As the name suggests, our Organising An Ice Climbing Lead Rack advice shares some ideas for your ice climbing adventures. We really hope you find it useful.
*Before diving in, it is important to note that here we are specifically discussing equipment for pure ice climbing where only ice screws will be placed. This might be in places, for just a few examples, like Rjukan or Hemsedal (Norway). Similarly, it may suit places like Ouray in Colorado, Cogne in Italy or La Grave in France. Even then, please be aware there are climbs in these places where rock protection may also be needed.
Similarly, this rack wouldn’t suit many winter climbs in places like Scotland where a more varied rack will usually be needed. It is essential that, as in all aspects of climbing, good personal judgement is needed.
When climbing ice climbs, having an efficient system for organising your lead rack is key. This will help you climb harder and safer, plus it will make your lead climbing experience more enjoyable. Please read on for some ideas that might help for your ice adventures.
There is no set way method for organising a lead rack and every leader will develop their own favoured method. All we can hope to offer here is some ideas that have worked well for us over the years. However, even though everyone will tweek their organisation, there are some key features we expect every climber would agree on.
You should certainly have everything accessible and know where each item is. You should be able to find what you need whether you can see the item or not. It is also important to be able to get to each item one handed as you usually be holding an ice tool with your other.
Comfort & Safety
A final essential consideration is comfort and safety. If you have your ice screws in the wrong place this will soon cause clothing damage and, potentially, injury. For these items storing them further back around your hips will usually be best. Lastly, there are some items you are carrying that won’t be needed until you reach the belay or in an emergency. These are best stored out of the way.
A Few Other Considerations
You may vary your system for different climbs as you take account of the nature of the route. Similarly, sometimes you might alter the items you are carrying.
It may also depend on the type of harness you are using. Some have particular racking features or a certain number of gear loops. Sometimes you will be carrying a lot of protection items and at others carrying a much more stripped down selection. You might also be swinging leads with your partner and want a system that allows for quick gear changeovers.
If you are selecting a new general purpose harness it pays to think carefully about the racking system. Having two gear loops on each side and an additional storage loop on the back makes for good general organisation. Some harnesses also have systems built in to secure ice screw clippers. You may also decide that you want a less padded harness in winter when you will be wearing lots of clothes to add padding. Lastly, adjustable legs loops may be worth considering to allow adjustment for different clothing layers. If you aren’t sure what type to choose please do chat to a specialist retailer who can offer good advice.
Lastly, without opening a large can of worms we need to address whether to clip your carabiners from the front or behind. Or, to explain another way, with the closure facing into your body or away from your body. There are pros and cons to each option and different climbers have a view on what works for them. At the end of the day, the key is to try each way and decide what suits you.
Having said that, we do think there is a case for clipping inwards (so the closure is against you leg) for ice climbing. We prefer this because you will be carrying items that can easily get caught on your axes and screws. In our opinion clipping them inwards makes this less likely.
Ice Screw Clippers
One specialist item of equipment that you will definitely want to consider are ice screw clippers. We would count these as essentials. There are lots of models on the market and our current preferred options are Petzl Caritool Evo’s or the DMM Vaults. The Caritool has all the features you will need (and is shown in the photos. However, there are possibilities with plastic models that the wire gate can flip in front of the gate if the clipper gets twisted. The Vault, made from alloy, is rigid enough to prevent this happening.
Ice Screw Clippers allow you remove and replace ice screws one handed. They also allow screws to be stored efficiently and safely. Some models are designed to allow you to select a screw that is racked further back on the clipper. We usually carry two clippers for ice screws and an additional one to stow your ice axes (more on this below).
A General System
With all that in mind, we offer our own organising an ice climbing lead rack system for your consideration. This would be the way we set up for general ice climbs and we probably use this system at least 95% of the time. If you are new to leading this might work for you but, we’d expect, you will start off one way and gradually develop your ideas with growing experience.
items You Only Need At The Belay Or In Emergencies
You will only need your belay device at the belay stance and so this is an obvious item to store on the back gear loop. Similarly, other items like spare carabiners for anchor set ups or a longer cordelette for anchor building might go here.
We prefer to carry Prussik loops and a small knife around our neck, but many climbers also keep these items clipped here. You may also be carrying a tool for creating Abalokov anchors (there are now lots of names for these and v-threads is another common term). You may also need to carry some cord for creating v-threads and a spare load rated Maillon. All these items may be best stored here.
Quickdraws are a staple item that we want to access at any time and from either side. We rack some on either side of our harness. We tend to carry mostly 12 cm models although having a few extendible 60cm trad draws can also be useful.
Generally, we match up the number of quickdraws carried to match the number of screws. However, you may also be carrying screws to create an anchor and these probably won’t need quickdraws.
The number of screws you carry will depend on the nature of the route. This also applies to the lengths carried. For thick ice routes you might choose longer ones whereas in thin conditions shorter ones may be needed. As a general rule we carry mostly 16cm length screws with a few longer ones to create v-threads and build belays.
When we rack our screws we simply have some on each side of our harness and towards the rear. This means they can still be easily reached but in this position they tend to hang away from you. You are also less likely to catch your legs when stepping up. We rack them with the pointed end back to also help avoid catching them on our legs.
If we will need the longer screws at belays and for v-threads, we rack these onto our ice screw clipper first. This will make them the last things we come to. However, with many clippers there is a system to allow you to stack some screws on the upper bar to reach ones underneath.
Slings are another staple item that we rarely ice climb without. Mostly, for us this will be 120cm slings. That said, in some venues belays are often made from trees and some longer slings are really useful. The Edelrid 180cm Tech Slings are a staple of our ice climbing rack. We usually rack these with the other belay items at the back of our rack. For other 120cm slings these are easily carried around you neck and under your arm as shown below.
Carrying Ice Tools
When you reach a belay or are abseiling a route it is handy to have an additional ice screw clipper to store your ice tools on. As we usually control abseils with our right hand we position one on the left hand side, but you can choose where is best for you. This can also be a useful place to store additional ice screws if you have a very long pitch and are carrying more than you can fit on two clippers.
Well, we hope these ideas are useful. We do just want to emphasise again that this is simply some food for thought and there is no set way for organising an ice climbing lead rack. If you are starting out you might want to try ours as a starting point. Then, you can tweak your system as you find out what works for you. The other thing to do is practice your system on easier routes. You don’t want to find you can’t reach that crucial piece while in a challenging position!
We hope you have found this advice article of interest. We regularly add new articles and there are others on similar topics that might be of interest. For example, we have one with Rjukan Top Tips here and another about Winter Equipment here. Of course, if you want to lead how to use the advice above in a real situation do consider one of our Ice Climbing trips. You can find details on our Rjukan or Hemsedal adventures here. Please do have a browse through. Happy climbing.