Top Tip For Ice Axes Boots and Crampons
With an unprecedented amount of snow on the mountains of North Wales and a cold weather period that shows no sign of ending, the winter season is now set to continue well in to April. A common question this last week at Plas y Brenin has been
"do I need an ice axe and crampons to go up Snowdon?".
Well the answer is a definite yes and not only for Snowdon but for the majority of hills in the area. There is an extensive covering of snow on the hills, ranging from deep soft powder to hard snow with an icy surface layer. Safe movement without crampons and an ice axe would be very difficult at the moment on all but the lowest and flattest of paths. We have hired an amazing number of axes and crampons out over the last few weeks to people who are making the right decision to take them with them on the hills.
The current good weather and longer daylight hours mean that it is a great time to enter the winter wonderland of the mountains. We thought it would be useful to give a few top tips for those of you thinking of buying or hiring the essential winter equipment such as boots, crampons and ice axe. Purchasing these items is a big investment and one that you want to give good returns for years to come. It is worth considering what your intended use is now and maybe more importantly what your aspirations are for the future.
Are they for the occasional snow patch and easy angled terrain? Do you want to go mountaineering and maybe progress on to easy winter climbs? Is technical winter climbing your aim?
This is an essential item of winter equipment and one that you should be comfortable using in a wide variety of snow conditions. As with many items of equipment, several are now very specialised in design and application and best avoided for most uses. A general mountaineering axe, with a downwards curving pick, is appropriate for hillwalking, mountaineering and easy climbs. As for length of axe, a general guideline is that whilst standing upright and holding the axe vertically the bottom of the axe should just reach the top of your boot. This is only a guideline and you should choose one for your height and intended use. A slightly curved shaft can make it more comfortable in use and better on slightly steeper ground.
Technical climbing axes with kinked shafts and steeply drooped picks are for steep climbing routes and not suitable for general mountaineering or walking. They are generally too short and their shape makes them awkward to use on easier angled ground.
These need to be fit for purpose as well as a good fit for your feet. To help with your choice, boots are given a stiffness rating of B0, B1, B2 or B3. Boots with a B0 rating are not suitable for crampons and those rated B1 can only be used with the most flexible of crampons. If hill walking and general mountaineering is where your aspirations lie then a B2 boot would be suitable. Remember to try lots of different models, as manufacturers can suit different foot shapes. A B3 rated boot would give you a stiffer platform for general movement on snow without crampons and give you the option for progressing on to more technical ground in winter. These would be more suitable for climbing terrain as well, giving you lots of options for the future. Many people shy away from stiffer boots often regretting it after their first season. Stiff boots can be very comfortable and with modern materials and boot design they can still be quite lightweight. Whilst the stiffness rating system is very useful it is important to check out the amount of flex in the boot soles when you try them on, as with all things different there is variation between manufacturers. The size of boot can also have an effect with smaller sizes generally being stiffer, if you have big feet a B2 may feel like a B1. Your own weight also affects the amount of force you apply to the boot with each step. If in doubt go for a stiffer pair.
There is now an amazing array of crampon types and styles available and it can be a tricky thing to make the right choice. To help you with this choice crampons are also rated on their stiffness and are either C1, C2 or C3. It is important that the crampon is suitable for your boots.
Your boots must be stiffer than the crampons, the boots should give the crampons support rather than the other way around. If the crampons are stiffer than the boot then they will probably come of at the most inconvenient time, give you ankle problems or break due to metal fatigue.
C1 crampons are very flexible and often very lightweight. Many have ten rather than twelve points with which to maintain contact to the snow or ice. They are generally designed for walking rather than mountaineering or climbing and are the best choice for the occasional user and then only for easy angled terrain. Their method of attachment is generally some sort of strap system, maybe with plastic cradles front and rear. This means that they fit a wide range of boots, but may be harder to get a secure, snug fit.
C2 crampons are often more aggressively designed with twelve points and are probably the best all-rounder. They will fit B2 or B3 boots often with a step-in system that gives a reassuring clunk when fitted well and a secure fit. They are suitable for all types of terrain including technical climbing particularly when fitted on a B3 boot.
C3 crampons are the most technical and the stiffest and therefore require a B3 boot. They are for steeper technical climbing ground and ideally suited for a plastic shell boot. Wear them on a flexible boot and you will have problems!
When selecting a crampon for your boots make sure they fit well in addition to being the correct rating. Make sure the points run along the edge of the boot and that the heel of the boot fits well between the strapping system. The smallest and largest sizes create the most issues, for very large feet you may need a longer middle bar. If they are intended for steeper terrain then ensure that the front points do protrude well past the toe of the boot.
Adjusting and fitting crampons to boots can be an alien process on first acquaintance. It is a lot easier to practise fitting them in your back garden rather than on a cold, windy hillside with gloves on so repetition is the key.
The stretchy rubber 'grips' with spiral wire wrapped around them are great for icy pavements and flat unexposed paths but get on anything steeper and you will find movement difficult!