Ice Climbing Screws Review

Placing an ice climbing screw is one of the most challenging aspects of ice climbing. While a cam may take only seconds to drop in and clip to the rope, an ice screw will take much longer and require more energy to place. To make things easier on yourself, make screw sharpness a top priority. All the knob turning aids in the world won’t help you unless you can get the teeth to bite in the first place.

Sharp & Dull Screws


A sharp screw and a dull screw A sharpened tooth and sharpening setup

Screw Care

Don’t scratch the inside of a screw or let it rust. A scratched or rusted inside can quickly become troublesome because ice will stick to the abnormalities and make the screw nearly impossible to place. Applying a thin layer of WD-40 on the hanger and inside the tube will keep your screws fresh.

 

Don’t dent the threads. If the threads are rough they will create more friction while twisting the screw in, and thus be harder to place. Some screws come with thread-protectors, though an ice screw protector (ex: Black Diamond Screw Up) is much easier to use. Another advantage of a screw protector is that you can leave the (hard to keep track of) screw caps at home. Eventually your screws will get dinged up and you’ll need to sharpen them. There are several sources on the web about how to do this. Just start slowly and experiment with a junker.

Sharpening Articles

Sharpen using a Dremel Tool
Black Diamond Video using lots of files

Various Ice Screw Designs


Black Diamond
Turbo Express
Grivel 360 Omega Pacific Ice Screw
Petzl Laser Sonic Grivel Helix Ice Screw Protector

Hanger Designs & Racking

There are many different kinds of hangers out there that come on ice screws. Nearly all new screws have widgets that spin free of the hanger and allow you to place a screw much, much faster than without one. The main concerns with hanger designs are how they will place and how they will rack together on your harness. If the hangers do not have a relatively similar design, they can be difficult to remove from your harness. If you rack too many screws on one carabiner, you run into the danger of the screws unclipping by themselves. This can be especially problematic when you mix hanger styles. Hangers fall into two general styles: long hangers with an eye at the end (Turbo Express, Omega Pacific, Laser Sonic, Helix) or small square hangers (Grivel 360). Each hanger style has it’s own advantages. To place a screw, the surface of the ice should be nearly flat through the arc that the hanger will turn as you twist it in. On funky or featured ice, square hangers can be advantageous because they require a smaller arc to turn and you will thus need to clear less surface ice in order to place the screw. To somewhat alleviate the issue of needing to clear away a large arc of ice when using the long hanger style, manufacturers often allow a large amount of play in the connection to the screw so that the hanger can rise above some surface irregularities as it spins. An advantage of the long hanger screws is that you can rack many more of them onto a single carabiner than you could with square hanger screws. Also of note is that many manufactures are producing screws with large clip in points that will accommodates two carabiners clipped to the same hanger. This is a nice feature that can simplify changeovers at belays.

Hanger Radius Comparison


Grivel 360 (light) and a Black Diamond Turbo Express (dark)

 

Example Ice Screw Racking


Black Diamond Ice Clipper On harness Unclipping

Tying Off Screws

If the ice is so thin that your screw will not go all the way in, you have three choices: 1. Use a shorter screw that can go in all the way (best), 2. Clip the hanger if it is no further than 2 inches from the surface of the ice, or 3. Tie something to the tube of the screw where the screw leaves the ice, and clip to that (yikes). For the last option, it is advisable to use something strong for your new clip in point. Clove or girth hitching webbing to the screw is one option, but these have been shown to slip off or cut on the hanger. An alternative is to use a nut in a makeshift way: slide the nut down on its cable, fit it over the hanger, and snug the nut up against the tube of the screw. This provides a much stronger and more secure tie off than the webbing.




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