Tech Tip - Ice - Assessing mixed-route placements

By Ryan Nelson ,

Sussing your proj from the ground provides important Beta — without the pump.

You gaze up at the remainder of your mixed route, but the verglassed, dust-covered choss heap has myriad camouflaged holds. No chalk tick marks hint as to which holds will yield passage. Scraping around on creaking holds and hopelessly tossing at unknown placements will only cause you to blow the send. The following tips will help you develop an efficient strategy for reading mixed terrain, and properly testing placements.Eye your holds. As with rock climbing, studying the route’s features from the ground allows you to build a mental roadmap of the best sequence without getting pumped. Understanding which types of holds make for good placements is the first step to cracking dry-tool sequences. Because tools can hook and cam through the blankest terrain, the number of potential holds on a mixed pitch can be overwhelming. To quickly find the right holds, look for evidence of previous travel. Sometimes a “used” hold that worked well for crampons isn’t ideal for your tools, so use caution before committing to the hold; it may be sloped and not positive enough for a tool placement. Remember, failing on a mixed pitch is likely the result of incorrectly choosing your hold. Dry tooling puts an amazing amount of force on the stone, so consider a hold’s strength. Look for solid cracks into which you can cam your pick and large positive edges before resorting to crimps. Make sure the hold is positive enough to support your pick moving in different directions. Because dry tooling requires dynamic movement, your picks may shift angles and positions as you climb. Moving up on a tool placement changes the pick’s angle and weight distribution on the hold, so a placement that looked bomber when you were hanging below it can be frighteningly bad as you ascend. Swivel and bounce test. Once you’ve dialed in what holds to look for, it’s important to properly assess your placements. When you’re pumped, you become more likely to make mistakes with your placement choices, so quickly and accurately assessing a placement is one of the best ways to stay in control.

Testing holds is the best way to find solid placements and the best sequence.

After choosing a placement, place your pick on the hold and apply a small amount of weight to the tool, then swivel the head from side to side. This swiveling motion will either cause the pick to skate off or help slot it into the hold’s most positive depression. If the pick pops, look for another hold. If it holds, straighten your arm and gently bounce once or twice from your shoulder to test the placement’s strength. This bouncing can cause your tool to skate or break the hold, but it also will reveal if the placement is weight-worthy. By testing every hold you ensure that all of your placements are solid; if one tool pops, the other is capable of holding your weight. Using this test will turn dry tooling into a matter of endurance, rather than a roulette game of bad holds.Transitions. Mixed climbing involves transitioning from rock to ice (or vice versa), or you may climb on both mediums continually throughout a pitch. Sometimes these transitions can be the easy section, other times the crux. Several rules of thumb can be used to make icy sections tactical advantage points. Depending on the condition of the ice, it can offer excellent rest opportunities. If the ice is relatively thick and your pick can get full purchase, resting here is way better than shaking out on delicate rock holds. Even ultra thin ice or verglas can make for better placements than rock holds; you can determine this by testing the verglas via the swivel bounce test. Test every placement to ensure you’re climbing on strong, positive holds — odds are good that these mark the proper sequence. If a hold fails during your swivel bounce test, stay relaxed and continue to seek out other options. Remember to analyze the ice sections and see if they offer good rests. Finding the right sequence immediately allows you to relax your mind and climb with confidence, helping you solve the puzzle through efficiency, strategy, and wit.

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