Learning how to use an ice axe
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Chris S
(csteutterman) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Learning how to use an ice axe on 05/12/2011 16:02:18 MDT Print View

I have very little experience using an ice axe and crampons and was considering taking this class.

http://www.mtadventure.com/pages/mountaineering.html#crampon

Does anyone have any feedback on this class? Or other recommendations?

Jason Acker
(NWCLIMBER199) - F
Re: Learning how to use an ice axe on 05/12/2011 16:17:39 MDT Print View

Taking a class is never a bad idea. However if you are competent person you can probably do enough research to practice by yourself. Watch this video and find a good safe place to practice thats not too steep or where you wont run into trees or rocks.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LM3xLshmNnk

The basic rule with crampons is don't wear them unless you need to, you will know when you need to. Don't glissade or practice self arrest with crampons on.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Learning how to use an ice axe on 05/12/2011 16:48:12 MDT Print View

What do you mean don't practice self arresting with crampons on? If they're going to be used elsewhere, they should definitely be practiced with first, and should most definitely have extra precautions made in case something goes wrong.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Learning how to use an ice axe on 05/12/2011 16:48:18 MDT Print View

I used to hold a little ice axe practice session for climbers on Mount Shasta. Typically there were two of us to teach. One guy would do the talking, and one guy would do the demonstration. Then each trainee would have to walk up the slope until it got steep enough to get an easy slide. They would have to fall down and self arrest. Once that was done, they would have to walk up to a steeper point and do it again. The whole key was to train someplace where there was a safe runout. In other words, the slope flattens out without any rocks or obstacles. If they did not feel comfortable with a self arrest after that, they were invited to stay in camp and not go to the summit.

When you pay a fee for a class like at Bear Valley, I would guess that much of the fee goes to pay for the instructor's liability insurance cost.

--B.G.--

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Learning how to use an ice axe on 05/12/2011 16:54:54 MDT Print View

"What do you mean don't practice self arresting with crampons on?"

That is precisely the point.

Sure, a climber can fall anywhere on the mountain, and that might be with or without crampons, so a self arrest might be necessary in any condition. However, there is a lot of extra risk when you are sliding or glissading down with crampons on, to yourself and to others.

So, self arrest practice from a voluntary fall or slide is always done without the crampons to lower the risk.

--B.G.--

ROBERT TANGEN
(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Self arrest with crampons on 05/12/2011 17:21:43 MDT Print View

As fond as I am of Bob Gross, and even though I am no expert, I would disagree with him, and would recommend practicing self arrest with and without crampons. You have to use your knees AND NOT YOUR FEET if you have crampons on, and you have to kick your feet in, and not use your knees if you do not have crampons on. Maybe beginners should be limited to no crampons, but the steeper stuff you climb, the more you will need to practice knees-no-feet with crampons, and just trying to remember that rule and not practice it is dangerous, in my non-expert opinion.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Self arrest with crampons on 05/12/2011 17:29:01 MDT Print View

"Maybe beginners should be limited to no crampons"

Exactly.

Once a climber is pretty experienced, they can do a self arrest anyway they want, even standing on their head if they want. It's complicated enough for a beginner to self arrest, and adding a dozen sharp points to the equation doesn't help... for the intentional glissade or practice fall.

In today's litigious society, it is all about liability.

--B.G.--

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Self arrest with crampons on 05/12/2011 18:20:30 MDT Print View

I'll agree with beginners not using crampons at all, but if they're going to use them, they need to practice with them first.

Chris S
(csteutterman) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Learning how to use an ice axe on 05/13/2011 12:20:39 MDT Print View

Thanks. Could anyone recommend a suitable place to practice near the bay area?

Jason Acker
(NWCLIMBER199) - F
Re: Re: Re: Self arrest with crampons on 05/13/2011 12:37:42 MDT Print View

You want to practice wearing, walking with, and putting on crampons but you NEVER want to practice self arrest with them. You will have a hard time finding a guide or other competent instructor say otherwise. All of the motions can be practiced without crampons. If you leave crampons on you are risking catching a point and breaking your ankle if you don't do the motions properly. If you don't believe me about this go onto any climbing forum such as mountainproject.com or cascadeclimbers.com and ask if you should practice self arrest with crampons on. 95% of people will say no and the other 5% are wrong.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Learning how to use an ice axe on 05/13/2011 12:38:19 MDT Print View

I don't know anything nearby, but Ned of Mountain Education in south Tahoe has courses going on right now.

Chris S
(csteutterman) - F

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Re: Learning how to use an ice axe on 05/13/2011 13:05:02 MDT Print View

Thanks for the recommendation on Ned's course. I wasn't aware of that one and it looks pretty decent.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Learning how to use an ice axe on 05/13/2011 14:38:07 MDT Print View

"Could anyone recommend a suitable place to practice near the bay area?"

First, you need snow.

I was snowcamping last weekend near Carson Pass. After a mile or two north of the pass, there is a corniced crest that was obvious. The cornices were breaking off and tumbling down, and the slopes under them were 30 degees or so. The fresh snow helped things, but the rest of the meadows are getting a bit slushy. The trick is that you have to find a place with a safe runout. Many places under these cornices have trees, so if you go sliding down and stiff-leg a tree, you won't be walking for a few months.

Basically, go just barely east of the Sierra Crest and then look for something steep with a flat meadow below it.

You will hit harder snow very early in the morning, and then you will have soft ice cream snow by noon.

--B.G.--

larry savage
(pyeyo) - F

Locale: pacific northwest
wearing crampons to practice self-arrest on 05/13/2011 15:26:14 MDT Print View

I would like to reiterate Jason's remark about not practicing self-arrest w/ crampons on, one of the nastiest rescues I participated in was one of our own team member's practicing self-arrest with crampons on.
Do not do this.
I ended a long planned trip in Nepal when I hooked a point inadvertantly, I will say the doctors were very nice in Denmark.
Yep, pretty sure you don't want to do this.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: wearing crampons to practice self-arrest on 05/13/2011 16:21:37 MDT Print View

Larry,

I just don't get that viewpoint at all. Instead of practicing in a place where others are present to observe, critique and aid in a rescue, you encourage people to use crampons for the first time in the field when rescue will likely be much more difficult?

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: wearing crampons to practice self-arrest on 05/13/2011 16:45:57 MDT Print View

Eugene,
I think the concept is to learn the drill in a relatively safe environment, and without crampons. Once you've got it down, then add the crampons.

I learned with crampons. Two on a rope. With a bunch of slack, low man starts running down hill as fast as possible, attempting to launch the high man, who then arrests. There were about 10 of us. We did it for about 4 hours. No one got hurt. We were lucky. And eventually, skilled.

But if you can reduce the risk of the initial conditioning, it's probably a good thing.

Edited by greg23 on 05/13/2011 16:48:38 MDT.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Learning how to use an ice axe on 05/13/2011 17:17:29 MDT Print View

Chris, I took their classes and wholly recommend them. They did a great job teaching me self arrest, crampon skills, and ropping up for crevace travel. It was well worth the money. I stayed at the lodge at Bear Valley, though it is bunkbeds and you share the room with others. The food they served when I was there was wonderful and they have a nice little pub. They do all the classes at Bear Valley too.

Douglas Ray
(dirtbagclimber)

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Advice for learning to climb snow. on 05/13/2011 18:44:28 MDT Print View

I've taught ice-axe skills several times both professionally and casually. I would advise to be sure and learn all of the aspects of snow climbing in order of importance, not just practice self-arrest alone. I generally find a slope with a safe run-out and have people do the following. The initial lessons should all be done without crampons so that people don't stab themselves with the points and rip up there clothes.

Leave the axes at the bottom of the slope and practice kicking steps with your balance point over your feet. Practice all of the steps, strait-in, side-stepping, duck-walking, traversing, changing from one direction to the other on traverse, and plunge stepping. Do this a lot, climbing in balance with good footwork is the key to avoiding falls in the first place, and it is always better to not fall. Climbing without falling is plan A, try to make get good enough with your feet that it's what happens.

Have people pick up there axes and hold them at there sides in the self-arrest grip. Have them walk on level ground, moving the axe so as to stay in balance. It is the opposite motion to how you use a trekking pole.

Have them practice all of the footwork again plunging the axe so as to stay in balance. Practice switching hands and changing directions on traverse. The point is to develop movement patterns such that people can climb without falling.

Demonstrate self-belay, holding a fall with the shaft of the axe plunged into the snow. Have everyone practice this, usually first while traversing and than with the other footwork. The ideal technique is where as your feet start to slide you turn and deliberately fall onto the head of your axe, driving it into the snow. Practice it until everyone is comfortable and confident. This technique is safer than self-arrest because you don't build up as much momentum, and also because your plunged axe-shaft is typically a better anchor than the pick.

Than move on to true self-arrest. First practice rolling toward the head of the axe on level ground with the axe on each side. Than go strait up the hill, turn around, sit down and start sliding. Roll over and arrest. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until it is easy.

I teach a technique that works with or without crampons. You roll onto the axe with your knees bent and feet in the air, than actively pull-up on the axe shaft while leaning hard on the head. You stay in that position until you slow down to a very slow speed, than you forcefully kick your feet in for your final stop. The key is that you slow enough with your feet in the air that by the time you kick you don't have enough energy to hurt your ankle. It is also important to practice getting up from the self-arrest position without falling again and getting back in balance.

Move on to the other positions. The head-down on your back sometimes requires that one person holds another's feet.

I find it's often helpful to put in a "sled track" that no one kick's steps in and have people take turns in it because than it's easy to get up some speed.

After everyone is comfortable with all four positions in the sled track, everyone than tries it with a pack on. Often times it seems easier because the pack provides extra drag.

Everyone should practice self-arrest without an axe. In softer snow it often works better. I usually just to it from one position though.

Than I usually have people practice all of the climbing foot-work again except with a hiking pole in the hand opposite the axe. Practice switching both to keep the axe up-hill.

At some point near the end of the process there will usually be a moment, preferably surprising, where I grab the students and push/throw them down the hill. Being caught by surprise and possibly having the wind knocked out of you is very realistic and I think important.

The above activities usually take all day.

If glacier travel is in the cards, rope-team practice is a whole other lesson. Keeping the rope tight through various manoeuvres is important, and I do like to practice team arrest. If you can find a good slope you can get one person on the rope sliding quite fast.

I am inclined to do all of the above without crampons on, because I don't think you do much of any of it differently with crampons on. Crampons often make it harder to fall and easier to be secure in your steps, so people don't develop good balance, footwork, and ice-axe skills as quickly. When people are learning to walk and climb in crampons there is generally a lot of shredded gaiters and pants, as well as the falls that go with that, so think it's better if they already know the other stuff. It is certainly easier to hurt yourself falling with crampons than without, although honestly in the conditions you practice in it's not so much a worry about a broken ankle as about cuts and stabs from the points.

Note that the above describes basic technique. There are a myriad of other techniques I use for getting up and down snow and ice slopes in the mountains and stopping falls using axes and crampons that vary from the above in significant ways, but this is the foundation of skills that will allow one to learn all of the other techniques.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Advice for learning to climb snow. on 05/13/2011 18:58:58 MDT Print View

Douglas, everything that you just mentioned in your post is what I was taught at the class that attended. Self belay is a great skill to learn for sure

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Advice for learning to climb snow. on 05/13/2011 19:17:26 MDT Print View

Three of us had gone up to climb Mount Lyell, the highest point in Yosemite National Park. We had ice axes, but no crampons, because we intended to walk around the Lyell Glacier, not walk over it. On the way up, we walked around the ice, got to the climb, did the summit, down-climbed to the top of the glacier, and then paused for a second. Just as we got ready to walk around the outside of it again, one of the guys started walking straight down the glacier. It was 95% solid ice with rocks embedded in the surface. Worse yet, this one guy was not carrying his ice axe in the Ready position. Instead, it just dangled by the wrist strap. The other guy and I looked at each other and thought, "This doesn't look good."

The guy got about 50 feet down the ice and then fell, and he had no ice axe control at all. "He's in trouble."

He slid and bounced for a few hundred feet down the ice, and then he managed to cling to passing rocks and then stop. He lifted a hand to show that he was alive.

The other guy and I walked all the way around the glacier and then met the fallen climber at the bottom of the glacier. He was beaten up pretty badly. But, we had to walk all the way out to the highway that day. By the time we reached the car, he couldn't even sit upright in the car.

Kids, don't do this at home!

--B.G.--