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Outfitting an Ice Climber


Descent Into the Ice homepage

Crampons

 

Crampons
These metal devices studded with two-inch spikes attach to a climber's boots with a binding similar to those found on skis and a thin ankle strap called a "keeper." A crampon's front points are essential for vertical climbing, while the bottom points are useful for walking on ice, either vertically or on level ground.



Gaiters

 

Gaiters
Usually made of nylon, gaiters are thick fabric sheaths that cover a climber's legs from below the knee to his or her ankle. They help prevent climbing pants from snagging and ripping on gear and ice, and they keep snow from getting into boots and pants.



Helmet

 

Helmet
An ice climber's helmet works by absorbing energy applied to it, such as that from the impact from a fall or a chunk of ice dropping from above, in order to protect his or her head. The helmet's hard outer shell is made of fiberglass and has a lining of form-fitting foam. At night or in low-light situations, ice climbers wear headlamps on their helmets.



Runner clips

 

Runners
Runners are short pieces of strong nylon webbing that climbers use with carabiners (metal clips) to attach their ropes to special screws driven into the ice and to make other connections along a route. Jamie might carry 12 of these loose runners on his harness. During a climb, they remain within easy reach.



Jacket

 

Jacket
There is no one kind of jacket specific to ice climbing, but this element of a climber's equipment should be warm, breathable, waterproof, lightweight, and relatively formfitting. A bright-colored jacket like Jamie's can help others see a climber from afar.



Ice screw

 

Ice screw
Climbers screw these hollow steel tubes with sharp, pointed ends into ice. The threads on the cylinders' exteriors hold the screws in place tightly enough to support hundreds of pounds of force. A climber then clips his or her rope into the screws, which are placed at frequent intervals along a route, allowing for safe movement across the ice. If the climber slips, the screw anchors the rope to prevent a fall.



Boots

 

Boots
These plastic, two-piece boots made with separate fabric liners are typical of most ice-climbing boots. They have a rigid steel shank and bottom platform, which provide support to ankle and foot. Jamie's boots are similar to downhill ski boots, but they are not difficult to walk in. Plastic boots are warm enough for ice climbing in even the coldest climates, such as that found in Antarctica.



Rope

 

Rope
The so-called kern/mantle rope ice climbers use has a dual nylon construction. The plaited outer mantle provides a smooth surface for tying knots and lessening drag. It moves freely through a climber's hands and shields the kern, or inner core, from damage. The kern, made of multiple parallel bundles of nylon, stretches, much like a bungee cord, to absorb a fall.



Glove

 

Gloves
Many ice climbers wear "lobster claw" gloves like Jamie's, which are mittens in which the index finger as well as the thumb are free as in a glove. Without compromising the warmth of a mitten, these gloves allow for more dexterity, necessary for grabbing ropes and grasping tools. Jamie's gloves are waterproof and fleece-lined, and have extra foam padding on the knuckles for protection.



Belay device

 

Belay device
This piece of gear uses friction to hold a climber in place on a rope. A climber's rope feeds through the metal belay device, which attaches to the harness of the climber's partner. Using hand movements, the partner, or belayer, can control the rope, offering slack when the climber ascends and locking it off if he or she should fall.



Pants

 

Pants
Jamie's pants are typical of what most ice climbers wear. They are waterproof and windproof, but they are light enough to allow for movement and layering of thermal clothing underneath. Zippers on the sides of Jamie's pants allow him to remove them without taking his boots off.



Harness

 

Harness
An ice-climber's nylon harness provides a place to securely attach his or her rope. It also serves as the gear "hub" during a climb, as every technical item must be readily available at all times. Harnesses are made with gear loops onto which a climber may attach carabiners, ice screws, and other gear. The harness consists of a waist belt and two leg bands, which help distribute force evenly across the thighs, hips, and lower back.



Ice axe

 

Ice axe
Metal ice axes allow climbers to indirectly grip the ice with their hands. While climbing, they usually carry one in each hand. The head of the tool features a pick on one side and either an adze (a flat chisel-like device used for chopping holes in ice) or a hammer on the other. Typically, a climber will use the pick to grasp ice while moving, the adze to clear away ice before placing screws, and the hammer to pound them in, if necessary. The shaft of the axe is rubberized for easy gripping.



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