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planetFear - Articles - Winter Climbing Protection

Winter Climbing Protection

Article by Andy Kirkpatrick
Monday 1st December 2003

For most winter climbers pushing their grade the overriding factor in determining speed and probability of upward progress isn't their strength or fitness but the quality and quantity of protection beneath their feet. This is because the crux for the majority of winter climbers comes at the point where they come close to their 'perceived' technical or physical limit while too far above their protection for comfort. It is in these moments when the true nature of the winter experience is felt, battling against the three elements that are thrown into the mix of success or failure, physical and mental strength and the route itself. Unless you are prepared to push yourself in this way it will be hard to move up through the grades, as a 'no pro - no go' attitude isn't going to work unless you're happy to clip bolted mixed routes in Cogne or top rope roadside ice in Colorado.

As winter climbers we balance a need for security with the need to get to the top of our route, making judgments about what's most important when measured against our aspirations, ego and good health. Beyond Northern Corries' clip ups, more often than not the majority of climbs and climbers rely on skill and a physical protection rather than the mechanical protection of wires, cams and screws. Therefore if you're going to make breakthroughs in your climbing you can do three things. You can develop this physical confidence in order to allow you to climb above your protection comfortably. You can learn to maximize all the protection possibilities the route may give, or best of all, you can do both - that way you're not simply a bold climber, but also a well-protected one, just in case that boldness gamble doesn't pay off. Physical confidence is beyond the scope of this article, so instead I'm going to cover all aspects of protection.

WINTER PROTECTION

Winter gear can be broken into three different groups: rock, ice and snow - with some pieces of protection able to be applied to more than one medium - and the sub category of turf.

In this article I'll cover each of these three areas in order of importance.

ROCK

There is nothing so great as setting a stonking great nut deep into a crack on a winter route. All of a sudden you feel the world fall back beyond its perceived, unrelenting overhangingness, your red-lining muscles miraculously regaining their composure. Sure, you know all these wonders will evaporate once you're five feet above the wire but you still get the point - in winter nothing beats rock gear.

 

Wired Nuts

Nuts are the staple of a winter rock rack, being lightweight, cheapish, robust and unaffected by full winter conditions. Mid to large sizes are most useful, as smaller cracks are often choked with snow and ice and even when cleared it can often be hard to know if your No.1 is held by the rock or the remnants of ice left inside the crack. Winter wires get trashed easily and so it's worth just using your older nuts. Wired hexs and Rockcentrics are easier to use than taped nuts, with the slight increase in weight probably being worth it. Once the nut is so large that the wire can't suspend the nut go for tape to save weight. If you run out of extenders remember that you can use wires (even slipping big wires through the eyes of screws and pegs to save krabs).

 

Slung Nuts

Personally I'd avoid rope or tape slung standard sized nuts (like Rocks on Dyneema) if you're doing technical routes, as they need to be inserted via the nut itself with the fingers (rather than the wire), a tricky process when wearing gloves and scared out of your tree. Large hexagonal nuts (BD and Camp hexs and Wild Country Rockcentrics) are one of the most important pieces of winter pro, as they overtake the cam as the staple big crack protection devices due to the problems of cams and icy cracks. A lot of climbers don't use these nuts to their full advantage, just blindly tossing them into cracks unaware of their ability to work in parallel cracks as well as constrictions. Once mastered these nuts can replace heavier and less winter reliable camming devices on your harness.

I'm a big fan of the Wild Country Rockcentric and you can stiffen up the Dyneema sling by pushing the bar tacks up to the head of the nut. This way you get a stiffer tape, which can make placing the nut out of reach a little easier.

 

Camming Devices

Sprung cams require the rock to be free from ice to work, which in most cases isn't going to be the case. Having cams stops is a slight back up if your cam slides down the crack (it might jam up and hold), but nevertheless all cams should be treated with a great deal of caution unless it's so cold ice isn't forming on the rock. If it is icy then you can try scraping away the ice with your pick and brush off the rest with your hand. This may work depending on the depth of the ice. I know one well-known climber who went so far as to take a can of de-icer along when he attempted Bulgy. Once you've placed your cam you can improve its holding power by snapping it left and right or up and down aggressively, this will scrape off any ice that might remain and tell you that the cam will hold in all potential aspects of pull.

As I've already said the hex or Rockcentric should be your number one large crack protection and one way to massively increase your reliable protection opportunities is to invest in a couple of Camp Tri-Cams. These can be used as normal nuts or cammed in parallels. They also work in both dry and icy cracks and I recommend all winter climbers to invest in a Tri-Cam 1.5 (50g/£11), 2.5 (77g/£13) and 3.5 (117g/£15.50) all of which are close to equivalent Wild Country cam sizes and at half the weight.

Pegs

Pegs are your last option when looking for a good piece of gear (that is unless you happen to have a bolt kit on you) and they are there in order to exploit weaknesses that your passive gear can't. All winter climbers have their own views on what pegs to carry but I think my opinions are perhaps more relevant considering my big wall experiences with pegs (I've bashed in hundreds of pegs). Big stonking pegs are there to make up for a lack of skill with the added benefit of looking strong (even if 90% of the time you need to tie it off, or you would have been better using a nut instead). In fact, unless you're climbing at a very high level on very blank routes you're better off carrying just stubby pegs. Short pegs are lighter than long pegs, meaning you can carry more, meaning it's more likely you'll have the correct size at hand. Having more also means you can stack pegs together to get the best fit if the crack is too wide. Longer pegs are also more prone to overdriving meaning they are often left fixed, where they end up rotting away.

How do you place the perfect peg?

In a vertical crack it should slot in about halfway before hammering. After a few taps to set it, hammer it home. Look at the crack to see if there are any constrictions that will make the placements more secure. In horizontals you can have the peg go two thirds in before hammering and still get a strong placement. The sound the peg makes while being hammered can also tell you a great deal about the strength of the placement, but this can only really be learnt through practise.

When the peg has a centimetre to go give it a few solid taps downwards to see how solid it is. If the eye drops then the peg is too small and will need replacing, if your hammer bounces off then it's good so carry on until the eye is close to the rock. If the peg is too small and you don't have anything bigger then try stacking it with another peg to achieve a good fit (you can stack pegs with nuts as well as other pegs). Don't overdrive pegs (use the above test method instead), as overdriving may actually loosen the peg or even break the eye. If the security of your peg is crucial (if it's your main belay point), then you can test it by giving it a bounce test. To do this clip a chain of quickdraws or a sling from the peg to your harness then slowly increases the force until it can take a full body weight bounce. It goes without saying that if you're standing on a minute ledge and the only gear you have is the peg then bounce testing aggressively isn't a great idea. As for tying off you must take several factors into account, including the strength of the peg (will it bend if you don't tie it off), the leverage on the placement (will avoiding the extra leverage mean the peg will hold) and the danger of the tie-off sliding off the peg.

One factor that is worth remembering when driving pegs into ice-filled cracks is that the peg isn't just being held within the ice. This can be a problem with blades and Lost Arrows, which are flat sided (but not angles and Z pegs). Once you've learnt to recognize the sound a peg makes when entering a good placement this shouldn't be a problem. How strong will these shorter pegs be? Well having taken daisy chain falls, (i.e. high fall factor) on to 2mm thick RURPS that were in no more than a finger's worth of crack I'd say pretty damn bomber.

The lightest pegs are blades and angles; unfortunately the most robust and useful peg is the solid and heavy Lost Arrow. Black Diamond make the best pegs, followed by Grivel and then Camp. Personally I think two of the best Scottish winter pegs are the pointy Grivel Top 160.60 (80g/£6), a solid tapered Lost Arrow design and the Stiletto 173.50 (72g/£5), a tapering 5mm thick knifeblade. These two pegs are better suited to the odd shape of UK rock, as most of the flat, trad-styled, pegs are designed more for granite than weird UK rock.

Another great peg is the Grivel Onda 190.80 (97g/£5.50), which is a sprung Leeper Z profiled peg. This design both cams and grips to cracks due to its sprung shape and can be stacked with angles when the peg is found to be too small. If weight is an issue then carry blades and baby angles rather than Lost Arrows. My favourite angles are the Black Diamond No.1 (56g/£8) and No.2 (70g/£8), but the Grivel Rocket models are also good, being heavier but cheaper (63g and 94g and both £5.50).

Crud Hooks

Hooked pegs (also known as ice hooks which is a misnomer, as ice is the medium in which they are least used), are so flexible in their design that they are hard to pigeonhole into one category of protection, offering effective protection in rock, turf and ice. The beauty of the hook design is that they will go anywhere your pick goes. Fully driven into turf a hook provides very effective protection, its hooking shape requiring enough force to drag it through the turf in order to rip it out, unlike a Warthog which only needs to be rotated until it's pulled out directly. In rock the hook can exploit any placement your pick finds and is especially effective placed above constrictions, next to chockstones and in tight horizontals - just like your pick when hooking. Hooks can also be stacked with pegs and wires, or held in check by opposed pieces, perhaps to secure a solid but wobbly hook from being displaced once you're above it. On ice, hooks are more marginal and situated in the RP category of protection and are in no way a substitute for screws. Where they come in handy is going where a screw won't, like in wide or shattered cracks choked with ice and turf, or hammered between ice features. On good ice a fully buried hook should provide enough protection for a short vertical fall and significantly more protection in a 'slip' fall.

 

TOP TIP : Ice hook modifications

The problem with most hook designs is that they are designed to penetrate the ice deeply. Due to the fact that nine times out of 10 the hook will be used on rock, not ice, a little modification is called for. What you want is a kind of giant bird beak design, or a hooking peg. Firstly cut off half the length of the hook's pick with a hacksaw, then with a rough metal file reshape what's left to exactly match the shape of your pick. File down any teeth in order to aid removal. What you're left with is a stubby hook (this does not replace a full size hook, in fact it's more like a Lost Arrow), which is perfect for placing in pick slots and in peg placements where its hooking action will be advantageous.

The Black Diamond Spectre (130g/£27.99) was the first commercial hook on the market and this year it has been redesigned in order to make it lighter. The DMM Bulldog (162g/£18) is by far the most popular hook on the market at present, due mainly to its low price. It's also a very good shape and the double extender works well. Mountain Technology have also entered this market with their own hook design (150g/£16), which is cheaper and lighter than the DMM model, but some users may want to file down its aggressive teeth a little.

Peg Exotica

Two pieces of hardware that I think will be increasingly seen in winter is the Birdbeak and the copperhead. Andy Parkin always carries two 'beaks, two 'heads and two skyhooks on every route he does, finding that with these exotic pieces he can protect the unprotectable and scale the unscaleable. For anyone climbing on compact crags where most cracks are blind I'd highly recommend trying out a Birdbeak. These tiny RURP like pegs go where nothing else will and can provide a surprising amount of protection (both physical and mental). The copperhead is a more controversial piece of hardware, being basically a malleable nut that can be hammered into flared slots or cracks. A good 'head may well become fixed and so there are issues, but 'heads may well help protect future lines.

BD have come up with three sizes of 'beak for '04, with size 2 (62g) and 3 (111g) being ideal for winter climbing - with the 3 being more like a miniature crud hook. Cassin and Yates 'heads are the only ones available in the UK (around £4 each), with the bigger 10mm heads being the only ones to use as you have a good chance of getting them out again (copperheads are heavier than aluminium but have holding power).

ICE


Screws

It wasn't that long ago that only the rich could afford decent ice gear, with the rest of us left out in the cold with our scrappy titanium ice screws and snargs. Companies like Grivel, BD and Charlet Moser have democratized the ice screw, bringing down the price to affordable levels while still innovating.

The current generation of ice screws are strong, tough and incredibly fast to place, with advanced threads and teeth designs, polished surfaces and easy to manipulate hangers making dependable steep ice protection a possibility for even the weakest of climbers. Of all the screws on the market four stand out:

Charlet Laser Sonic Price from £44 Lengths (cm)/weight (g): 10/128, 13/, 17/, 21/184
A new design from Charlet that looks very good, with a rotating bolt type hanger built into the hanger arm reduces the possibility of the screw coming adrift while racked (a big problem) and allows the screw to be unscrewed with the draw still attached, saving time.

DMM Revolution Price from £31 Lengths (cm)/weight (g): 10/104, 13/115, 17/148, and 22/165

All the above screws feature some form of crank and although the Revolution doesn't have this feature, they stand out due to awesome build quality, lighter weight and a big hot-forged hanger.

Grivel 360° Price from £35 Lengths (cm)/weight (g): 12/159, 17/189, and 22/214

Fast and easy to place in difficult spots due to its handle design. A total pig to rack due to its shape so I highly recommend the Grivel Expresso screw holders (68g/£13 for a pack of two), a rubber tube into which the screws can be placed. This not only helps with racking but also gives you the speediest system on the planet

Black Diamond Turbo Express Price from £38 Lengths (cm)/weight (g): 10/125,13/149,16/158,19/178, 22/190.
The daddy of the screws, not because it's the best but because it has been around the longest. This year the screw has an improved thread design to improve speed of placement.

Which screw is best? Well you know how much I hate to do a proper review so I'd recommend building a rack out of several different types, fine tuning it by adding more of the screws you find you reach for first.

What length and how strong?

Screws come in four basic lengths - long, medium, short and stubby. In the past everyone bought the longest screws they could in the belief that that was the only way to stay healthy. The problem was that long screws were heavier (you could carry less), took more energy to place and remove and very often required tying off when they bottomed out. In the late '90s testing showed that the strength of screws often came not from their length but the strength of the screw's hanger. Testing showed that in most cases, in good ice, the screw would bend before it was pulled out, at which point the hanger would break, meaning the strength depended not on the screw but its hanger. Secondly it was found that tie-offs would often snap or slide off the screw in a fall, a bummer when you were tying it off in order to maximize your chances.

 

TOP TIP

It's often the case when climbing in Scotland that you're faced with the only protection coming from very poor quality ice. Setting two equalized screws is one way to increase their chances of holding, but my own favourite is parallel screws. To do this you'll need a long sling or cordelette and two screws. Place two screws one above the other at least an axe length apart (45cm). Point both hangers at each other and, clipping your sling into the bottom screw, pass it through a karabiner clipped into the upper screw. Pull the screw tight and tie it off with a trucker's hitch, clipping off the end back into the screw or sling as a back up. Clip an extender into the bottom screw's hanger and climb on. If the bottom screw is loaded the force on the surface of the ice will be better shared between both screws (there is no increase in force caused by the angle of an equalizing sling). This technique can also be employed with other combinations of gear with the top piece being a Warthog, ice hook or even ice-axe (a good technique for belays). This technique is also a good one in warm conditions as it reduces the chance of the screw melting out, or for maximizing Warthogs/hooks in turf.

This told us that medium, and even short, sized screws could be very strong and that screws should only be tied off when a significant amount was left protruding from the ice (personally I'd only tie it off if more than a quarter of the screw is left sticking out and only if the screw is placed at an angle of +15/20° above perpendicular). Carrying long screws is still a good idea for belays and making ice threads, but medium length screws should make up the bulk of your rack, with perhaps a few short (and therefore light) screws for higher on the pitch (where impact force will be low).

Strengthwise this is more dependent on the quality of the ice and the angle of the screw, not so much the screw length. In solid ice the screw should be placed 15°/20° below perpendicular (it's pointing uphill). This reduces the shock loading on the surface of the ice, which the screw needs intact if it's to hold. In poor ice place the screw at 0°, wet ice is often stronger because it's less fragile - but the screw can melt out.

Covering modern thoughts and principles of ice protection is beyond the scope of this article so I highly recommend anyone interested to check out Steve Reid's excellent round up of the topic at www.needlesports.com/advice/placingscrews.htm

The cost of protection

Ice screws are precision engineering at its best, with many apparently minor details like the interior polish, tooth shape and thread angle all combining to make this simple piece of metal work. The cost of this kind of design and engineering is high and subsequently screws aren't cheap, costing about the same as a top camming device. The difference is that unlike rock-climbing, where you can get away with nuts and hexs instead of cams, in proper ice climbing there is no real substitute. If you want to climb hard, if you want to climb safe, you need to invest in decent screws. There are cheaper screws on the market from several sources, both steel and titanium, and these are good ways of fleshing out your rack. These screws are okay for less steep sections, steps and belays, with the full cost screws being saved for those one-handed placements. In Scotland most routes only warrant about six screws (Continental or North American ice routes will require 12 to 15), so you could get away with a mixed bag of screws, both to save cost, weight (big bore titanium screws are light plus go into existing screw holes brilliantly) and to give you variation when deciding what'll work best.

Tubular Drive-in

Drive-ins have almost become obsolete by these new screw designs, slowly disappearing from most climbers' winter racks as they slowly trade up for screws. Although nowhere near as good as a modern screw they do still have a place in that they are cheap, strong and well-made (unlike most sub £20 ice screws). Drive-ins are also not dependent on the placement having enough room to turn the hanger, meaning they can be placed in tight spots like ice-filled cracks or in flutings and also in turf at a pinch. The drawback is that they are hard to remove and impossible to place one-handed (and require a lot of energy). It's for this reason that I'd only recommend the shorter length drive-ins like the discontinued DMM 14cm Scrube (118g/£18 - or cheaper if being sold off) and Camp 16cm Snarg (111g/£18.50).

'Warthog' Drive-in

Old fashioned 'spike drive-ins' like the 230cm Mountain Tech Warthog (150g/£16), although pretty low tech probably best cover the grey area where screws won't work; turf, tight spots. Because although far less effective in ice, they are much better in turf and narrow, icy placements can now be handled by the ice hook.

SNOW

Snow is funny stuff, it suffers from a personality disorder: soft as candyfloss one minute, hard as Stevie Haston the next. It's the last thing in the world that you'd want to belay from or place runners in but sometimes those are the cards fate plays. Beyond axe belays, bollards and a good old solid stance, the two main types of snow protection (that's protection with a very small p) are the Deadman and the snow stake.

 

Deadman

In recent tests conducted in France the Deadman came out as giving impressively high levels of protection when placed correctly. And that's the problem 'when placed correctly'. I wonder how many winter climbers who routinely carry Deadmen have bothered to spend a few hours testing them out first? If you haven't played around with setting and fully testing a Deadman then I don't think you should even bother carrying one. The reason is that sometimes in winter climbing no protection is better than some protection. The words 'for f@@ks sake don't fall off, I can't find a belay' is far better protection than a belayer falsely trusting a single badly placed Deadman.

It's only when you've taken turns holding simulated falls that you can understand how best to employ them in saving your skin. At the moment DMM and Mountain Technology make the two main Deadmen on the market. The DMM anodized (360g/£26) or polished (360g/£25) Deadman is a very solid and well-made plate but loses out to the Mountain Technology (300g/£21) design because the MT is lighter. I also know some climbers who've lowered the weight of their Deadman further by removing the steel cable and replacing it with Dyneema cord to save weight and make racking easier (this is not a recommendation - just an observation).

Snowstakes

More popular than the Deadman in many Alpine regions, not because they are stronger but because they are easier to place, snow stakes are usually hammered into the slope (a bit like a giant tent peg). A well-placed Deadman will always be superior to a well-placed stake but it's far easier and faster to place a well-placed stake. Another advantage is that in soft snow the stake can be used on its side as a T-anchor, or hammered into névé, where it would be difficult to place a Deadman. The stake is either carried on the rucksack or across the back like a rifle via a sling clipped tip to tip. The current snow stake models available in the UK come from Yates (55cm/300g/£20), Mountain Technology (60cm/350g/£15) and MSR (61cm/369g/£19), with the MSR Coyote being perhaps the best model due to its T shape (giving higher holding power) and middle hole (necessary for T anchors). The Yates and Mountain Tech models are far more robust though, with the end of the MSR model deforming easily when hammered.

TOP TIP

If you're using a snow stake in the T- anchor position you can increase its holding power by inserting both your axes at either end of the stake to increase the pull resistance of the anchor.

What to take and how to get the best of it?

If you climb predominantly snowy routes then it's well worth carrying either a stake or Deadman - or even both. If you often find yourself topping out on routes with no belay in sight (the Ben, Lochnagar, Meggy or any crag under full winter conditions) then either device might prove better than an axe belay or just the classic walking away from the edge once your mate starts climbing. If in doubt take a snow stake as they are lightweight and cheap and easy to use when starting out, then after a couple of routes ask yourself whether you need it.

Whatever snow protection you use make sure you employ it as part of a classic snow belay set up; bucket seat, tight body belay and a string of prayers. And if you're sat there in the spindrift, scared out of your wits hoping your mate's not going to fall, don't worry, it's all part of the winter experience - we've all been there and the majority of us are still here.

THE PERFECT CAIRNGORM WINTER RACK - A WOMAN'S PERSPECTIVE

Not wanting this to be full of men's opinions I asked Rosie Goolden, a guide in the Cairngorms, to give me her views on the classicEast Coast rack.

'What your rack contains depends on the types of route you're looking at climbing, who you're with, your experience and the current conditions. There are some Cairngorm characteristics that effect what you carry into the hills. Routes tend to be more protectable than on the West Coast, so it's worth taking 10 to 12 extenders. If at least four of these are made from four-foot slings, you'll be able to reduce rope drag and the likelihood of pulling out your own gear. Unless a route's description suggests otherwise, Cairngorm routes can normally be rock or turf protected - you won't be needing your ice screws.

Cams are hard to place reliably in winter, as they can slip on the tiniest pieces of ice in the cracks, which are hard enough to see, let alone clear. Bashing larger pieces of metal into a crack tends to give more confidence. Make sure you've got a good selection of wires, doubling up on more common sizes. Little wires (below size 1) should be used carefully because they get mashed with rough

winter treatment and are more likely to pull through any bits of ice around them. To cover anything bigger, that cams normally cover, Rockcentrics are great. They take a lot of hammering, are versatile and light. Consider taking every other size, as they do overlap.

Consider the use of slings before throwing in all you own, because in common Cairngorm conditions they freeze up and may cause your climbing partner to hate you. Slings are useful for extension, thread runners and spike belays, or linking anchor points to one central point where one person is leading the whole route (if leading alternate pitches, just use the rope). Sixteen-foot slings are great, but a nightmare for novices to undo and store.

Warthogs (turf screws) are great in the Cairngorms - they're very strong when used properly. Check the route description because many routes are purely rock. Don't use them unless the turf is thoroughly frozen, because you'll rip out the turf and bring down the wrath of the coire spirits. Bulldogs are another option, shaped much like a pick with tat attached. They're good in turf and excellent in cracks. Easier to remove from turf than a Warthog, but reliability really depends on turf and placement with these babies. Carry a range of pegs, sometimes nothing else will do. There are a huge variety of these, just try to cover a size and shape range. I like to carry a few blades, channels and right angles.

In winter I often cut down the number of screwgates I take, replacing some with snap gates. This has to be done with experience and consideration. A belay plate, for example, must go on a screwgate. Finally, always carry a knife and some tat, for rigging abseils or stripping in situ pegs of old tat.

In conclusion, the northern coires are very easy to walk to, so weight isn't too much of an issue. However, if you're anything like me, you'll appreciate climbing feeling safe, but relatively light. If in doubt it's better to have more, but learn from it: look at what you used and make amendments next time you head out. Make your rack specific to the route where you can. If you can learn some of these things in this relatively amenable environment you'll be able to head deeper in to the Cairngorms and further afield feeling safer and lighter.'

Rosie is organizing an all-female event at Glenmore Lodge entitled 'Chicks unleashed' in March. For more details contact Rosie Goolden via the Lodge or at rgoolden@totalise.co.uk

 

TWO VIEWS OF THE PERFECT WINTER BEN RACK

'Protection is notoriously difficult to place on the Ben, so there are two schools of thought. The first approach is to accept that gear placements are few and far between, so take the bare minimum of gear and enjoy the long run outs. The other approach is to carry a huge rack to suit every possible protection eventuality. This will (hopefully) guarantee a few runners at least. In practice, both approaches have their merits and it very much depends on the type of climb you are planning to do and where it lies on the mountain. The Ben's difficult-to-protect reputation is largely based on the thin face routes above Observatory Gully. There, the overlapping slabs of fine textured lavas that comprise the Minus and Orion Faces do not run to deep cracks and these crags would make a poor winter climbing ground if they did not accumulate so much snow and ice. So for a classic ice route such as Orion Direct take a selection of ice screws (no more than six), a handful of pegs and a set of Rocks that you are prepared to hammer into icy cracks. In contrast, the rock is blockier in Coire na Ciste and runs to better protection. So for a modern mixed route like Darth Vader take a double set of Rocks, a set of Friends to size 3 and a dozen pegs from narrow Kingpins through to large angles. Forget the ice screws but take a set of Rockcentrics instead - they are particularly useful for flared Nevis cracks when placed sideways. Whatever route you choose don't expect over-the-head type runners you find in the Northern Corries. On the Ben you typically have to move well above your last piece of gear to find the next placement'.

Simon Richardson

"What? Gear on the Ben - I think not. Just don't fall off, its not worth talking about and besides you don't go all the way up the Ben to do less than Grade 5 and then you are virtually soloing anyway."

Young, keen and impressionable, it's no wonder my early years on that bastion of Scottish Winter caused me so much concern - if only my mother had known what I had said was just going to be a walk. A seriously deep Ben fear developed, a feeling that was to become a well-known friend over the years and it started at 16 armed with a few totally shocking alloy tubes and a bash in. We set off up Sickle, my intro to Scottish 5 and the Ben. Wobble, bash, bend, remove, bash, wobble - safe. Two tools and a tube in névé - great.

Things haven't got much better, I just carry more gear so that I go slower and get more tired quicker. It's always a difficult point selecting gear for any route, but I like gear so I don't go without and bolster my rack with the best gizmos to hand. Below is a scared person's guide to racking for ice on the Ben. Brave heroes can subtract items that they are disgusted to see on it or add if you're a mixed god - safe trip and try not to take me out on the way past'.

  • 1 x full set of nuts, assorted makes
  • Friends 00 - 0 - 1 - 2 - 3
  • 1 x good selection of assorted pegs, blades especially - angles
  • 2 x short 360 screws
  • 2 x medium 360 screws
  • 4 x long 360 screws
  • 1 x snow stake for cornices, burying and throwing at walkers on the summit
  • 2 x 16ft slings
  • 2 x 8ft slings
  • 2 x 4ft slings
  • 6 x draws
  • 1 x Abalakov threader & ice extractor
  • A few small maillons for unclippable pegs
  • Rockcentrics 4 - 6 - 8 - 10 especially on mixed
  • Magic plate and screwgates & belay things

Scott Muir

Lowe/Camp Tri-Cam number 5 and Wild Country Tech Friend 4. In normal conditions the Friend is by far the better protection, but in winter the Tri-Cam wins out due to its flexibility (you can use it as a nut or a cam), robustness (you can hammer it and it isn't affected by ice and snow) and its lower weight (93g lighter).

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