Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gear That Works - Ice Climbing

"There's a lot of superfluous rubbish in climbing.  You can always cut it down.  Learn to do a lot with a little.  There's no point carrying extra weight.  Make sure you know what to do with it all.  Take pride in it.  Maintain it.  Tweak it."  -  Andy Parkin in Alpinist 28, Autumn 2009

Ice Tools
Black Diamond Carbon Fiber Cobras are fantastic alpine and pure ice tools.  I wrap hockey friction tape around the shafts to give me extra grip while matching tools, hooking them on my shoulders, holding them in my mouth, gripping high, etc.

Picks on ice tools have to be correctly filed and sharp.  I let course participants use my tools during courses and it's always a revelation to them how much easier it is to climb with properly tuned picks.  Every surface and edge of a pick differently effects and influences how a tool enters and exits the ice.

On long alpine climbs or while soloing, I use the Black Diamond elastic sling with mini-carabiners to attach the tools to my harness.  On pure ice climbs I usually just go leashless.  I haven't used leashes in years, and hate climbing with them.

This is one area where I am still not completely satisfied with my boot and  crampon system. I am currently using the La Sportiva Nepal Extreme Evo GTX.  This boot fits my foot well and is a great all around alpine boot.  However it is sort of "clunky" feeling and heavy.  It is also a bit outdated from boot design and technology.  I would like to change to boot that is lighter, more nimble to climb with and a bit warmer, especially in the toe area.  I will be looking at the new La Sportiva Batura Evo GTX , the La Sportiva Trango Extreme Evo and the Scarpa Phantom Guide.

For early season ice and mixed-type conditions, I have been using mono-points.  I have Grivel G-14's with their "crampo-matic" system (plastic cage holding toe and step-in lever at the heel).  For pure ice, I have been using the last generation Grivel Rambos.

The G-14 attachment system has benefits in alpine situations, but on pure ice climbs I want a more solid feeling of connection on the toe of my boot.  Another minor grip with the system is that it places the front points just a bit too far under the toe of the boot.  The Rambos have a vertical frame that lifts your foot higher over the ice and this feels unnatural at times.

I want to change to a crampon with a wire bail toe system in the front that is low profile.  Something like the Black Diamond Cyborg Pro looks interesting.  I am almost ready to completely change to just using mono-points.

Black Diamond New Turbo Express Screws - the screws bite very well, so setting them is quick and easy.  The double hole in the hangers allow you to set up anchors and belay without slings.

I'll take 12 to 14 screws on most pure ice climbs without fixed belays.  The majority are 16cm and 19cm.  I always have at least one 22cm screw and at least two 13cm screws.

I have built up my own quickdraws using two very light, yet large, Wild Country carabiners.  The lower 'biner is a silver bent gate and the upper one is a gold straight gate.  They do not freeze up and are easy to handle with gloved hands.  I join the two carabiners with Petzl 11cm slings, fixing the lower 'biner with a rubber sleeve that keeps it in place and eases clipping.

I always have two quick draws rigged with shock absorbing slings (Petzl, with reusable Velcro closure).  I'll use these whenever an ice screw placement is marginal, or as the first screw right off the belay.  My only lead fall on ice was on a 16cm screw with a Yates screamer.  The screw held the five meter or so fall.  The screamer completely ripped.  I was uninjured.

If I know that the descent is a walk-off, then I use a light 70m single rope.  I have been using a 9.2 Nano from Sterling Ropes.  So far I have been impressed with its handling and durability.

When I climb multi-pitch ice privately with a partner, and it's a rappel descent, I like to carry a single strand (ca.7.1) of a 70m twin rope to use on rap.  The rope is carried in one of the climbers packs and used just on the descent.

I know that using a single rope leading an ice climb is amount to blasphemy, but there is really no sharp edge danger on ice when leading, the second needs to be belayed tight (you do want to go as fast as possible, don't you?) so there should be no problem with the second hitting the rope with an errant swing.  The benefit of a single rope is the incredible gain in speed and simplicity in the whole system.

If I need a double rope system for guiding two seconds, or because the type of climbing dictates it, then Beal Ice Lines with Golden Dry treatment are the best half-ropes around.  I used Mammut Phoenix half ropes last season because I got them for a very good price.  Their handling was okay, but they seemed to twist easily.  Water proofing was good, however they were not at all durable.

I never fix myself to the belay with a sling as the team climbs.  I always use the rope clove hitched to a locking carabiner.  You can adjust the length of the rope to position yourself comfortably away from falling ice released by the leader or inside a small cave or flat stance.  Additionally, the rope is obviously dynamic, so in case of an unexpected slip, you won't statically shock load the anchor.

I use a Petzl Reverso 3 as my belay device.  It is absolutely essential that you belay the second with a self-locking device.  Doing so gives the leader time to drink, eat, put on a belay parka, organize the belay, etc., while the second climbs.  Additionally it guarantees that the second will not fall down the length of the rope should heavy spindrift or an avalanche wash down over the belay causing the leader to lose control of the rope.  The Reverso 3 is light and has design features that I feel make it the best device of its kind.

I have a total of four locking carabiners with me.  They are all different shapes, sizes and colours.  One is my self-belay 'biner that I tie into, one is used to clove hitch the rope to the back up screw at the belay.  The other two are for the Petzl Reverso when bringing up the second.  It is much easier to keep track of everything at the belay when the locking carabiners are all different.

I always have my "ice drill"/"rescue kit" on one of  my back harness loops: a 22cm screw, V-thread hook, 7mm cord and a Petzl Ti Block  I carry a small knife in one of my jacket pockets in case I have to cut the cord.

I usually have one 120cm and one 60cm sewn slings with me for threading around icicles or small trees, to use as a self-belay sling on rappel, or to use in rescue applications.  I also stick either a very short sewn sling or a short 5mm Prusik in a pocket to tie-off screws or use as a rappel-brake back up.

I climb with a very small, low-profile, light back pack.  Inside are a belay parka, belay gloves, extra climbing gloves, a small head lamp, very small first-aid kit (really just tape & butterfly bandages) and a half-liter warm drink.

Monday, November 8, 2010

OeAV-Salzburg alpine.ausbildung Kurse Winter & Frühling 2010/11

Mehrseillägen Eis in Gasteinertal, Jän. 2010
Fürs OeAV-Salzburg alpine.ausbildung biete ich die folgenden Kursen in kommenden Winter und Frühling Saison 2010/11 an:

Eisklettern Saison Warm Up
Eisklettern Auffrischen / Fortbildungskurs in Pitztal
Termin: Do. 16. Dez. bis So. 19. Dez. 2010
Kursbegin: Do. 16.12.2010 um 18:00 Pitztal
Ort / Unterkunft: St. Leonhard / Plangeroß im Pitztal, Haus Margret (
Kursgebuhr: €75,-- Exklusive Unterkunft, Essen, Reisekosten, usw.
Max. Teilnehmerzahl: 6
Voraussetzungen: Absolvierung Eisklettern Grundkurs & Fortgeschrittenenkurs

Eisklettern Grundkurs Maltatal
Termin: Do. 06. Jän. bis So 09. Jän. 2011
Kursbegin: Do. 06.01.2011 um 18:30 Maltatal
Ort / Unterkunft: Malta, Hotel Malteinerhof (
Kursgebuhr: €75,-- Exklusive Unterkunft, Essen, Reisekosten, usw.
Max. Teilnehmerzahl: 6

Eisklettern Grundkurs Salzburg/Berchtesgaden
Termin: Fr. 21. Jän. bis So. 23. Jän. 2011
Kursbegin: Fr. 21.01.2011 um 08:00, Treffpunkt Kletterhalle Salzburg, Wasserfeldstr. 23 (
Ort / Unterkunft: Eisfälle in Raum Salzburg & Berchtesgaden (ohne Übernachtung)
Kursgebuhr: €75,-- Exklusive Unterkunft, Essen, Reisekosten, usw.
Max. Teilnehmerzahl: 6

Eisklettern Fortgeschrittenenkurs Maltatal
Termin: Do. 10. Feb. bis So. 13. Feb. 2011
Kursbegin: Do. 10.02.2011 um 18:30 Maltatal
Ort / Unterkunft: Malta, Hotel Malteinerhof (
Kursgebuhr: €75,-- Exklusive Unterkunft, Essen, Reisekosten, usw.
Max. Teilnehmerzahl: 6

Schihochtouren Großvenediger Osttirol
Termin: Do. 24. März bis So. 27. März 2011
Kursbegin: Do. 24.03.2011 um 12:00 Johannishütte, Osttirol
Ort / Unterkunft: Prägraten im Osttirol (Großvenediger Sud), Johannishütte (
Kursgebuhr: €75,-- Exklusive Unterkunft, Essen, Reisekosten, usw.
Max. Teilnehmerzahl: 6

Anmeldung und weitere Infos bei

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sportklettern Kurse: Kletterhalle Salzburg / denkundstein

Kurse in Herbst / Winter über Salzburg Kletterhalle:

Erwachsene Einsteiger Kurse - Mo., 17:30-19:30, 06. Sept.-15. Nov., 2010
Erwachsene Einsteiger Intensivkurs - Di./Do., 19:30-21:30, 02. Nov.-02. Dez., 2010

Personal Training - 1-2 Personen, kleine Gruppe, Familien, (Indoor und Outdoor), auf Wunsch organisiert

Jugend Trainingsgruppe - Mi., 17:30-19:00, 13. Okt.-15. Dez., 2010

Hinweis: in November schrauben wir viele neuen Routen in der Halle!

Mehr Infos:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kalymnos 2010

"Dafni", 6c+, Ghost Kitchen
At the end of July, I will be traveling to Kalymnos for a four week climbing trip.  It will be my sixth time on the Greek island.  I enjoy the indulgence of being able to focus on improving my rock climbing in the weeks on the island.  Sport climbing on Kalymnos is situated over a geographically compact area with now around 50 different sectors and probably more than 2000 routes.

In the last three years I have been able to devote four weeks in July/August to sport climbing on Kalymnos.  I have generally used this time to on-sight as much as possible and to concentrate on climbing volume.  A side effect has been that my level during the month-long trip has always moved slightly upward through the grades.  I can't really say that I have tried to use a more typical sport climbing approach of identifying a project and then working on the route until a successful redpoint.  I don't plan on using this approach on the coming trip per se, but one of the things I want to do is get on a lot more harder routes.  I think it is important for me to see sport climbing in the proper relation to everything else I do in the mountains.  I want to climb 7a+/5.12a sport so that when I do something like the Cassin route on northeast face of Piz Badile (TD: 5.10/6a/VI+, 830m), I can move through it extremely fast, clean and with a great margin of security in my climbing technique.

"Oetida", 6c/7a ext., Iliada
Another thing about me climbing hard sport routes is that I generally suck at them.  I mean when you hang with guys who have all climbed above 8a, and who have great strength, power and movement skills bouldering, well 7a+ is not really that much of a big deal.  Besides a golden rule of getting better is to train your weaknesses.  I have always been one who has excelled in developing endurance in the different aspects of alpine climbing skills: 12+ hour days, long approaches and descents, long moderate rock and ice routes, long ski tours, etc., are some of my strengths.  When climbing ice or rock, I have developed a lot of stamina so that I can hang on to sort things out, climb in a more static and controlled way, and recover en-route very well.  However, hard powerful cruxes seem to mentally and physically thwart me at times.  Additionally, I want to be able to generate power quickly on demand and improve my finger and hand contact strength.  All of these deficiencies can be addressed by climbing hard sport routes - and most importantly really, really trying hard. (I'll come back to that point.)

"Resista", 6c, Ghost Kitchen
About a year or so ago Will Gadd linked this blog entry from his friend Gergory Thaczuk about what it takes to climb 7a+/5.12.  There is a lot of to-the-point, simple and what seem like very obvious remarks in the post.  But the point is, are you doing these seemingly simple and obvious things in your own climbing.  And if not, why?

In the climbing gym I see the so-called experienced climbers doing the same thing over and over again.  They get on an easy route or two to warm up and then they move up through progressively more difficult climbs until they get to the 7a/7b level (If that, because this level is really the exception.).  At this level they climb trough the route from bottom to top, stopping and hanging on the rope saying that they don't have any more strength, but never falling.  The climber gets to the top and then comes down and maybe does a top rope lap before stopping for the night.  They climb every other day and do the same routine every time.  Some of these people have been climbing for 20+ years and at the same level for the majority of that time.  Unfortunately what then takes place is that less experienced climbers in the gym see what the "good" climbers  are doing and then do the same things because, well, so-and-so is better than me., and he or she can climb the blue overhanging 6b and I can't.

"Totenhansel / Super Totenhansel", 6c+/7a, Ghost Kitchen
As a climbing trainer in the gym, it is an interesting dynamic to watch a beginner struggle with the conflict of going against what the so-called "good" climbers are doing as you try to get them to train differently.  It is also funny to experience the reactions of these climbers when you do things a lot differently than they do.

When I want to train maximum strength in the gym, I usually will get on a route that is 7b+/7c to work individual moves.  To improve maximum strength I want to do moves that are at my absolute limit and have 4 to 6 repetitions.  A while back, as I was training this way in the gym, one of the "good" climbers remarked that I didn't have a chance of climbing the 7c route I was getting on because he couldn't do it.  I, in my nice way, ignored the insult and tried to superficially explain max strength training to respond in what was obviously now an uncomfortable situation.  I regret that I didn't just use a more appropriate response devoid of social niceties.  Anyways, the fact is that I was, and continue to train, very differently than the majority of people in the climbing gym.  People with a herd mentality tend to get very defensive and uncomfortable when their beliefs are directly or indirectly questioned.

"Remeber Wadi Rum", 6c, Ghost Kitchen
I've gotten off track here a bit.  This post is about what I am going to do to improve during the four weeks I have to sport climb in Kalymnos.  The two things that will help me the most to improve my sport climbing.paradoxically don't even involve climbing; they are body composition and falling.  I need to lose body fat and weight and then I need to intensely practice falling.  The body composition issue is most likely the greatest single thing I can do to immediately improve my climbing.  Now I am at 79.kilograms and 16.2% body fat.  If I shed some body fat and muscle mass, primarily in my lower body and around my belly, I will get down to 76 kilograms and under 15% body fat.  I believe this will in the short term automatically bring me up one letter grade level.  Further improvement in body composition is most diffidently a long-term goal of mine. 

I have also made a commitment to do some type of fall training every time I am sport climbing.  I have done fall training in the past, but not with a high level of intensity or regularity.  Committing to regular fall training outside is something that I have never done.  I believe that a serious commitment to training falling will bring tremendous mental benefits to me and further improve my climbing by one letter grade.

The American sport climber Dave Graham was interviewed in the latest issue of the Austrian climbing magazine, Climax (02/10).  In the interview he says, "throughout the past few years, I have challenged myself to attempt routes that are absolutely not in my style, and to do things that I was convinced that I could never accomplish".  This is the attitude of a person looking to embrace adversity and challenge.  How many times do some sport climbers get lazy and avoid the mental adversity of climbing hard at our limit?  What about searching for a high-graded route that is a one-move wonder, or under graded, or can be top roped from the neighboring easier route?

"Athina", 6b+, Iliada
I want to routinely get on hard routes and not shy away from the mental stress of climbing at my upper limits.  I want to seek out situations in which intensity will cause personal growth and the experiences will be deep and long lasting.  Practically put, you are only going to climb hard routes when you get on hard routes.  You will only develop mental strength by putting yourself in uncomfortable positions.  This is then my third point of focus while on Kalymnos: routinely get on routes and attempt climbs at the 6c+ to 7b level.

Other climbing goals during the trip are: 1) improve on-sight level to a solid 6b/6b+ (85% success rate).  2) Send 6c/6c+ in 2-3 attempts, 3) climb some very long endurance-type lines at the 6a+ to 6c level that are between 40 and 55 meters long, 4) climb in the new cave sectors, and other sectors, on the neighboring island of Telendos, 5) do the long multi-pitch routes of, "Wings for Life", 5c/285m and "Wild Country", 6a, 265m.

I plan on doing some blog entries from Kalymnos to record how things are going with my trip as well as updates regarding climbing on the island.  I am very excited and pumped to be heading to Kalymnos again for the great routes, the Aegean sea, Telendos beaches, and a Mythos or two ...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Course Wrap Up: June & July

The last two months have been a head-spinning phase for me.  These are the courses that I have led:

Alpine Ice & Mixed Climbing, Pitztal, Tyrol (Taschachhaus)
Glacier & Ice Course, Glockner Area, Salzburg (Oberwalderhütte)
Basic Outdoor Sport Climbing, Salzburg Area
Multi-Pitch Climbing, Salzburg Area
Alpine Rock Climbing, Berchtesgadener Alpen (Blaueis Hütte)

Additionally, I have also done some multi-pitch guided climbing and a few alpine rock routes in between - not to mention the normal weekly climbing courses both indoors and out.

The slide show features wonderful photos from Christian Perst ( from the ice & mixed course in Tyrol.

The weather and conditions from the beginning of June until now could not have been more extreme.  In the Pitztal I was constantly breaking trail through knee deep, wet, unconsolidated snow,  at the Oberwalderhütte it was deep winter with 50 to 60 cm of new snow and high winds.  With the alpine rock climbing course came summer conditions with unusually high temps of over 30 degrees Celsius in the valleys.

Below is a slide show from the alpine rock climbing course under the Hochkalter / Blaueisspitze in the Berchtesgadener Alpen.

The Blaueis area has become one of my favorite summer escapes for sport climbing, multi-pitch alpine and sport climbing, and fantastic bouldering.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Open Group Climbing / Offenes Klettergruppe, 06.07.2010

Open group climbing on Tuesday July 6th at 17:30 outdoors at the Sport Center Rif climbing tower. The weather is uncertain, so call before coming! 0688 / 815 0331!

Offenes Klettern am Dienstag 06. Juli um 17:30 draußen Sportzentrum Rif Kletterturm. Das Wetter unsicher ist deshalb bitte vorher anruffen, 0688 / 815 0331!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Open Group Climbing / Offenes Kletter Gruppe

Open group climbing on Tuesday June 29th at 17:30 outdoors on the Gaisberg. Finally sunny summer weather!

Offenes Klettern am Dienstag 29. Juni um 17:30 draußen am Gaisberg. Endlich sonniges Sommer Wetter!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Journey

"It's your Journey. You will find yourself at odds with the ways of the masses, whose lives are focused on striving for comfort and security. The Warrior's Way is a lonely journey and doesn't wait for respect or approval from others." - Arno Ilgner, The Rock Warrior's Way

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Gaisberg: Right Side

Last week, Stefan Schöndorfer and I bolted some two rope-length sport climbs on the Gaisberg crag. These routes complement the easy single pitch routes we bolted last fall. The topo (click on the topo to enlarge and copy) above shows the nine well bolted routes (in bold). The doted lines indicate existing routes that are not up to safety standards due to various reasons. The three two-pitch routes are bolted with a two-bolt belay at the mid-point. there are rappel anchors for each of the routes. Additionally, we also bolted a near by rock outcrop that is designed for rope technique practice or for young children to climb on.

This time around, we worked for a total of about 11-12 hours, replacing lower-offs, cleaning vegetation and loose rock and of course putting up the routes. All together we put in 12 lower-offs and easily more than 50 bolts. The hardware was donated by Stefan through his climbing school denkundstein, and we donated our time, energy and know-how. We will be using the new routes for Kletterhalle Salzburg outdoor courses. The course offerings include a basic outdoor course called, Baseclimbs, and a course for those wanting to do multiple rope-length bolted routes, Mutipitch.

The main compact wall of the Gaisberg is made up of a number of bolted routes of varying safety standards and quality. Stefan was one of the first to bolt the early sport lines on the wall almost 20 years ago. These routes are 6b/6b+ (5.10d/5.11a) or harder and are generally a bit under-rated. The descriptions and topos are published in a number of area sport climbing guide books.

denkundstein was granted permission by the city of Salzburg (and other responsible government and private organizations) to monitor and develop the Gaisberg for bolted sport climbing. This is part of a two or three year old initiative on the part of the city to make the Gaisberg a local natural get away on the outskirts of the city for sport and nature activities. We plan on further cleaning up the older routes and putting in more new ones (single and multi-pitch) on the various crags.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Follow Your Bliss

"You have to decide what you love the most, I think. And go for that. And don't believe people who say you can't do it. I semi-believed those people and it really held me back. It turns out they were wrong. They're still telling me I can't do it even while I am actually actively doing it! This is kind of comical."

It's funny the things you say in response to people. I teach myself a lot that way, which is why I like doing Q&A sessions and interviews. But it's really true. There seem to always be naysayers who delight in cutting you down and trying to make you feel like you're not capable. It's important to know how to tell those people to go fuck themselves. Sometimes you have to say it politely. Sometimes you have to say it only to yourself. But it's important to be able to say it.

The above came from Bard Warner's Hardcore Zen site. It is something I have learned in the few years since I decided to concentrate full-time on earning my living though working in mountain sports. I have thought of writing about the nuts and bolts of how things have worked out for me, but It always seemed too self-promotional so It's never happened. (That's why I not a big facebook type of guy.) Anyways, how I am able to earn a living doing what I do is a question I get quite often, the last time was just yesterday. The answer could be explained in a very complicated and involved manner on one hand, on the other, I am just trying to responsibly do what I love, feel an honest goodness about myself and, as author Joseph Campbell said, 'follow my bliss'.

I also have to emphasize that my good fortune is due to many circumstances that have allowed me to follow my path: my family and my wife's family, friends, and most importantly my wife. However, the process of life is always changing and the pressure to fit into what general society deems is "right", or for that matter what other types of organizations stipulate is always present. Sometimes I catch myself saying, "why am I doing / worrying about this?"

I think a lot about how my life has turned out in comparison to that of my ten-month older sister. We were both rebellious, fiercely independent, stubborn, anti-authority, non-conformists, etc. Her energy ended up being channeled in a direction that has caused her untold problems in her life. My energy generally has led me in a positive direction.

I think, to be more punk about it, I have been more successful at the proper application of the fuck you attitude.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

5 X WI5, Ice Grades

After a week of guiding and running ice climbing courses at the beginning of February, I got to ice climb for a week on a short road trip through southern Austria, South Tyrol and into the Dolomites. In the course of the week, my partner Toni and I climbed for five days with one travel and one rest day. Each climbing day had at least one ice fall with pitches that were rated WI5 or harder. So the trip was a great opportunity to climb hard, sustained, steep ice.

On the right is the Hinterer Maralmfall, WI5/210m in the Malta valley of Carinthia. On our way south, we stopped in the Malta valley to climb some of the classic harder falls including Kathedrale, WI5+/305m. The conditions in the valley were very good with regards to the amounts of ice on routes, however the temps were on the cold side, so the ice was at time brittle and hard. I had wanted to climb the Hinterer Maralmfall for the past three years. Due to conditions and orientation of the fall, it had not formed with any margin of safety until this season.

After a couple of days of climbing in the Malta valley, we took a rest/travel day to drive into south Tyrol and further into the Dolomites past the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Cristallo, (cappachino stop in Cortina), Le Tofane, etc., with our end destination on the south east side of the Marmolada in a concentrated ice climbing area of Sottoguda.

By this point the snowy conditions in the north eastern Alps had given way to warm and sunny conditions with cold temperatures in the Dolomites. The friendly skies gave a false impression to the seriousness of the avalanche conditions. The danger scale was at 3, which gave us pause to make the long approaches in very narrow valleys to get to some of the more remote ice climbs. Therefore the small village of Sottoguda with its very attractive gorge full of ice routes perfectly fit the situation. The photo on the right shows Toni seconding the last pitch of Cascata del Sole, WI3+/120m, (yes, finally getting to the "Sole" part of the "Cascata" ) which was our morning warm up climb for one of our long days in the Serrai di Sottoguda.

The gorge of Sottoguda offers climbs in the moderate range to harder athletic sport climbing-like lines. There are also some short and intense dry tooling routes that are bolt protected and mixed lines where natural protection is called for.

The gorge is dominated on the right side by the wide ice fall La Cattedrale, WI 4+-6/100m. In the two-picture sequence below, Toni is on the first pitch of the two-pitch middle line which is rated at WI5. The central line is an elegant, direct route that is continuously steep with a nice shelf at the mid-point for the first belay anchor at about 50 meters into the climb.

Of the many climbs in the gorge three stand out because they were excellent climbs that had interesting ice features. "Excallibur", WI4+/110m, had a very sustained first pitch with the third pitch having super fun climbing on cauliflower ice, tubes, and mushrooms that was like the ice equivalent of Kalymnos limestone. "La Spirale della Contingenza", WI4+/110m, was a thin line that was deeply embedded between rocks. It had some great steep climbing with the possibility to stem out on the rock bordering the ice flow. The line, "LaSpada nella Roca", WI5/45m is a sustained endurance climb up a steep ice pencil.

On our last day we decided to drive back through Cortina and continue further east to the village of Somprade. There, we had hoped to climb a couple of routes before heading back to Salzburg. We spotted the lines form the road and checked them out with binoculars. The ice was already in the sun and was that frothy white color of rotten, deteriorating ice. The climbs on the other side of the valley were in the shade, but full of powder snow in the less steep sections and were threatened from slides from above. Plan "B" was then to drive on past the east side of the Tre Cima and climb something in East Tyrol on the way back to Salzburg.

We settled on the "Mittewald Eisfall", WI5/80m, in the Puster valley near Silian. The two-pitch route ended up being much more serious than its rating due to the nature of the ice. The ice had built up in large mushrooms and cauliflower pedals that were very brittle. Finding and placing screws was labor intensive. Route finding was also challenging because there was very rarely a direct line. We had expected a laid back cruise. It wasn't.

That brings me to the whole subject of ice grades. Some very well known alpine ice and mixed climbers have said that WI5 is really as hard as it gets when climbing ice. Will Gadd recently wrote this related to grades:

"Grades are increasingly sort of the same to me; beyond "it's steep, not steep, whatever" ice grades generally have far less to do with how technically hard something is than what's going on in the leader's head. And, speaking personally, my head is a confused place while leading tenuous water ice...

I think ice climbing grades past, "It's kinda vertical for a good distance and therefore WI 5" are likely useless. Almost all "hard" ice routes are some version of water ice 5 with bad gear. So all hard ice routes, ..., are "grade 5" plus the stories and photos... Yeah, I just rated something WI10, ha ha!"

Ice climbing is such a mental form of climbing because it demands honesty on many levels. Why are you climbing this route? Are you ready technically? Are you ready physically? Mentally, can you stay calm and focused and do you have confidence in your ability, fitness, etc.?

In sport rock routes you can get in over your head with almost no risk and consequence. You can get on routes and push your levels in a controlled environment that does not have, and purposely avoids, the mental stress that you find in ice climbing. Learning and developing skills in ice climbing demands a lot of volume climbing ice and building up technical and mental strength along the way. How? Climb ice at every opportunity. Focus more on building your ability with volume on lower graded climbs. Climb "easy" routes in "bad" conditions. Run it out on easy climbs to develop mental fortitude. Train endurance (general, strength, power) and recovery while your in a route in the climbing gym.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, while doing all this ice climbing, keep your nose out of the way of falling ice!

Monday, February 15, 2010


Mark Twight posted this comment on is Gym Jones site the other day:

"If someone were to ask why we bother posting what we do and what we think on the web I might answer that this is the reason: to communicate to others we would not otherwise reach, to inspire, to influence, to affect. If I didn't think the group that formed and coalesced here was special I wouldn't bother with the broadcast. If the members of the group did not consistently demonstrate this unique character I wouldn't bother. But I do believe it and they do show it and it proves to me that, with the right attitude and the will to learn and to work hard and smart, others can do the same. If they only believe themselves and believe in themselves, if they only allow themselves, if they would simply raise their expectations of themselves. So get on with it."

I find this comment personally inspiring as well as mirroring my philosophy behind what I put on my website and what I try to accomplish in courses and guiding.

When I began learning how to get around in the mountains years ago I felt very much alone. I also had a number of very disappointing and dangerous experiences with so-called knowledgeable partners. Despite everything, I learned through all these various experiences and continued to teach myself the skills needed and became fitter in the different sport-specific aspects related to climbing, skiing, hiking, etc.

But I seemed to be more alone underway than not, mostly because 99.9% of everyone else was just following the herd in regards to mountain activities, training, nutrition, etc.

This is where a person like Mark Francis Twight (MFT) comes along. Through his writing (books and articles) and information through his websites, I was able to feel as if there were others out there like me - and more importantly - others that I could related to and identify with.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Couloirs

Last Saturday on the 23rd of January my partner Toni and I wanted to complete a long standing project of mine by linking up two steep couloirs in an isolated area of the mountain group Steinernes Meer ("Sea of Stone") in Berchtesgaden.

The plan was to climb up the hidden couloir in the left center of the picture below (500m, 60 degrees / AI3/III, first ascent J. Fratianni 31.03.2008). Then we would ski down the more visible central couloir (slanting from left to right, 600m, 50 degrees). To the best of my knowledge, I did the first ski descent also in March of 2008.

I had attempted this link-up last March on the 18th/19th, but was turned away by too warm weather and loose snow slides.

The picture above is in the first couloir at about 1850m. The slope is 40 degrees. To this point it felt like we had already done a hundred switchback turns.

The first crux of the left couloir is a short ice step at AI3. As is clear in the photo above, there is very little ice. When I climbed this in March of 2008, the ice was fat but very hard and compact. On the first ascent, I left my skis and pack here and soloed the remaining climbing, rappelling over the ice pitch from a snow bollard reinforced with rocks that I broke off from the side of the wall above the ice fall.

Because of the less than desirable conditions on Saturday, Toni and I changed plans and decided to ski down the first couloir from in front of the ice step and then climb and ski the central couloir. We skied down the first couloir to a protected spot behind a large boulder at about 1500m and deposited all the technical gear that we would not need for the second couloir.

This is the view down the second couloir from about its midpoint. It is about 40 to 45 degrees steep and fairly wide, so therefore we could continue to skin up zig-zagging back and forth.

Soon the couloir narrowed and became even steeper so that we put our skis on our backs and boot-packed up the upper couloir as it wined around to the left.

The crux of the couloir is about 50 degrees. The snow became a bit firmer here so going up was somewhat easier. When skiing down through this section, the steepness really got your attention.
As we got to the top, the couloir leveled where we could comfortably put our skis on and get everything set for our descent.

This is the view looking down the couloir from the beginning of the descent. We had excellent conditions to ski down something so steep. The snow was packed powder that was stable.

The couloir is regularly flushed out with small soft snow slides that come of the side walls or directly down the center of the couloir. The constant purging acts as a regular natural stress on the snow pack which stabilizes the snow by causing it to settle. We had previously had about a ten day period of little to no snow accumulation and consistent cold temperatures of a high pressure system. Toni and I were very cautious when evaluating the avalanche conditions in the couloirs. I was particularly concerned about buried depth hoar in the snow pack as the sun never reaches into the couloirs until around the end of March or beginning of April.

Conditions are dangerous in this type of terrain when there is a lot of unsettled new snow, when the snow is wind deposited (cross loaded) from the sides, depth hoar forms and persists as the snow pack becomes thicker to the point in which the weal layer can no longer support the heavier snow above it, or when the air temperature increases together with higher humidity increasing the potential for large wet snow slides.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Will Gadd's Ice Climbing Gems

Canadian climber Will Gadd recently climbed ice for 24 hours to raise money for a charity. On his blog he has posted some reflections on his experience with regards to training, nutrition, equipment, etc. He posted this the other day, and better words on basic ice climbing technique, movement and volume could not be written.

"The basic move of ice climbing is a staggered hands low-weight pull-up with the balance of your weight in a basic air squat. Feet at the same level (this is the most common mistake in ice climbing--your feet should always be at very close to the same level), hike feet up with straight arms, push up with legs, place high tool, repeat to the top. Feet always at the same level, tools never at the same level, twice as many foot placements at least as tool placements..."

"I learned a lot about ice climbing fast and efficiently through all of these thousands and thousands of feet. When you're doing huge volumes of ice little differences in movement patterns add up quickly. I developed huge calluses on my little fingers from hanging onto the Cobras and new Fusions. I learned so much about dynamic movement on ice, momentum, and a subtle hip push very similar to the finish of a good squat that, when combined, really helped a tremendous amount. I've now been ice climbing for over 25 years off and on, and perhaps the most important thing I've learned is that being a good ice climber is all about mileage on ice."

In the book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell states that it take 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in something. That is a lot of ice climbing. Focusing on efficient body movement is often overlooked when ice climbing because the climber is separated form the ice element by crampons and ice tools, not to mention the gloves, heavy boots (when compared to rock shoes) and layers of warm clothing. All this leads to getting disengaged from feeling good climbing movement when on ice.

Climbing is movement and when you see someone move fluidly over ice instead of the wooden, Frankenstein style, you know that they have gone along way into putting in their 10,000 hours.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

AV-Salzburg Eisklettern Grundkurs

Am 16. und 17. Jänner bin ich mit 5 hoch motiviert Eisklettern Neulings unterwegs. Wir sind in Berchtesgaden / Königsee bei der Eisfall "Damenstart", WI 3 bis WI 4 und in Gasteinertal in der "Eisgarten" (zwischen Böckstein und Sportgastein). Dort sind wir in die Routen "Liebelei", WI 3+ bis WI 5 und "Eisgarten-Couloir", WI 3 gewesen.

Glücklicherweise haben wir gutes Eisverhältnisse erwischt. In 2 Tage sind die Kursteilnehmerinnen sehr viel geklettert und haben auch sehr viel gelernt. Es war einen wunderschön Wochenende mit einen super Kursgruppe.

Klick auf die Slideshow in der Fotoalbum zum kommen und Fotos zu downloaden.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Eis Saison Warm-Up

Einen Slideshow vom Veranstaltung "Eis Saison Warm-Up" ins Maltatal, 07.-10. Jänner.

Ins Fotoalbum zum kommen und Fotos und Videos zum downloaden, bitte auf die Slideshow klicken.

Herzlichen Dank an alle Teilnehmerinnen für einen Super Kurs!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Off-Piste Skiing Course

On January 2nd and 3rd I had a small group of participants for a ski technique course to improve and develop the ability to ski off-piste.

Parallel carving is a skiing skill that is essential to master on a prepared slope before getting in the back country. Why? because twisting your skis doesn't work in powder, crud, and other types of variable snow.

The ability to balance over the downhill edge and maintain a centered, balanced, stance can only be learned on the piste.

We did a number of exercises on slope in order to improve balance, footwork, steering, edging, etc. The group then tried to transfer the movements to off-piste terrain. The pistes in Schladming were very well prepared with a lot of artificial snow. Hard, icy, slopes expose all imperfections in balance and edging.

Everyday the group also was able to skin into some off-piste, un-tracked terrain to ski powder. The highlight of the short course was the descent pictured below.

We climbed the ridge with skins and then were able to ski down the face on the left (in shadow) for a wonderful steep powder descent. It was a nice end to the the weekend in which all the participants made clear and noticeable improvement in their skiing ability.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Search

In every ice season there is a period at both the beginning and the end when a certain personal investment is involved in searching for climbable ice. Depending on time of year, temperatures, weather conditions, relative humidity, etc., the search is for ice that is forming in early winter, and later ice that hasn't degraded too much in early spring.

Will Gadd and Kelly Cordes, among many others, write about the seasonal quest to find the fickle ice and mixed climbs that form early in the season. They both acknowledge that a lot of times, I would say at least fifty percent of the time, you come away empty handed. Cordes uses the phrase, "taking his tools for a walk". I like that.

In this post Cordes writes about this process of following a hunch, seeing something from afar and then taking the chance that just maybe there will be ice to climb.

In the last two weeks, I have gotten calls from people asking about conditions, and then the caller goes on to hypothesize about this or that ice fall, or I have read posts on websites where people have presented themselves as knowledgeable about conditions without being at the area in question. People talk or write about this stuff without investing the time to check things out. My favorite recent example is here regarding an ice fall in the Malta valley of Carinthia.

The writer writes on the 5th of January that the fall is possible but only on the right side in the upper pitches. On the 5th of January my partner and I climbed the fall "Superfreucht", starting on very thin and difficult to protect ice on the right and then moving to the left on the upper pitches for a steeper exit at the top.

The materialistic mentality of society has long ago seeped into the minds of climbers. People work all week, have little time for outside interests, and want a guaranteed return when they go out to climb ice. It's a lot easier to call someone or look in the Internet than to think for yourself and invest the time and energy in finding what's in shape.

Part of being a real ice climber is just taking your tools for a walk.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy New Ice Year! by Jennifer Fratianni

“This is my year to try new things!” I boldly declared at the breakfast table on New Year’s morning. Two hours later, I was standing in front of cascading ice with ice axes in hand. I was going to climb ice. Perhaps my judgment was a bit clouded by the liquid libations of the previous evening. But deep down in my climbing soul, I knew this was the next step.

Even though I have learned to trust myself as a climber, the idea of ice climbing still made me a bit queasy. The equipment, for one, greatly resembles instruments of torture, which equally fascinated and frightened me. I had secretly been yearning to wield ice axes for a while, but was afraid I might lobotomize myself in the process. (I am a tomboy at heart and love tools!) Once Joe was roped up and ready to go he said, “Watch my feet,” and began kicking footholds in the ice with his crampons.

“Holly shit!” I said as the icicles showered down of my helmet. “Stand behind that boulder,” instructed Joe. I felt clumsy belaying in big gloves. I peered out from behind my boulder, not wanting to miss anything, but waiting for the next chunks to fall. “Swing from your elbow, like this,” said Joe, planting ice axes with ease. He moved fluidly up the icefall, pausing to set ice screws and clear loose ice. Soon he was atop the frozen fall, setting a top rope. It was my turn.

Keep the rope tight,” I said, apprehensively approaching the ice. I was surprised how secure I felt on my feet after taking the first step. The ice was pliable like plastic. I started wildly swinging my axes and ice came down in big chunks. “Watch it!” I yelled as ice flew past my face. Joe chuckled from below. “Swing from your elbow – not your wrist!” he reminded me patiently. What a difference that made. Soon I was planting my axes much better. I didn’t need to hack huge holes in the ice for the picks of the axes to hold. Their teeth needed just a tiny bit of ice to hold. I liked the rhythm the climbing -- planting the picks and then kicking in footholds. Swinging those axes made me feel powerful! “That’s what I’m talking about!” I shouted and then whack – I’d set an axe. It was a great feeling. Much to my surprise I quickly found myself at the top without any gaping wounds. “Whoohoo!” I yelled holding the axes over my head.

I have many friends who are fascinated by my obsession for climbing, as am I. I have always enjoyed doing things outside, but never thought I would refer to myself as a climber, especially not an ice climber. When I try to coax my friends into climbing, I often hear the same excuses. “I’m too old, too fat, too weak, and too scared,” they say. Hadn’t I echoed those same insecurities to Joe? “But climbing makes you feel younger, skinnier, stronger and braver!” I assure them. What other sport can give you all that?