Welcome to the first installment in a new series of articles dedicated to the sport and practice of dry tooling and mixed climbing. Yamnuska guide Pat Delaney is a mixed climbing master and has been instrumental the past few years in driving the popularity of this fast growing sport. Over the course of the next few months, Pat will write about various topics related to mixed climbing. This four-season-sport is a passion of Pat’s so we hope you enjoy his series and that you are inspired to give it a try.
Mixed climbing: Climbing rock and frozen mater in sequence or simultaneously with the use of ice tools. Frozen matter can be ice, frozen moss and soil or whatever Mother Nature can freeze and that allows swinging our tools into.
Dry tooling: Specifically dry tooling refers to climbing rock with ice tools in hand. Frozen matter is never required, dry tooling can be practiced both winter and summer. Typically the sport is associated with sport climbing, bolt protected routes.
The Canadian Rockies are steep with climbing history. Now synonymous with the term mixed climbing, our history suggests that the Canadian mixed game has been around longer than figure fours and leash less tools.
Winter alpine climbing is likely responsible for the birth of mixed climbing in the Rockies. Many visiting climbers including Americans were responsible for several of the range’s classic first ascents. But Canucks and many expatriated British climbers residing in Canada definitely led the way in terms of how the pick was used off the ice in Canada. In December 1966, Brian Greenwood and Chic Scott attempted the West Ridge of Mount Hungabee. Up high on the route they encountered poor rock and small holds under layers of hoar frost.
The next year in late December the same pair teamed up with Eckhard Grassman, Archie Simpson, Charlie Locke and Don Gardner to climb the North Ridge of Mount Assiniboine. Even though Locke stayed behind at Magog Lake, the remainder of the group continued successfully to the top. From those first winter outings came a whole slew of winter Alpine visions.
In the late 70’ and 80’s Climbers such as Barry Blanchard and Dave Cheesmond took the game to the next level. They used the hard learned waterfall ice climbing lessons of the 1970’s passed on by ice climbing pioneers like Bugs McKeith, Jack Firth, Rob Wood, Gerry Rogan, George Homer and Canadian born Tim Auger and took the ice and mixed game to the next level with notable ascents like The Andromeda Strain and the North Pillar of North Twin.
By the mid 90’s technical mixed standards kept on rising, climbers Dave Thompson and Sean Issac kept on pushing the limit by establishing numerous new routes often involving large rock section climbed to reach ice fangs and various smears. Many climbers such as Will Gadd, Ben Firth, Raphael Slavinsky, Grant Meekins and Rob Owens followed the lead and added their own personal style to the Rockies mixed game. Today the Canadian Rockies mixed scene has many strong talented climbers, some applying their dry tooling skills to the alpine, others content with pure mixed and dry tooling routes focused on gymnastic movements that are generally safer in nature.
Today, thanks to evolving perspectives, techniques and equipment, climbers world-wide are now enjoying the pleasures and benefits of dry tooling all year round. Dry tooling crags in Europe such as L’usine (the factory), The Famous and original “Zoo” outside of Chamonix with hanging logs are giving climbers incredible training opportunities. Other European crags are allowing alpinists such as Uly Steck to break new ground and set new standards high up in the alpine. Here In Canada, I developed what is likely one of the first year round dry tooling crags, the Playground. The Playground, found up on Grotto Mountain is now as popular as any sport crag can get. The climbing is fun varied and well protected – perfect for training and instruction.
Mixed climbing and dry tooling are one of the most dynamic and growing games in the world of modern climbing. Competitive events like World cups are now returning to North America and competitions are held indoors, outdoors and on natural and artificial features. Companies such as Ice Holdz are manufacturing and distributing dry tooling and modular ice climbing holds, tools are becoming more specialized and motivation is high and vibrant once again for a rise in standards.
Stay tune for our next installments: Clothing, Gear, Techniques and training as well as some sneak peeks into some new routes being put up across the range by myself and other Yamnuska guides.