Proper maintenance and storage of your ice climbing gear will not only help it last longer, but it will also make climbing a little easier. Taking good care of your equipment is just as important as having it, and it takes only a few minutes so there’s no excuse not to do it. Make the following tips part of your routine after each climbing trip, and your gear will perform like new every time!
Sharp picks are easier to place (and provide more secure placement), do less damage to the ice (dull picks often cause the ice to fracture), and are easier to clean (take out of the ice as you move up).
What you need: A mill bastard file or straight file. You probably already have a file somewhere in your garage. If you don’t—or if you want one solely for sharpening your ice tools—then head down to the hardware store and pick one up.
What to do: Following the pick’s bevel, press the file down firmly and slide it across the point of the pick in one direction. (Filing back and forth won’t sharpen the pick any faster—it’ll only destroy your file.) Continue to file until all of the dull metal looks shiny and new again, then do the same thing on the other side. Once you’ve created a new sharp point, move up to the topside of the pick and do the same thing. When the top edge is as sharp as the point, you can file the pick’s teeth using the same method.
You’ll want to keep your front points razor-sharp, for the same reason that your pick needs to be sharp: easier placement and less damage to the ice. The bottom points also need to be kept sharp, but they don’t need to be dagger-like (just sharp enough to provide adequate traction on icy terrain during the approach).
What you need: The same file you use for your ice tools will work on your crampons.
What to do: The method for sharpening crampons is also pretty much the same as it is for ice tools. For the front points, follow the manufacturer’s bevel and file until sharp, moving only in one direction. For the bottom points, file only along the thin edges until the point is sharp but also slightly rounded (think ball-point pen).
Unlike ice tools and crampons, your ice screws won’t necessarily need to be sharpened after every trip. Just be sure to inspect them at the end of the day and fix any that have gotten dull.
What you need: A flat file and a round file. A vise is also recommended, as it makes the process much easier. (If you do use a vise, be sure to place the ice screw between two small blocks of wood to protect the threads.)
What to do: Putting this process into words is a little more difficult than explaining how to sharpen your crampons and tools. Fortunately, Petzl has put together this helpful video to show you the proper way to file an ice screw:
If you don’t feel like you’re handy enough with these tools to get the job done right, you could use the Petzl Lim’Ice screw sharpener instead. This handy device is built to sharpen both sides of the screw’s teeth quickly, easily, and with amazing precision. (The only real drawback to this method is the price tag—$70 for the Lim’Ice vs. about $10 for a hand file.)
When working on sharpening your ice climbing gear, here are a few more things to keep in mind:
Never use a grinding wheel. This is one of those things that seems like it might be a good idea—you’d get the job done in a fraction of the time with minimal effort! How could that be bad?—but the heat from the wheel would only destroy the temper and cut the life of your gear short.
If you have work gloves, wear them! All it takes is a slip of the file to rough up your knuckles or slice a finger.
Make sure your gear is clean before you get started. This will make it easier to work. Similarly, wipe your gear down when you’re done filing, and be sure to check for any burrs. If there are any rough spots, simply file them down.
Before putting your gear away, make sure it’s completely dry and store it in a place where it will stay that way.
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