What is ice climbing

The starting point can be considered the year 1908, when the British climber Oscar Eckenstein invented spike cats, which were attached to the shoes and allowed to move even on smooth ice (before that it was possible only with the help of cutting steps in the ice). In the 1930s, Italian Lauren Grivel improved the design by adding two spikes protruding forward: this made it possible to climb icy surfaces located at large angles to the horizontal. The final step was made by American rock climber and businessman Yvon Shuinar. In the 70s of the last century, he shortened the ice axes that already existed at that time and made them curved. So a new kind of extreme sport was born, so to speak, the son of mountaineering and the rock climbing brother - ice climbing.

Ice climbing is a physically difficult sport; it is power acrobatics, which involves almost all muscles. In this way, it looks like climbing, the only difference is that special equipment is used in ice climbing - ice tools (hammers, ice axes, anchors) and cats. Ice climbers do not use lanyards on ice axes so that they can be intercepted with the other hand at any time ... or with teeth!

Just add ice

If rock climbing is mainly a summer sport requiring a minimum amount of clothing (usually rock shoes, shorts and a short-sleeved T-shirt), then ice climbing, as the name implies, is more winter. “Ice climbing is not at all necessary just pure ice, it is rarely found in nature, it’s rather a combination of ilda stone - frozen streams, waterfalls, icicles, icy rocks. For competitions, an artificial surface is used, as on climbing gyms, in one or another combination with ice. Or even without ice at all, this is called dry tooling, ”explains Alexei Dengin, the Russian ice-climbing champion. “But the main difference is that climbers use their legs shod in rocky shoes and bare hands to move along the terrain. Aza ice doesn’t really catch your hands - so ice climbing requires special equipment. ”

Ice ax used in dry-tuning

To the weapon!

The main "weapon" of an icebreaker is cats and ice tools (ice axes, or ice hammers). True, cats for ice climbing are somewhat different from those used for mountaineering. Ice-climbing cats are not quick-detachable, they are attached to the boots, which gives less weight and more rigid fixation (the boots themselves are also lightweight). In the hands of the accelerator, two ice axes, though not at all of a classic look, but more reminiscent of boarding hooks from films about pirates, with cleverly curved two-handed handles and "beaks" with a large number of notches.


With these notches an ice ax clings to ice, rocks or artificial surfaces (“beaks” are interchangeable, have different shapes depending on the type of surface). Two-handed handles are needed not just for beauty - this form allows you to hold the ice ax with both your left and right hands, and both at once, and intercept them in any combination. Moreover, for greater freedom of movement, ice climbers do not use lanyards (loops on the arm), although ice axes are sometimes attached with a piece of cord to the belt (so that it does not fall out and is not lost). But all the same, sometimes there are not enough hands, and you have to, like the pirates, take the ice ax to the side.

Ice barrels are traditional “bricks” of various competitive tracks. They are suspended by cables frozen in ice, and easily change as they break down, in order to equalize the state of the track for all participants in the competition.

Vertical racing

Ice climbing competitions can be held both on natural surfaces and (most often) on artificial ones, which are a combination of various structures equipped with hooks, and ice in one form or another. The main types of ice climbing competitions are difficulty and speed. "Difficulty" involves the passage of a certain route, usually several tens of meters high. It would seem that not so much, but do not forget that this is not a carpet at all, but a section that includes, say, vertical walls, overhanging cornices and ceilings - and all this is covered with ice.

Two-handed golf

“In difficulty competitions, in addition to helmets, they usually do not use any additional protective equipment, ” says Alexey Dengin. - But, although the performance lasts only 10-15 minutes, during this time you can freeze, because too warm clothes constrain movement. Hands are especially cold. But, although special gloves for ice climbing are not released, there is an almost perfect replacement - these are golf gloves. They are very thin, and practically do not affect the sensitivity and mobility of the hands, are very “grip” and do not slip. There is only one problem - golfers use only one glove: right-handed right, left-handed - left. And ice climbers need both! Can you imagine how surprised sellers of golf equipment are when we arrive at the store? ”

Speed ​​competitions are even more spectacular. This is a kind of sprint, where participants need to climb a vertical ice wall 15–20 m high as quickly as possible. As ice tools in this form, not a pair of ice axes are used, but a pair of special hooks, the so-called ice-fifi - ice anchors. The beak at the anchor is smooth and sharp, which allows you to quickly “literally” cut in “ice” and hold on to a simple relief (yes, a smooth vertical wall from the point of view of ice climbers is a simple relief!). As a result, “ice sprinters” climb onto a steep wall faster than you walk with a quick step the same length - but, of course, horizontal - section, developing a vertical speed of more than 2 m / s.

Artificial trails in ice climbing competitions are built of plywood with fixed hooks, and ice cubes or barrels that are suspended by frozen cables.

Security questions

As with any kind of extreme sports, there are certain risks in ice climbing. And a fall in height is far from the most serious of them: the insurance technology is well developed in rock climbing and mountain climbing. According to Alexei Dengin, typical “professional injuries” in ice climbing for difficulty are bruises from an ice ax, which when removed from ice tends to unexpectedly slip out and hit the owner in the shoulder (or, with a fair amount of bad luck, in the face), as well as abrasions from fragments of ice that fly off the surface when trying to "cut" into it.

Ice climbing to speed is to some extent more dangerous: sharp ice hooks often slide off the surface of the ice, which is fraught with puncture wounds to the legs. Therefore, many sprint ice-climbers put on shields such as football, despite the fact that this somewhat restricts the freedom of movement. Those who are engaged in ice climbing on a natural relief additionally protect their hands with special gloves, since there is a risk of knuckles being knocked into ice.

The article “Ice and Stone” was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 1, January 2014).


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