Body Holstering for Leashless Climbing
We’ve all heard it: “Leashless ice climbing is the wave of the future.” And, indeed, the freedom it offers is unparalleled — complex, flowing, three-dimensional movement on modern mixed routes, and a greater sense of liberty on vertical pillars.
This freedom does come at a price, though. Foremost, where do you stash a leashless ice tool when you need to let go, but don’t want it tomahawking to the ground? Holstering your axe using available body (and equipment) parts solves this problem. Personal preference will decide which specific techniques you become most comfortable with, and most mixed climbers employ a combination, depending on the situation. We’ll start with the most versatile and move to the more specialized mixed-trickery.
Of all holstering techniques, thumb hooking offers the greatest degree of efficiency. This method ensures accessibility and is ideal for quick tasks like changing hand positions on the grip or clipping bolts. Do it by hooking the pick of the free tool into the crook of the thumb on the opposite hand.
Perhaps the most common practice is to hook the axe over your shoulder. This works well for fighting the pump, by allowing you to shake out both hands on one tool. Drape the shaft bandolier-style across your chest, to keep the axe available for either hand. (Hooking it such that the shaft hangs beside you makes it difficult to grab with the same-side hand and increases the risk of droppage.) Avid mixed climbers often use Velcro as a retention aid: Sew loop-side Velcro to the shoulders of your climbing top and add a sticky-backed strip of hook-side Velcro to the front of the axe’s shaft, from the head to just above the top grip.
Mouth Grab, aka the Pirate
Some people hold the tool in their mouths for brief periods, by biting the middle of the shaft. This technique may not suit you, especially if you have a small mouth. Also, it can impede breathing, which speeds up when you’re pumped silly. Wrapping the shaft of the axe with rubber tape, like tennis-racket grip tape, will soften the blow to your chompers.
For steep routes on which the body is oriented in a horizontal position (i.e., feet level with hands), the torso and thigh offer alternative body-holstering sites. Again, you can add a Velcro patch to each thigh of your climbing pants to keep the tool in place. Some folks lay the tool across their stomachs but if your feet cut loose, so does your axe.
Hooking on the other tool also can free up a hand. Modern tool geometry offers plenty of spots for holstering. Hook it over the pick, the upper grip’s pinky rest, or the shaft if the tool is in a horizontal stein-pull. Using heel spurs for a horizontal roof offers yet another placement option: the inverted sole of the boot. Simply suspend the axe from your foot by hooking it over your crampon.
Sean Isaac, the author of
, is an ACMG Assistant Alpine Guide based out of the Canadian Rockies.