Ice Screws - How to Place Them, A Beginners Guide.

Author: M Wilkinson and Mike Barter

Ice Climbing Ice Scews pictureWell, your ready to hit the frozen hills, you have your shiny new axes and a full rack of screws - lucky you! but, how do you place an ice screw? will it be similar to placing gear in trad climbing, will it be some what self explanatory and instinctive? unfortunately, no.

Placing ice screws can become the bane of your life if not practiced and understood correctly. A safe placement will depend on quite a few factors including the quality of the ice and the angle of your placement. Firstly, and this is the same with trad climbing, make sure you have a stable and safe stance before begining the placement, make sure your axes are secure as you will need at least one hand for the screw placement. Once you are stable and are ready to place the screw, depending on the quality of the ice, use your axe to scrape or chip away at the top layer of ice. This will allow you to place the screw into the older, more stable ice underneath, this of course depends greatly on

the depth of the ice you are climbing. Now for the complicated part and an area that is very much up for discussion amongst climbers, what angle do you place the screw at?

Well a traditinal placement will angle the screw downwards into the ice, away from the direction of fall, the thinking behind this placement is that there is more ice below the screw for the pont of impact and this creates a more stable position of the screw to hold a fall. However, more recently, a few tests have shown (far from conclusively by the way) that placing the screw at an upwards angle towards the angle of the fall is better as this places less shock on the tube of the screw when catching a fall. So what do you do?

This issue currently facing ice screw placements is similar, I think, to that of the placement methods using Cams when first invented. Old Style cams (stem cams) were constructed with a solid axle and not wires like the modern versions. A bad placement with a older cam and a fall could result in the axle snapping or ripping the gear out because of the direction of fall. Similarly with Ice Screws due to the static and solid nature of the gear if you fall on one and its placement is bad due to the ice or angle is can shatter the ice around the tube or the tube itself can break.

The angle of placement should be your judgment based on the quality of ice, if the ice is in excellent condition and to a good depth then the traditional placement, angled downwards will be fine. if the Ice is not great then ( and this is just my opinion) I would tend to place them angle up to reduce the strain on the tube and surrounding ice structure. I would suggest practice and research in this matter and you can always hark back to the good old days of the leader must not fall!

here's a vid below to illustrate a placement, enjoy.



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