10 Tips and Tricks for Better Ice and Mixed Climbing
So you’ve got the basics of ice and mixing climbing sorted and would like to get proficient on steeper (i.e. vertical to overhanging) or more difficult routes. The only sure way to do this is to climb more, but in addition there a whole range of practical things to work on that can help you along the way. Below are ten of the things that have worked for me (but I’m by no means good at).
1) Scope the route or pitch from the ground or belay. If you can see the route ahead, identify the key features and any obvious gear placements and resting stances, then form a rough plan of attack and discuss it with your partner. At minimum I like to have a plan for placing my first piece of gear.
2) Relax at the first piece of gear. Get your first piece of gear in as soon as possible and then take a few moments to relax and find your rhythm. Take some deep breaths. Check that you’re not over-gripping. Scope the next section. Then focus and go!
3) Keep your arms straight. Just like rock climbing, the only time your arms should be bent is when you pull up to make the next swing or placement. Otherwise you’re wasting energy.
4) Don’t leave your feet behind. This is a really basic one, but it still happens all too often and can really stuff things up. One way to avoid it is to get into the habit of watching your feet as much as you watch your hands.
5) Lower your arms regularly. Let each arm hang down (with or without holding your ice tool) and shake out for a few seconds every couple of moves. This makes a real difference in warding off the dreaded pump on strenuous or long pitches.
6) Test your placements. On ice or rock, if there is any doubt about the security of a tool placement, test it with a small tug or just some of your body weight before fully loading it. Generally, if it can take some body weight it’s solid.
7) Get creative with your placements. On featured ice, make the most of any feature that can be held or stood on without having to swing a tool or foot. Stemming between pillars or bulges is a good one. On rock, tools can be used in a surprising variety of ways, don’t limit yourself to just hooking edges; you can reach just as far with pick cams and stein pulls. The key to being creative is to stay relaxed, which means controlling fear (see below).
8) The tool thumb hook. On rock, hooking the pick of your tool over the thumb of the hand holding the other tool is the quickest way to free up a hand for a quick shake out or to place gear, as opposed to draping the tool over your shoulder. Practice this often so it becomes second nature.
9) Centre of gravity awareness. This can be quite subtle but can make a big difference, particularly on overhanging routes. On ice, do the triangle: centre your weight between bent legs and a central upper placement. On rock, keep your weight low (i.e. bent legs) and over your feet as much as possible, and experiment with small shifts to extend your reach. Just pulling your hips in towards the rock can make a big difference.
10) Find a way to control fear. This is very much a personal issue. For me, I’m pretty comfortable on anything close to vertical where the climbing is obvious but as soon as it gets overhanging or tricky fear starts to well up. The way I keep it at bay is to focus on breathing, and the feel of the moves or placements at hand and if they need adjusting. This tends to require all my attention so there is little or no room left for fear. The key to controlling fear is to keep trying and experiment.