Mixed Climbing

By Pete Takeda

Climbers have been scratching up mixed ice, snow, and rock for as long as mountains have been climbed. But in recent winters mixed climbing activity has skyrocketed in America, Canada, and Europe. Boredom with pillar climbing, new equipment and style, and the infusion of fresh blood have all been factors in creating a new attitude. Here are a few sure-fire techniques to make the jump from fat ice flows to verglas and rock.

Get modular tools with sturdy, drooped picks. Choose leashes with wide comfy wrist loops that lock tight. Crampons should be the step-in variety with replaceable front points. On mixed ground, monopoints do what slippers did for sport climbing - give precision. For climbing in less than arctic conditions, leather boots, especially those with insulation, are de riguer. Practice dry-tooling on a local boulder, brick wall, or rubble pile where your scratch marks won't be noticed. Try the limits of hooking on the most dubious of wrinkles or creases.

Practice test pulling even the most tenuous hook with full weight straight arming.   Wear a helmet and avert your eyes.  Maintain a constant direction of pull to prevent skating.  Experiment with sidepulls or gastons with the pick if a downward pull doesn’t work.  Work on pick camming in flares and corners.  If the placement blows, try torquing harder while maintaining the same amount of pressure through the entire move.  Edge, smear, and straddle grooves or corners with your crampons.   Practice heel hooks, rock-ons, and dreaded figure fours in your boots and crampons.   Try climbing with your ice gear on your best friend's indoor wall.  Practice basic hooking and shoulder rolls, and experiment with backstepping and dropkneeing on your crampon points-- rotate on those monos.  They are way more secure than you think.   On the real thing, keep an eye open for tiny features.  It is not uncommon to lieback or undercling with your picks, or to lay picks sideways on sloping holds to increase precious surface contact.  If you are hooking a hold that is out of sight, try feeling it with the pick.  Sometimes the tiniest of dimples has enough indentation to yield a solid hook.  A wild technique termed the Steinpuller involves a backhand insertion of the pick into an overlap or roof, coupled with vigorous downward pressure. 

A few final pointers.  File the bottom of the pick to an aggressive point for supreme hook-ability.  Tape your leashes a third of the way down the shafts for reduced leverage.  If you come up short on steep terrain try short-tooling --choking up on the shaft.  Grab low enough below the head to resist levering off on the placement.  It is helpful to have a sticky glove or a rubberized shaft to maximize grip.  Dynoing is another viable option on extreme terrain.  New generation mixed routes demand momentum and in some cases full on foot swinging lunges.  Just as with ice climbing, start out on toprope.  You to have your game wired tight before wandering out on the sharp end.

Remember, contemporary mixed climbing is a mere permutation of something that has been going on for years. As with sport and gym climbing, rising standards can become a component part of a bigger picture, or an end in itself.


Thanks to all Climbers to share Mountain Experiences
Branko Ivanek