ICE & MIXED CLIMBING IN NZ
If you are coming climbing in NZ this winter and looking for some gear advice here's a titbit from our technical manual that may help !
ICE & MIXED CLIMBING
In New Zealand, water ice is mainly confined to shady aspects above 1500m with a good supply of drainage, exactly what is found at the crags on the south side Black Peak. Climbing at venues such as this is best during the shortest days of early winter. Later in the season snow can accumulate banking out climbs and increasing the avalanche risk. Great ice can be found in the high mountains, such as the Aoraki/Mount Cook and Westland regions, well into spring when longer daylight hours reduce the time pressure on longer routes.
For technical ice and mixed climbing a fully rigid (full shank) mountaineering boot is required. Single boots constructed from leather or synthetic materials (some models with an integrated gaiter) are suitable for conditions encountered during winter and spring in NZ. Double plastic or synthetic boots do provide extra warmth and have the advantage of being easier to dry out on multi-day trips but are often excessive in NZ.
While general mountaineering crampons and axes can be used for ice and mixed climbing, a range of specialist ice climbing gear is available. If spending a lot of time ice climbing, specialist axes and crampons can make a big difference.
Vertically aligned front-points penetrate harder ice easier with less shattering. Duel vertical front-points provide a more stable platform to stand on but in hard and brittle ice they can cause the ice to dinner-plate or shatter, requiring several more kicks to ensure a secure placement. Mono vertical front-points excel on hard brittle water ice where the points can be placed the holes left by ice tool placements and allows very efficient and positive climbing. They are also good for mixed climbing and provide good balance on small rock features.
On steep water ice a modern highly curved ice axe and hammer makes a big difference, especially when making placements over bulges and minimising effort on steep terrain.
These tools are shorter than general mountaineering tools which need the shaft to be straighter to plunge into the snow.
Wrist leashes are used to avoid dropping ice tools, something that could potentially a big issue on a serious mountain route. They allow grip of the ice tools to be relaxed thus conserving energy on the climber’s arms.
However, leashes make it more difficult to shake out, free up hands to place ice screws, limit technique and make things a little more tiring on more technical climbs. Clipper wrist leashes allow the leash to be detached from the tools providing the benefits of having wrist leashes while making it easier to place ice screws and shake out tired arms. When using curved ice tools with comfortable handles they are often not used at all. In this circumstance an umbilical leash is recommended as they provide the benefits of leashless climbing while limiting the potential to drop the tools.
OTHER USEFUL ITEMS
A V-Thread tool, whether it is a purpose made one or a homemade one from a wire coat hanger, is a vital piece of equipment for making V-Threads.
A good method for racking ice screws is also useful. Options include flutes that hold an ice screw each or ice clippers that are inverted carabiners that can store a number of ice , screws. Both methods are attached to the harness.