"Life is brought down to the basics: if you are warm, regular, healthy, not thirsty or hungry, then you are not on a mountain... Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall - it's great when you stop."

Chris Darwin

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Blessing in disguise

I broke the metal strap that is used to attach retention strap from the front bail of my Grivel Rambo 4GrivelRambo 4 's. It seems that this might have been a blessing in disguise as it made me do some comparisons of the front bails (I have few other Grivel crampons laying around (Grivel G14GrivelG14 's, my brother's old Rambo 2's).

I replaced the whole front bail with the one from mono-point set of Rambo 2. By doing this I noticed that the bail of Rambo 2 fits better with my Scarpa Phantom Guide's. It is not asymmetrical like Rambo 4 one, but this doesn't seem to matter. The difference is that the bail is narrower, thus eliminating the possibility of horizontal movement almost completely. The front bail is slightly longer though, so I ended up moving the front bail one step further back. This effectively moved the boot backwards half a step.

After noticing this, I compared the front bail of G14 and Rambo 4. Rambo 4 bail is significantly shorter, a bit narrower and asymmetrical in shape. By using slight violence I was able to fit Rambo bail on my G14. This moves the boot backwards quite a bit, which causes two changes:

  • front point gets effectively longer (which is otherwise significantly shorter than on Rambo 4)
  • secondary points and small additional points move significantly towards front giving them a much better possibility to actually hit the ice

I am generally not a big fan of very long front point (added leverage equals added strain for calves). However there's such a thing as too short. This new setup looks much better than the original one so I obviously need to give it a go to test whether this translates to better real-world performance.

While I was at it, I also tried out my new DremelDremel by sharpening pathetically dull secondary points.

Vimeo finds

No pain, no gain

Ice and mixed climbing require highly specific set of skills, that are not too easily gained by doing anything else. And yes, this includes rock and gym climbing too. Furthermore, the game is largely within the head. Best way to improve your confidence in ice climbing is to ice climb. Failing that, drytooling and rock climbing and even indoor climbing can all help.

However, when none of these are an option due to accessibility or time constraint, there are quite a few exercises that can be performed at home with not much equipment and that don't take too much time to complete.

Swinging. Take ice tool and duct tape some weight to head (say two cans of beer). Then start doing swings (aim for precise swinging that matches actual ice climbing swings). Depending on your fitness, weight and swinging speed, 40-60 repetitions per hand and a set should make the hand properly pumped. If it doesn't increase the weight. Repeat three to four sets per hand.

Calves. Bog-standard toe raise, either each calf separately or both at once. Or mix and match. Repeat between 40-60 times. If it doesn't start to burn your calves properly, either put your toes on a platform or put a backpack on.

If you have a pull up bar, there are lots of possibilities. For variety and added specifiness you can use the bar, hang from it from your tools or attach rock rings to bar. Of course there are the classics:

  • dead hang
  • one handed dead hang
  • pull up (normal, staggered)
They all work just fine and are beneficial. That being said, I have tried to come up with ones that more closely mimic actual climbing motion in hopes of them being even more effective. So I have come up with these two exercices:

combination exercise consisting of

  • pull up - lock off combo (repeat until properly pumped or until you can't do a pull up anymore)
    • dead hang for about five seconds
    • pull up
    • lock off for roughly five seconds either at top position or lowering my arms to 90 degree angle
  • to allow me to stay on, I place my feet on a bad support (small climbing hold bolted on wall in my case) to take some off the weight off my hands (not too much) and allow to shake out
  • keeping my feet on the support, few repetitions of a pull up, lock off and reaching higher with another hand (as in reaching for the next hold)
  • another shake out
  • few repetitions of dead hang and shake out placing feet on support
  • finish with dead hang until the pain becomes unbearable. Alternatively just hang while keep feet on a bad support (easier, thus allows for more duration).
This combination exercise should take few minutes to complete thus it is good for endurance, not just pure strength. I believe it mimics the actual climbing pretty closely.

Another simple exercise I find effective is to do a lock off (in 90 degree angle) while raising my feet (curled up) towards chest and keeping them there. This puts a load both on arms and core. This can very well be be combined with pullups by doing a pull up, keeping the lock off & feet raise for a few seconds, then repeating as many times you can.

Step up. Build a two or three step ladder, put a backpack on and start stepping. Unlike StairmasterStairmaster, this does not cost much, does not make much sound and doesn't take too much space. You don't have to use time to get to the training and you can train no matter of the weather. Obviosuly this is monotonic, but this can be aided by doing it in the living room watching tv or listening to music. Height of the steps and weight of the backpack obviously make a great difference in how strenuous this is. I use this exercise mainly for aerobic endurance, so I usually do this for an hour non-stop, changing the "leading" foot every five minutes. Mimics walking uphill with a backpack far better than, say, running, cross country skiing or mountain biking, although this certainly isn't as much fun. Trains both general aerobic endurance as well as uphill specific muscles of you feet. Add toe-raising on top step to make it harder.

Remote Exposure

Licensed under: cover photo.

There's a interesting looking book coming in a form of . It promises to give loads of useful info regarding the climbing photography.

Though many hikers and climbers carry cameras with them, they often come away feeling disappointed because their images fail to visually translate their experiences. In Remote Exposure Alexandre Buisse goes beyond the mere basics of photography and gives you the tools needed to create images that are not only of good technical quality but that are compelling as well.

This book will guide you through the various options for equipment, since the requirement for lightweight gear that is able to withstand cold, adverse weather conditions presents unique challenges. Learn about the importance of having an efficient carrying system and a logical, planned workflow.

Throughout the book you will find advice on where to point your camera and how to compose a strong image. Included are specific requirements for rock climbing, hiking, mountaineering, and camping. More advanced photographic topics are also covered such as digital capture and optimization techniques like high dynamic range imaging (HDRI), panoramic stitching, and how to achieve excellent results without a tripod.

The pages are filled with over 100 stunning images captured by Buisse as he hiked and climbed through mountain ranges on three continents. Photographers of all levels and those who just appreciate beautiful images are sure to be inspired by this book.

I also figured that it wouldn't hurt to brush up my self rescue skills. For this reason, I ordered Climbing Self Rescue: Improvising Solutions for Serious Situations.Tyson, Andy & Loomis, MollyMountaineers Books2006When your climbing team is in trouble on the mountain—how to get yourself out of a jam without calling 911. - Self-rescue procedures for teams of two—the most common climbing party size - Techniques equally effective on rock, snow, and ice - Utilizes gear climbers already carry in their rack - Includes 40 one-page rescue scenarios and solutions for analysis The rope is stuck—or too short. A crucial piece of gear is MIA. You’ve wandered off route into dicey terrain. An injury leaves you or your partner in need of help. Climb long enough and finding yourself in a jam far from help is inevitable. In Climbing: Self Rescue, two longtime climbing instructors and guides teach how to improvise your own solutions, calling for outside help only when necessary.Because few climbers carry fancy (and expensive) search and rescue gear, all skills taught in this book use the items typically found on a climbing rack: rope, carabiners, slings, and cord. Text, illustrations, and photos explain knots, belaying and hauling systems, rappelling, ascension, passing knots, how to safely assist and rig an injured climber, and more. Roughly half of the book is devoted to real-life climbing scenarios and solutions ranging from moderate to severe. Because real-life situations rarely unfold as they do in practice, Climbing Self-Rescue teaches how to analyze and improvise your way out of a crisis.ANDY TYSON is a guide for Alpine Ascents, Exum and Antarctic-logistics and Expeditions. MOLLY LOOMIS is an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Alpine Ascents and Prescott College. Tyson is the author of Glacier Mountaineering; Loomis has written for Rock & Ice, Climbing, She Sends, and other publications.978-0898867725978-0898867725Self RescueInstructionalen.

One Crampon to rule 'em all

Front part of Grivel Rambo 4. I really like the front point configuration with additional point outside the frontpoint, secondary points facing forward and outward and back points facing backwards and somewhat out. If I were to nitpick, I'd like the secondary points to protrude forward more aggressively (that is to say a tad more forward) and the underside of them could have small teeth for better traction on rock. However, my biggest grief on Rambo's is the weight and lack of sensitivity. Also, flat and rigid structure makes the front part not to fit too greatly on shoes with rocker soles. Credit: Grivel.
Front part of Grivel Rambo 4. I really like the front point configuration with additional point outside the frontpoint, secondary points facing forward and outward and back points facing backwards and somewhat out. If I were to nitpick, I'd like the secondary points to protrude forward more aggressively (that is to say a tad more forward) and the underside of them could have small teeth for better traction on rock. However, my biggest grief on Rambo's is the weight and lack of sensitivity. Also, flat and rigid structure makes the front part not to fit too greatly on shoes with rocker soles. Credit: Grivel.

I have climbed last few years mainly on Grivel Rambo 4GrivelRambo 4 on ice falls and Grivel G14GrivelG14 on alpine stuff. Rambo 4 works fine, but it is heavy and due to vertical structure, it doesn't give as good a sensitivity as I would like. This is particularly not ideal on mixed ground and thin ice. Furthermore, it is by far the worst crampon I've ever used to walk on, due to height and point structure. So I think I am going to need to try lighter weight crampons.

I do my drytooling and mixed climbing on fruitboots (older model of La Sportiva Mega IceLa SportivaMega Ice with permanently attached Grivel RacingGrivelRacing crampons). Obviously this combo as far lighter and more sensitive than anything you could realistically expect from any combination of more traditional boot - crampon combo. However, keeping the sensitivity of the fruitboots as a benchmark, my current go-to crampon for ice falls (Grivel Rambo 4) leave a lot to be desired.

Some features I think are important:

  • Fit. Good fit consists of multiple things, starting from the general shape. In my case that is a curved frame to fit curved shoes (Scarpa Phantom GuideScarpaPhantom Guide 's in my case). Some other features affecting the fit
    • front bail must not be too wide to prevent sideways movement
    • back lever must not be too tall so that it does not press ankle painfully (particularly important of softer boots)
    • back lever should have a proper retention strap to prevent accidental opening (could be an issue when hooking). Petzl lever has strap on the bottom, which is a very bad design in my book. Both Grivel and BD place the trap to the top of the lever, which make accidental opening of the lever as good as impossible. Luckily, it is possible to fix the issue with Petzl lever by either replacing the lever with BD or Grivel one, or by tinkering with the stock lever.
  • Offset monopoint. I have read that some prefer dual points for pure ice. I wholeheartedly disagree. Proponents of dual point usually list more support as benefits for dual points. I don't really buy this arguments. Granted, if you have dual points planted all the way into ice, they would be more supportive than mono point. The problem with this argument is that it is virtually impossible to get dual points planted as well as a mono point. The problem is that when the ice is hard, you usually can't get duals fully in due to added resistance. Duals are also more prone to shatter the ice. Monos on the other hand can be readily placed into your pick holes. Furthermore, monos are far easier to plant on featured ice, not to mention on mixed ground (not a really a contest here). Also, I have found out that duals tend to pop out if you boot twists slightly. This is a common occurrence, at least on my case, when pulling over bulges.
  • The point of support is very important though. To boost the support of dual, the secondary points need to placed far enough towards the front. This is a problem with most crampons on sale. Particularly, secondary points of G14 are placed too far back and protrude to little forwards to allow proper support. On Rambo 4 secondary points are better, but they still be placed a bit further forwards. Many models have small teeth facing forward outside the mono. I believe Grivel got this one right with Rambo 4, which has a smaller point about on the position where there would be outside front point on dual points. This is longer than on most crampons for added supports but not too long to cause the same issues as duals do. Pretty much the best of both worlds in my book. I also like the secondary points to angle outside for better hooking and for kicking a ledge to give a welcome rest for calf muscles when placing a screw.
  • For hooking performance, points angling out and back are beneficial. This is another part that I really like on Rambo 4.
  • Replaceable front point is a benefit, hands down. That being said, secondary points are very important as well. Therefore, I don't see having to replace the whole front part (like is the case with Petzl DartPetzlDart and Grivel G20GrivelG20) as a problem, if spare front parts are actually available and the price isn't too astronomical.

So all in all, Rambo 4 point configuration on flat crampon would be pretty close to my ideal.

Petzl Dart. In many ways a polar opposite of Grivel Rambo 4. Very light and reportedly highly sensitive due to horizontal and minimal frame. Configuration of secondary points seems very good, although it has no smaller additional point between frontpoint and outside secondary point. Furthermore, secondary points could benefir from being a tad longer and facing outwards. Also, points facing backwards woulkd work better for hooking if they were polaced further to the back (or maybe those backmost orange points could have similar shape than the back part of secondary point). Credit: Petzl promo photo.
Petzl Dart. In many ways a polar opposite of Grivel Rambo 4. Very light and reportedly highly sensitive due to horizontal and minimal frame. Configuration of secondary points seems very good, although it has no smaller additional point between frontpoint and outside secondary point. Furthermore, secondary points could benefir from being a tad longer and facing outwards. Also, points facing backwards woulkd work better for hooking if they were polaced further to the back (or maybe those backmost orange points could have similar shape than the back part of secondary point). Credit: Petzl promo photo.

Of the crampons available on the market, Petzl Dart, Grivel G20 and upcoming BD StingerBDStinger seem to be the closest thing to those ideals, although none of these are perfects. Biggest issue with the upcoming BD Stinger (based on articles about the test samples) is the configuration of the small points between front point and secondary points. These seem to be located too close to front point and the outer one could be longer. This setup is rumored to change before production crampons hit the shelves, so there's hoping BD will fit the bill pretty closely. Particularly if they have fixed the front bail (far too wide in their previous crampons).

Screw 'em up

I've had my ice screws sharpened a few times by Grivel sharpening machineGrivelsharpening machine. The screws after the sharpening machine seem a bit rough, but they do work fine, despite them usually looking a bit rough. Bursts need to be removed with a file, but other than that they have worked just fine.

However, the machine seems to just take off the material from the cutting edge, which means that the valleys between the teeth tend to get shallower.

Sharpening the screws with a file could produce the screws with more new-like shape, but sharpening the screws with a file takes a lot of filing, as the teeth need to be equally long. Which often means that you have to make all other teeth dull at first, then reshape all of them. This is rather labour-intensive and it is also easy to screw the angles up, which could produce fine looking screws with pathetic performance. However, I've seen some screws sharpened with a DremelDremel machine, which shaves off significant amount of time. Given that we have no Grivel machine available anywhere near where I live, I believe I need to give this a go. Keep in my that machine sharpening the screws is directly prohibited by screw manufacturers as it can overheat the screws, therefore ruining the tempering (read making the screw get dull and/or bend easier).

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