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Tools of the ice trade

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OK. Someone took you ice climbing and you now have a fever. The cure? Freezing hands, numb toes, a runny nose and climbing miles and miles of ice. Get ready to dump out your wallet,

It’s ice climbing season.

Here are goods – the hard goods. These three components, in addition to some standard climbing fare, will gain you entry into the sub zero hell of ice climbing. And it’s super rad.

Technical ice axes: $175-$300. Yep, that’s each.

These are your tools, an extension of your body that turns your climber’s grip into an alien-like super natural force you dreamed of having when you were a kid. From here on out every pull up you ever do again should be hanging from these. Things have changed over the last decade as many tool handles have became oddly shaped and kinked. This turns an old school hammer grip into an angled hand position that increases efficiency, and that means power. And, those leashed breeds of ice tools that your uncle climbed with are almost extinct. Today’s modern tools are leashless; untethered. Free your tools and your mind will follow.

Crampons: $150-$220. Relax, you get two.

Another superhuman add on that gives you the ability to do a one-legged squat on a fraction of an inch of steel. Crampons for technical ice climbing come in two styles: Semi-auto and strap on.

Semi autos are sort of like a step in an old school tele-ski binding. The ungodly expensive ice climbing boots that we’ll get to in a minute are made to hold a heel and toe bail securely, so you can effectively “lock in.” Strap-on crampons have heel bails, but have a wrap system over the front of the foot. Most hard ice climbers go for the semi-autos, but strap-ons offer the convenience to be used with other foot wear, so long as they have a heel bail, which many aggressive hiking boots do.

Another stand out difference are the points of the two crampons. Technical semi-autos usually have mechanically compatible parts at the forefoot that can be rearranged or added and removed. Many climbers prefer a single front point to two front points and so on. Strap on crampons under the front of the foot are typically one piece of material and flat, unlike their fearless cousin.

Boots: $275-$800

Technical ice climbing boots need to be several things: warm, comfortable, relatively light weight, rigid and – ideally – waterproof. Stack all these things together and you’re asking quite a bit, so don’t be alarmed at the price tag. A few companies like La Sportiva and Lowa pride themselves on making the finest ice climbing boots in the world. Go back to those leashed ice tool days and you see a ton of plastic boots, but, oh, how things have changed. Leather and synthetic materials have regained their lead, and their comfort and light weight will surprise you.

Look for the right fit and go from there. Where and how much will you be climbing? Do you run warm or cold? If you’re only getting out a few times a year, perhaps a non ice-specific boot would fit do as long as there is a heel bail. If you’re planning on moving to Bozeman, Montana, or Ouray, Colorado, and climbing every day, get something with that dedication in mind.

Contact editor Brandon Mathis, bmathis@bcimedia.com or 970-375-4576

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