety of Ice Screw Lengths
Ice screws come in various lengths ranging from 10 to 22 cm. The shorter 10-13 cm ice screws can be placed in thinner ice without hitting the rock underneath. For this reason, most climbers will carry at least a couple of shorter screws. Early in the season when the ice is thinner, or if a particular climb is mostly thin ice, a climber may choose to carry more 10-13 cm screws.
Screws that are 16 cm long make up the meat of a typical ice climbing rack. Screws of this length placed properly in good, hard ice are quite strong. It’s not uncommon for a leader to place eight or more ice screws of this length as intermediate protection while climbing a standard ice route.
Longer screws of 19 or 22 cm length are useful when you need extra security if the ice near the surface is not as strong. A longer ice screw can also be used to drill two adjoining holes in the ice to make a thread-type anchor.
Choose Ice Screws That Are Easy to Place
Being able to handle and place an ice screw with one hand while wearing gloves is essential. The teeth and threads of all modern ice screws are meticulously engineered to bite into hard ice. Some ice screws have a knob or handle that unfolds from the hanger. This allows the climber to more quickly and easily turn a screw in once the first few threads are engaged in the ice.
Some people say that different-shape hangers are easier to handle with gloves, allow the ice screw to hang in a better position when clipped to a harness, or interfere more or less with the surface of the ice while placing a screw. The fact is that all modern ice screws are designed with features to make it easier for a climber to place them.
What Do I Need to Go with My Ice Screws?
…A tough reinforced nylon bag made for storing ice screws is a good idea to protect the rest of the gear in your pack from the screws’ sharp teeth and threads. You can also use ice flutes, which are plastic sleeves for the screws.
Several devices are now available to rack ice screws onto your harness. The Petzl Caritool and Black Diamond Ice Clipper are plastic non-load-bearing carabiners that clip onto your harness. You can carry several ice screws on each one of these devices and easily unclip them from your harness with one hand.
Also, it’s a good idea to carry a small file to sharpen the teeth of your ice screws if they get dull
Take Climbing Lessons!
This is not a how-to guide to using ice screws; it’s how to choose ice screws. Next step is to consider a lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School to safely learn the intricacies of using ice screws to build climbing anchors.
About the author:
Matt Wiech has been climbing for sixteen years, guiding for eight, and has been exclusively guiding for the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing Schools for three years. Matt currently lives in the Adirondack Mountains.