How to Customize Ice Tool Picks

I am going to pick up the dark art of mixed climbing -- you know, rock climbing with ice tools -- but I don't know if I should reshape the picks on my tools to hook better on rock, or leave them alone. They cost $45 each and I don't want to ruin them. Help!

By Rock and Ice | February 2nd, 2010

I am going to pick up the dark art of mixed climbing — you know, rock climbing with ice tools — but I don’t know if I should reshape the picks on my tools to hook better on rock, or leave them alone. They cost $45 each and I don’t want to ruin them. Help!

Max Bier
via rockandice.com

Ho ho, welcome to the world of the un-pumpable steel finger. Now you must decide just how dedicated you are, because the heavier you delve into it, the more it will lighten your wallet.

I assume that you will be using mixed tools such as the Petzl Nomic or the Black Diamond Fusion and getting fruit boots. If these particulars are not in your plans, just continue hanging from leashes on drippy ice climbs. Trying to mixed climb with ice gear is like going to a samurai swordfight armed with a cake knife.

To instill in you the sense of devotion required for mixed climbing, and the price you must be willing to pay, I put together a Mixed Climbers’ Creed. Memorize it. Say it!

These are my mixed tools. There are many like them, but these are mine. My mixed tools are my best friends. They are my life. I must learn to master my tools just as I must learn to master my life. Without me, my tools are worthless. Without my tools, I am worthless.

Now we can proceed.

Stock drytooling picks have teeth on the underside, from front to back, and over the back portion of the topside for steinpulling purchase. You don’t need to change anything there. The issue is with the front tooth. The factory grind, which gives you one big angled tooth, is great for ice climbing and good for rock hooking. You probably don’t want to mess with the picks your first season out. As you improve and advance through the grades, however, and start tackling trickier routes with shallow and/or sloping holds, you will want to file the front tooth into what resembles a  modified cat’s claw, a shape that can better resist an outward pull.

Make the modification by taking a round (chainsaw) file and notching the front tooth. The bigger the tooth and the finer its point, the better it will hook. But since you’re removing metal, you’re also shortening the pick’s life expectancy. I have two sets of picks, one stock and one modified. The stock picks I use on easier, workout routes and ice climbs; the modified picks I reserve for harder project attempts.

Both picks must be kept stropping sharp. For this, get a mill bastard file (not to be confused with the mill a-hole file). Sharpen by pushing the file forward only (files have forward-facing teeth, so only cut in that direction.) Bear down but go slowly, checking your progress and the angle of the cut after every few strokes. As you stroke by yourself in the cold, damp and dark cellar, take cheer by chanting: These are my mixed tools … Gear Guy has spoken!

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