One of the greatest challenges of leading ice is placing ice screws. Here are 5 basic tips to succeed...
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Dale Remsberg is an internationally licensed Mountain Guide (IFMGA) and Technical Director of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). Never one to focus on a single aspect of climbing, Dale is an accomplished all around climber with high-end skills that cover all disciplines of climbing including; sport, trad, mixed, ice and alpine. Here, Dale shares some tips on how to place an ice screw while leading.
Top roping ice and leading ice are two very different experiences. As the adage goes “Ice climbing is a leader’s game” and I could not agree more. While top roping is a great way to improve and work on your technique, leading is where it's at. At the same time, I would never encourage a climber to lead ice before they are ready. One of the greatest challenges of leading ice is placing ice screws and in these five steps I’ll give my favorite tips to be a successful leader and place solid ice screws.
1. Practice on the Ground
Learn to place ice screws on the ground before leading and experiment with different hand positions, making sure to practice with both hands. The good ice will not always be near your strong hand. Focus on the power zone of placement which is hip to shoulder height. You may be tempted to place it as high as you can but the few inches you may gain are not worth the extra effort and pump you will get.
Above: Avoid placing ice screws too high- it's not worth the pump!
2. Perfect Placements are Rare
While testing shows that an upward placed ice screw is strongest in good ice, it can often be a struggle to find those ideal placements. I recommend just placing most screws perpendicular to the ice angle as its quick, easy and plenty strong. It's more important to get the screw placed and get it clipped.
Above: An ice screw placed at an upward angle.
Above: A perpendicular placed ice screw.
3. Weight Your Feet
Ice climbing has a very specific pump that can hit quickly so finding good stances with level feet and the majority of weight on your feet is critical. Although ice can form in unique overhangs that are strenuous, most ice is vertical or less so finding the weaknesses that allow for mostly hands free stances will aid in the placement of protection.
4. Don't Waste Time on Poor Ice
Place screws where the ice is good not when or where your mind wishes you had protection. This means you may need to place protection closer or further apart then those perfectly spaced sport climbs you are used to. The testing of ice screws shows that placements in poor ice are worthless so if you are going to take the effort to place one make sure it is good.
5. Know Your Limits
Don’t be afraid to back off if you get in over your head. Ice protection is not as reliable as rock gear so if you get pumped silly sink some solid screws build a V-Thread and rappel. Practice building V-Threads a bunch of times before heading out on your first leads. And if you can get one built don’t be afraid to leave a couple of screws to descend on. Most likely a friend or a local guide can help you get them back. Falling on ice is a big “no-no” so avoid it at all cost.
Words and photos: Dale Remsberg