Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Typical Ice/Mixed Climbing Rack

I think this post will be helpful for first time ice climbers and experienced toolers as well.  It is good to see what the typical setup looks like and for what reason certain gear is used.  There is one particular website that I list on my site ( that I think is a great resource.  Eli Helmuth does a great job at presenting information and describing how he uses it and why.  He is extremely experienced and I use his site and guiding service for reference on all sorts of issues.  Every day is different in winter and that's why the setup I use is an all around group of gear that will get the job done no matter what.  It could be a 2 mile flat hike with bluebird weather and plastic ice or it could be a 9 mile round trip hike with 2,500 feet of elevation gain, white out conditions and 400 feet of ice, you just have to be prepared for what you are expecting to encounter.  You know the usual saying, "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best."  A climber has to have just enough gear to protect a climb while not wasting space and weight on unnecessary gear.  A climber's rack is possibly the most important thing on any given route, because in many cases it can be the difference between success and failure.
My typical rack with ice gear, rock gear, draws and slings
This is my typical rack for ice/mixed climbing.  It doesn't change too much other than the rope I use.  For alpine routes and multipitch days I usually carry 7.7mm twin ropes, for all other days I typically use my heavy worker 10.2mm single.  The picture above encompasses my everyday rack, but things can change from route to route and knowledge of what gear you need for each route is essential.  Mountain Project is a great resource for this, with their library of route descriptions and photos.  There are other wesbites and personal blogs out there that chronicle good route information, but Mountain Project is essential because of the community driven content (Example: A guy that climbed Martha the day before you want to might put up a conditions report that you can use).  You can even contact individuals directly for information.

For sewn product I choose to carry a good amount of slings and quickdraws.  Above you can see I keep two cordelettes and two 4 foot slings on me at all times for building anchors of slinging ice/rock.  The quickdraws can vary from trip to trip (single pitch or multipitch), but you can see I carry a combination of screamers (Yates), sport draws and alpine draws.  I would say anywhere from 10 to 14 draws of some kind will get the job done.  For protection I carry a combination of rock gear and ice gear.  I always bring at least 6 screws of varying lengths and of course a 22 cm screw for v-thread work.  The rock gear is pretty much all Black Diamond with a few Metolius Master Cams thrown in.  I carry at least a half rack of stoppers and camming units from .3-3.  This changes as well based on the individual climbing objective, but the protection above is a general rack.

The last part of my climbing rack is comprised of necessities and are not an option to leave at home.  I always carry a first aid kit for any minor issues.  Anything serious is based solely on how fast you can get out of the backcountry.  A headlamp, just in case, and a file for sharpening tools, rounds out the essentials.
Haglofs Savage jacket and Mammut Castor pant
Clothing is a whole other story and can vary from person to person.  I will let you know what I use and you can decide for yourself what you want to do.  I am a huge proponent of softshell outerwear.  I use a Haglofs Savage jacket and the new Mountain Hardwear Trinity softshell jacket (review coming soon) and for pants I have a pair of Mammut Castor pants.  Using softshell outerwear allows for stretch while climbing and they still offer complete wind and water protection.  On top of that, softshell outerwear usually has some sort of microfleece backing that makes the clothing much more comfortable and softer to touch than any hardshell.  You always want the typical amenities; pit zips, thigh vents, hood, internal ankle gaiter, abrasion resistance, etc. and my outerwear definitely offers all of this.  Underneath the jacket and pants I usually have some sort of stretch tights for bottoms and a silk weight and mid weight long sleeve for the top.  Having a half or quarter zip long sleeve mid weight layer is nice for when you need to dump heat while hiking.  You can also zip it up and get the collar up around your neck for improved heat retention.  I always bring some sort of down/synthetic jacket and depending on where I will be climbing it could be my Marmot Ama Dablam (heavyweight) or my Montbell Thermawrap (lightweight).  After that it comes down to gloves and I can't emphasize enough how important it is to have enough gloves to cover the temperatures you will encounter.  I typically carry at least 4 pairs of gloves.  Black Diamond covers it for me and it starts with a lightweight lead/mix glove and finishes with a beefy warm belay glove.  I carry the Torque, Kingpin, Punisher, Element and Legend.  These really take care of my hands in any weather and they don't weigh too much that I feel I can't bring them all.  This is probably the most important part of my ice climbing clothing.

Overall that covers my general setup for ice and mixed climbing.  You can always add pieces of gear for a backup, like a shelter, shovel or stove, but this covers any day of climbing in the backcountry where the weather isn't going to get to crazy and the commitment for the climbing is tame.  I think this gives a good look at a typical setup and the reasons, benefits and drawbacks to each piece of gear.  Feel free to throw in the comments what you think I left out.  I know I probably missed a couple things that people will point out.  As always you have to evaluate the situation and your own personal goals and then measure those against danger and overall exposure during the day.  Climb safe and have fun.


Once you get off the beaten path and onto some steeper mixed climbs you'll find a larger nut rack is important, especially nuts you can hammer into icy cracks. Knifeblades and LAs are pretty standard (a single big Pecker also always seems to come in handy), and for RMNP the two tools you never leave home without are Spectres (for turf) and a single BD #11 Hex. Hexes in general for mid winter conditions are great, anything you can hammer. I'd say ditch the draws and just rack extendable draws and a couple of screamers. Twin ropes and bail cord is definitely essential as well : )

Moral of the story - once you get into the proper alpine, passive protection (anything you can hammer) becomes super important. Cams in icy/mossy cracks don't inspire confidence.

Also, a single modified "Super Stubby" short screw can be a nice investment - even if it's just mental pro. Tying your stubbies off works, but the screw is hard on the Dyneema runners.

Hey man, could you write up a blurb or maybe just shoot me an email about that trinity jacket? I havent seen it in stores or found any reviews. You seem like you might have some good opinions on it.

Sorry about the lack of recent posts. I have been out for a few weeks (personal and work) and am just now getting back into the swing of things. Many posts are coming soon and i will include the Trinity jacket review.

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