Ice Climbing Basics: The Tripod


If you’ve ever tried ice climbing and got so pumped you couldn’t even reach the top of the route, you’re not alone. As with any discipline, finding and maintaining the correct body position is what it’s all about. Last December, I headed up to the Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival in Montana and learned the tripod stance from Canadian alpine guide Sarah Hueniken. A triangle is the most stabile shape in nature, so to get the best stability in ice climbing, you want your body position to mimic this shape. Keep your legs wide and your arms narrow. The following five steps will have you cruising fat ice in no time.

1. Approach the wall and look up at the ice. One at a time, sink each of your tools into the ice above your head, but not so high that your arms are fully extended. Then, looking at your feet, kick the left crampon into the ice about six to 12 inches wider than your left hip and the right crampon about six to 12 inches wider than your right hip. At this point your butt is extended behind you, you’re hanging on straight arms—using your bones more than your muscles—and you have four points of contact.


2. Step up onto your crampons and bring your hips into the wall—all the way into the wall. Remove one ice axe from its hold by working it up and down—never by twisting it, which could break or bend the pick. Pick a spot overhead where you plan to strike, and sink the pick you just removed with your arm mostly (but not fully) extended. You might want to duck your head just before your strike, so any dislodged ice will hit your helmet, not your face. Choose a placement in a straight line up from your last placement, or as close to it as you can.

3. Hanging on the extended arm (the ice axe you just placed) and using the other tool for balance, move your hips out and away from the wall and look at your feet. Now move one foot up at a time by kicking your toes into the ice. Again, keep your legs wide—the tripod position will give you the most stability for the least energy.

4. Sink onto your heels so that some of the secondary crampon points behind your front points make contact with the wall for best grip and strength. To keep your arms from getting pumped, you move one tool at a time, then both legs, because they have bigger muscles than your arms, so they’ll feel strong for longer.

5. Repeat with your other arm, hips moving in when your tool is swinging. Then move your hips out so that you can hang straight-armed when your feet are moving up. Note: It’s essential to have stiffsoled boots and tightly fitting crampons. You don’t want to drop either when you’re halfway up the wall, even on toprope. Not only is it inconvenient for the climber, but it could also seriously injure your belayer. Before you set out, make sure your crampons are adjusted to your boots, and that the pinky rests on your ice tools are set appropriately for your hands.