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cynicalwoodsman

crampon technique.

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Sorry this is so long.

Some background: I've been climbing rock and ice for 7 years. I started in the gym, learned really good footwork, have onsighted 10c sport at Smith and 5.9 gear at L'worth. I'm still too scared to lead cck at the gunks (5.6) and a 5.8 kicks my ass there on a toprope. I've led 2 ice routes in the 4ish range but both times were super sticky hero ice. I still topped out thinking that, each time, it was the dumbest thing I ever did cuz I was too scared to stop and sink a screw and ended up way above groundfall territory on the topouts. I hate topouts.

 

I get out on the ice no more than 2-5 days a year. I don't know how you guys do it. But I can't seem to get much more than that no matter how hard I try. Maybe one day I'll improve and can justify new gear and huge wknd no-rest roadtrips, but until that delusion wears off, I continue to try.

 

I'm weak. I can't pull hard. I never have, and I never will. My feet get me up the rock. I have superior footwork for my grade. But as soon as stuff starts kickin' back and it takes my feet away from me I'm worthless. I thought tools would be easier to hold on to than pinches or crimps. But I've learned, for me, that's not the case. I always feel overhung on vertical ice, and it's never comfortable. I can't figure out how to use my feet on ice.

 

So much beta is available from so many places about swingin' tools, but not enough about using your feet on ice.

How can I practice crampon technique on vertical skinny (no stems) boilerplate icicles and pillars?

 

If its a matter of accepting more weight on my long-no leverage 6+" ape index-arms, then I'll start doing some pullups. Right now, I could maybe crank out 2 pullups on my tools. I could push a truck, but I can't pull my own weight with such long arms. Even when I was a young gym rat it took me months of solid training to even think about throwin' my bodyweight around. I have 6+" ape index, but I've learned that reachin' don't mean I can pull down on it. Leverage has never been on my side (my favorite of many excuses).

 

I don't wanna train to climb. Any climbing I do is off the couch, but I like gettin' on the ice, and there's no rock around me anymore (I moved. Not the rock.) and the attitude-laiden rock gym makes me wanna puke, sell my gear, and burn the place down.

 

What can I do to practice better crampon technique? I actually have some steep short drips to boulder on, and It's been a good winter so stuff is touchin' down. It's steep, and I don't dare go any highter than a move or two off the ground, which negates any concern brought on by their lack of height (12'-15') unless I bring (find) a belayer, bring a rope, hang an anchor, and feel totally poser cuz I'm too sketched to top out on really short stuff that is all basically a start, 1 or 2 moves, then a topout. I'm a panzie. I know it. But I dig this stuff! I just ain't no good at it.

 

My gear is old: switchblades (hate 'em), alphas, (never tried anything else but my feet feel like rocks) and old cobras (love 'em) with web loops and seriously old picks. But I believe gear is tantamount to technique. Besides, times is tuff. New gear ain't an option. I think of Jeff Lowe baggin' some of those classic FA's with straight shafts and footfangs, and I get inspired. Granted he (probably still is) much more gifted, motivated, and stronger than I'll ever be, but I know there's a way to use my feet.

 

I can't figure out how to stay balanced and efficient with my tool placements either. I look up, get a stick, look down and don't see anywhere available that I want to put my feet. It always feels awkward and uncomfortable. I know the nature of ice I'm bouldering on is hard, no joke. But it's what I have to work with. There's a short (maybe 25' total length) waterfall (2+) there that I can warm up on, and I have no problem soloing it. So I got that goin' for me, but I can't even imagine gettin' up more than 20-30 feet of the hard steep ice... and even that would require several hangs.

There's some drips up to 30' there that look way hard and i'm sure have never been climbed, not to mention all the hangers that'll never touch down offer some super sick short mixed potential, but it's all just porn to me. Anyway... I digress.

 

I try to think of all the things I'm supposed to: keeping tool placements inline with my body (not chicken-wingin'), turning into swings, don't overgrip, be deliberate, etc. But the feet are feeling heavy, blocky, and worthless. I don't have confidence in my front point placements so I end up overgripping and havin' to pull really hard. Just a couple lock-offs, fight to get the other tool clean, hold on, aim, hope it sticks, repeat, repeat, and my day's just about over.

There's gotta be a better way.

 

 

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You've clearly put a ton of thought into this, and I would venture a guess that anything I write here won't actually do much to assist you, because it's a safe bet that you've already read volumes on the subject. Maybe try watching some DVD's instead?

 

You know what will REALLY help you:

 

1 - Get modern leashless tools. Beg, borrow, steal them if you have to. You can still wear leashes if (for some silly reason) you want them, but the tools themselves are orders of magnitude easier to climb with and hold on to.

 

2 - Tag along for a day or two with some experienced climbers to holler beta up at you. Last season I started out barely scratching my way up WI3 on toprope and getting sketched out and pumped on any vertical section more than 15' high. I spent 2 days out with some really strong climbers who were also good teachers (this part is crucial!) who were able to critique my climbing, suggest different methods of body language, etc.

 

You need someone to teach you what you're doing wrong and how to do it right.

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Best I can hope to do is mod my old cobras. That may not be what you're talking about. But it's what I have.

I've been watchin' all the vids I can get my paws on, and I still don't understand. These guys make it look SO EASY!

I just need to figure out how to get more days in: a lifelong goal.

 

Dane, your blog is, to say the least, inspiring. Really really good stuff. Thanks for the pm.

I'm headed back out tomorrow to get back on the drips. I'll even have a spot or a belay. 2 moves up, 2 moves down, repeat.

If I'm feelin' really strong I may even top out if I don't pop a butt-cork.

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You really have examined things for your self, and are doing a lot to get to that new knowing.

 

Watching others is good, and even better if you can draft them, provided that you take everything in, eyes open as they say.

 

You sound like you are ice bouldering, that is the great way to put your gear and you, and your commitment to the limit. It works.

 

Attached to that, have you gone old school?! Both Chouinard and Rebuffat will provide information that might change your perspective on how to do ice. In this, is your kit sharp?

 

You can do a lot with this modern kit. Play around with leash length, but remember it is your legs that do the work; so have sharp crampons. I have used old 12 point strappers for such a long time in the black and white days, then put on mono's and have felt a lot of freedom as with rock.

 

What if you didn't work out, but instead added to your morning, or afternoon, or once you get home schedule to do a few push-ups, dips, crunches, squats and calf raises. 20 of each, maybe two sets at first. What's ten minutes to your day? It will give you that added reserve.

 

Included with added reserve, you mentioned feeling on the leading edge on your leads, so how about lead a whole bunch of 2's and 3's, but just beat the snot out of them? Practicing efficient screws on demand, and 'tactical' rests will also do very well for how you take the action to the event when leading.

 

Have fun, and do all of it solo while bouldering, so if you pop you get up laughing, dusting yourself off and leave an angel imprint.

 

It has worked for those who suggested it to me.

 

Enjoy

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Jon and Blueserac have some good tips. I see that you absolutely hate going to the climbing gym - what about a "gym" gym? You mention how weak your upper body is - I believe that being stronger (to a point) will make you a better climber. If it's lack of muscle holding you back - go out and get some muscle. Mike layton's book has a lot of good exercises that are climbing specific - though it's good to round things out so you don't over-train one area. There might even be some pdf's of a draft floating around on here if money's too tight to purchase a copy.

Even buying some cheap dumbells on ebay, or making some out of sand and OJ bottles will open up a world of exercises that will definitely help your climbing. I'd invest in some rock rings and do exercises on those.

Rollies? A rollie bar is another great torture tool, and super cheap to make, just get an old broomstick and some cord, and one of those sand-filled OJ bottles. That'll help your grip strength too.

 

 

I know that's not specifically helpful for crampon technique, but it'll help with your overall comfort level

 

In the off-season/can't get to the ice - do you have any nice wooden telephone poles or non-native trees that you could climb? It's a good approximation of vertical ice.

Hope that helps

 

Edited by EastCoastBastard

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I'm definitely no expert as I have a total of 5 days on WI. However, the first 2 days were last year and the last 3 days were a few weeks ago. Ouray has done wonders for my technique for sure. Last year, I topped out on 3 total 30m routes in the ice park. This year, I topped out on 14 of 17 attemps on all different routes from 25m to 30m. This is all top-roping. A few of these attempts were outside the park. Anyhow, what I find is that the park really helps me work on the skillz.

 

The big change for me? (you won't like this). Climbing gym. I diligently did 1 strength training and 1 2-4 hour session of top roping in the climbing gym for about 2-3 months and my performance improved so much that I'm stoked for next year (and any time in between that I can get on the ice). I can place screws but nowhere ready for leading routes this year (next year I bet I will finally lead a route).

 

Anyhow, that improvement was about training (yes, I know). I have ok tools and ok equipment - but I got a lot of climbing in and now know pretty comfortably where my strengths and weaknesses are on the ice.

 

Where are you located? Where are you bouldering ice? I'd love to get some practice too... I'm scheduled to go check out the ice with Martin Volken out of north bend up at Alpental, but it keeps getting rescheduled because there aint no ice.

 

So, there's the advice. The only other cramponing practice I could suggest? GLACIERS. Yep, you could toprope a crevasse or even get up on Rainier and find some good steep slopes. Not the same, but might help your technique.

 

Anyhoo... I'm not an expert and still just learning the sport, but I feel your pain. Where's the ice?!?!?!? Good luck on your cramponing practice.

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Ahhh. Gotcha... Ohio. Well, I hope you get some experience there... sounds like you at least have some places to boulder ice :). Well, good luck with the cramponing. I know that my confidence has gone way up with this last years trips.

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Going old school...well that could easily lead anyone into a never ending trap to define what their take on old school is. So, let me try to stay out of their.

 

By looking at how the sport began, and realizing what those pioneers did, again and again, season after season with the gear and common knowledge that was readily available to them. Go to Hyalite and check out some of the early climbs, and they were put up with similar gear to what you have and by far nothing as cool as your Cobras, and far less reliable pro.

 

These pioneers were able to do more with what they had; sure it is easier now to get out and crank off common grades with the kit that we now have and with the common knowledge that we have. We are were we are and our reference is so where it is, but it seems that in the old school it was much more important and common to look at the how's and why's things and techniques worked. (Ever go to the crag and see someone, usually swearing, try and try again the same sequence of moves that keeps them popping, and then see someone keep popping at the same spot but working different moves until they get it?) If you build knowledge and can predict the outcomes of those actions you will have done something beyond gronking your way up.

 

Have you ever had a shoulder or arm/wrist injury that impeded your pre-injury ability when climbing, but then kept going out to play. You were forced to re-examine what was you considered to be an easy route, and by this examination figured why this worked and that didn't. Usually it goes back to the feet. In the end technique and knowledge are gained, so it is said.

 

Even if your 12 pointers are "old" they are still very good, and in the old days consider that some of the greatest iconic routes that come to mind way back in '38 and that era all with less high tech kit. Play with your crampons, maybe try buildering on bricks or stone but only limit your foot choices to 1/4 inch lips or less, but try working with one front point or the other and see what that gives you?

 

So by old school I must gather (or blather) on what you are doing by really examining what you have and what it can do and what you can do with it. Push the limits but learn how and why the outcomes came about.

 

How's that? Have fun

 

 

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blues, that's perfect! That's what I thought you meant. I eluded to my affiity for applying this theory to everything I do, whether it climbing, guitars, or whatever, in my original post here. You're just the first one, in here or otherwise, who has validated that for me. I couldn't agree more.

 

Your advice trumps everything I've read and heard. It makes a lotta sense. I'm inspired! Really good stuff.

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No words on the internet will make it click

 

You need a mileage trip with an experienced partner(s). Carve out some time next Thanksgiving or Christmas and go to Banff or Hyalite for 4 days. Climb 12+ pitches of ice. Climb til you're blue in the face. You're technique will improve dramatically and you wont regress once you've done it correctly.

 

Or go to Ouray during ice fest. You'll get more teaching than you'll know what to do with!

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I've been trying to figure out a way to do that very thing since I first swung tools 7 yrs ago.

But I agree... I need mileage. I'm gettin' a tiny bit on some short drips here in Ohio. I'm having fun. It still seems like I'm worse everytime I go out, but I'm still gettin' after it.

 

I'm finally finding partners, and there are some fairly legit 30'+ really steep (4+) that we can TR. Lookin' forward to settin' up a rope and lappin' 'em this weekend. I'd post some pics if I didn't think I'd get hammered in here.

THis place is ruff.

 

Thanks for the advice!

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COOL STORY!

 

I emailed the folks that made my dinosaur 'pons in hopes of some chance they'd maybe still have some fresh points for them. Dude got right back to me, told me they still (somehow) had a set and put 'em in the mail inside the hour... all for just my address and a beer next time I swing through town!

 

I got them quick and couldn't wait to commence with the transplant. Before gettin' crazy with the wrench, I eye-balled them next to the old ones, and I realized I'd had no idea how much I'd shaved off the the old points over the years.

 

I need to LEAVE THE FILE ALONE for a while.

 

I'm headin' out tomorrow with some local folks to try 'em out on some local ice. I'm hoping they help!

 

Shweet!

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Nice work Woodsman! Look forward to you getting out to the cascades and gettin on some ice (after you come back from Ohio!)

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