The Slacker’s Guide To Packing For Ice Climbing

By Bayard Russell, 20 January 2014

  • DATE

    20 January 2014

  • AUTHOR

    Bayard Russell

  • CATEGORY

    Alpine & Ice Climbing

What’s in an ice climber’s bag should change on a day-to-day basis, depending on the temperature, terrain and conditions. That said, I’m not that into jogging. So instead, I just go ahead and pack a heavy bag with a good rack, a few pins, some hooks, slings and a couple of half ropes in December, and they stay there until March.

When you like a drawn-out coffee session in the morning and are always feeling guilty for not training, a 15-minute approach with an unnecessarily heavy bag is a great way out. You simply dump the bag out in the evening by the woodstove or heater, cram it all back in in the morning and pour yourself another cup of joe. As you sip and gaze at the fire, you can relax knowing that you’re all set with everything that you could possible need and you’ll be getting a bonus low-intensity workout, not just on the way in, but also on the way out.

But there are a few tricks to mastering the non-trainer’s techniques for low-effort packing. First, at the end of the day, take an extra minute to get the gear back in some semblance of order before you pack up. This is crucial because after a few beers at the local, you’re not going to want to do anything more than dump all your gear out on the floor. But if you’ve already put things in some order before heading out, you’ll find that in the morning all you have to do is find the loop it’s all clipped to and you’re organized. After a long, cold day, that extra five minutes out in the snow getting organized can be hard to muster, but it’s worth it. Put it all together while inertia is still in your favor. Remember, inertia is a powerful thing and keep your crampons on top and your harness and helmet not far below.

Also—and this is especially important for those in the Northeast and the Northwest—in the winter, temperature doesn’t matter. I think it’s different in Colorado, but I’ve never been there in the winter. When it’s warm, it’s humid, so it feels cold and when it’s cold, it’s cold, so it feels cold. The only thing that really changes are gloves; when it’s warm-humid-cold you bring many because they all get wet, when it is cold-cold-cold you bring thick ones. But the total amount of insulation contained for hand warmth in any one pack is about equal on any given day.

Here’s what’s in my pack:

  • Belay jacket with hood – Virtuoso HoodyGore-Tex pants – Mentor pants
  • Three to ten pairs of gloves – Stormtrackers are great for leading, Luminary Gloves are great for the cold days
  • A big ol’ first aid kit, keep the first aid instruction manuals in for extra weight
  • A set of cams up to 3”
  • A variety of nuts, more early, and less later. For better, and for worse, they make great low-cost bail anchors
  • Whatever rusty pins I have left from the previous year, this quantity also varies greatly based on who-left-what-where
  • About 10-12 ice screws; I like about three or four of the stubbies, a bunch of yellow  handled ones and three or four few blue-e
  • Spectre hooks and few hexes for banging on when it’s icy in the cracks
  • Water, at 8.34 pounds per gallon, it’s a great, hydrating addition to any winter bag, and when it freezes in the bottle, you get to carry it out, too
  • 10-12 sets of slings and biners/quickdraws
  • At least one rope and a belay device
  • Helmet
  • Ham sandwich and those little gummie bear style energy snacks with caffeine

..and, when it’s a late start, a warm thermos of something nice (black tea, bullion with sherry, etc.)

So remember: Pack once. Save time.

Bayard Russell

Madison, New Hampshire

Bayard Russell, Jr., works close to his New Hampshire home as a mountain guide and a builder, and come the famous New England fall, his free time is stretched thin between the glory days of rock climbing and the endless preparation for a New England winter.

Once winter arrives, the fleeting conditions of ice climbing take over, and life becomes a string of temperature swings, precipitation, front points, sparks and blunted tools. He and his wife, Anne, live in a little cabin in the woods in a little town called Madison, just south of the incredible variety of climbing held in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and surrounded by good friends.

They love a full house and long morning coffee-drinking sessions by the wood stove. Bayard has managed to sneak in an ever-growing number of new rock and ice/mixed routes all over the Northeast, from his favorite rock climbing crags in quiet Western Maine and the bustling, suburban Cathedral Ledge, to the alpine terrain of Cannon Cliff and New York’s New-Hampshire-sized Adirondack State Park.

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