crampon maintenance

crampon maintenanceWhether you’re a moun­taineer who treks across rock, snow, and ice or a mixed climber who tra­vers­es all man­ner of abra­sive terrain—know that every time you use your cram­pons, you’re dulling their grip. Here’s how to sharp­en and main­tain them to opti­mize safe­ty and longevity.

First, Dial In Your Work Area
When work­ing with any man­ner of tools and tech­ni­cal gear, it’s worth tak­ing the time to set up a work area that’s safe, com­fort­able, and well lit. Because sharp­en­ing cre­ates met­al shav­ings, sharp­en cram­pons in an easy-to-sweep area.

Sharp­en by Hand
Start by thor­ough­ly rins­ing dirt and dust off your cram­pons, then wipe them com­plete­ly dry. Depend­ing on the design, you may be able to sep­a­rate the heel from the toe section–if you can, do so. Some choose to put their cram­pons in a vice to sharp­en them, which is fine—just take care not to bend the met­al. You can also sim­ply hold the cram­pons, but pro­tect your hands by wear­ing gloves. Using a coarse hand file, file the side and points of your cram­pon spikes, fol­low­ing the exist­ing forge. When fil­ing, be care­ful to strike a straight line from frame to tip. Nev­er use a grind­ing wheel, which gen­er­ates heat that may weak­en met­al by chang­ing the tem­per of the steel. Straight­en bent points as much as pos­si­ble, either by the direc­tion of fil­ing or with a ham­mer. For moun­taineer­ing cram­pons, aim for the equiv­a­lent sharp­ness of a steak knife tip (ultra-sharp blades can cut pants, legs, and back­packs); for technical/vertical cram­pons, the sharp­er the better.

Cod­dle Your Crampons
After you’ve sharp­ened your cram­pons, wash and wipe them down with a clean rag. Care­ful­ly inspect them, look­ing for chips, burrs, or warped edges. Care­ful­ly exam­ine the points—if they’re get­ting thin, odd­ly shaped, or notice­ably short­er, it might be time for a new pair.

When pack­ing for an adven­ture, check your cram­pons for loose riv­ets, wig­gly screws, and worn straps and buckles—replace or adjust as need­ed. Ensure the heel and toe bails are in good work­ing order and that they fit your boots snug­ly. For longer trips, car­ry a small repair kit includ­ing a mul­ti-tool, bal­ing wire, and spare parts like straps, bails, and extra cen­ter bars.

Off-Sea­son Storage
Final­ly, after each trip, make sure your cram­pons are com­plete­ly dry before putting them away; if they sit with mois­ture on the met­al, they may begin to rust. If you’re stor­ing them for the sea­son, clean them thor­ough­ly then con­sid­er coat­ing them with light oil or a water-dis­place­ment spray like WD-40.


cramponsCram­pons are vital for moun­tain trav­el: they let climbers ascend ver­ti­cal water­fall ice, walk secure­ly on steep snow, trav­el across glac­i­ers, and scale ice-cov­ered gran­ite. But because there are so many options on the mar­ket, buy­ing your first pair can be con­fus­ing. Many aspir­ing alpin­ists don’t know where to start—but it’s actu­al­ly sim­pler than you might think.

When you’re look­ing at cram­pons, the first step is to choose the met­al: stain­less steel or alu­minum. Stain­less steel cram­pons are clas­sics for a rea­son: they’re durable, cor­ro­sion resis­tant, can be re-sharp­ened, and hold up well in steep or tech­ni­cal ter­rain like ice, snow, and rock. They’re heav­ier than alu­minum cram­pons, though, which are bet­ter for alpine climb­ing, ski moun­taineer­ing, and approach­es that require short glac­i­er cross­ings. But those saved ounces come at a cost: because it’s a soft­er met­al, alu­minum cram­pons tend to get dull and deformed quick­ly if used on rock or hard ice.

Once you’ve decid­ed which met­al is best for your needs, it’s time to look at bind­ings. Cram­pons are gen­er­al­ly sold in three bind­ing vari­a­tions: auto­mat­ic, strap-on, and hybrid. Auto­mat­ic (also called “step-in style”) cram­pons use levers and met­al bars that fit onto spe­cif­ic notch­es on moun­taineer­ing or ski boots (called “welts”), and they’re by far the most secure fit, which makes them best for tech­ni­cal climb­ing, ver­ti­cal ice, and high-con­se­quence ter­rain. Some boots don’t have welts, how­ev­er (think of reg­u­lar hik­ing boots, approach shoes, snow­board­ing boots, etc.) For these, strap-on cram­pons (which use flex­i­ble plas­tic toe bales and nylon web­bing straps) are best. For gen­er­al-pur­pose moun­taineer­ing (e.g., Mount Rainier, the Haute Route, etc.), some climbers also use a hybrid bind­ing style, which are made with a met­al heel lever and a nylon toe strap.

Points (Spikes)
Most moun­taineer­ing cram­pons have either 10 or 12 points, or “spikes.” Cram­pons made for tech­ni­cal ice or mixed climb­ing may have a more aggres­sive design, which makes them bet­ter for ver­ti­cal ter­rain but worse for walk­ing on snow. You’ll also need to con­sid­er front­points, which are the for­ward-fac­ing prongs on each cram­pon. There are three types of front­points: hor­i­zon­tal, ver­ti­cal, and mono­point. Horiz­ton­al front­points are pre­ferred for alpine and snow/ice climb­ing, where­as ver­ti­cal front­points and mono­point options are bet­ter suit­ed for climb­ing steep­er water­fall ice.

There are lots of options on the mar­ket, but don’t be intim­i­dat­ed: at the end of the day, most cram­pons will work for most objec­tives. Before you buy your first pair of cram­pons, ask for help. Do some back­ground research. And always bring your boots along when shop­ping if you can—because there’s so much vari­a­tion, it’s always worth dou­ble-check­ing that your new spikes will be com­pat­i­ble with your favorite boots. For large boots, you might need to buy an extra-long cen­ter bar—and that’s some­thing you’ll want to know before you get into the moun­tains. If your cram­pons don’t come with them, you’ll want to buy a set of anti-balling plates, too.

Read the Manual
Final­ly, read the man­u­al. Learn how to make micro-adjust­ments to your cram­pons to make sure you’ve got a seam­less fit. Then strap them on and head for the hills!

Steve House

Steve HouseAs an alpin­ist, Ore­gon-born Steve House has achieved a num­ber of stun­ning ascents across the world. In 2004, he marked the sec­ond ascent of K7 West in the Karako­ram via a new route, estab­lished a new win­ter line on Canada’s Mt. Alber­ta in win­ter con­di­tions and his most note­wor­thy climb is the cen­tral pil­lar of the Rupal Face on Pak­istan’s Nan­ga Par­bat, which earned him the Pio­let D’Or alpine award.

But as an author, coach and climb­ing men­tor, House is rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing how climbers train and how they are taught. With coach Scott John­ston, he’s pub­lished Train­ing for the New Alpin­ism: A Man­u­al for the Climber as Ath­lete, which com­bines train­ing the­o­ries and sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge to build the ulti­mate pro­gram for climbers and moun­taineers. He is also the founder of Alpine Men­tors, a pro­gram which aims to devel­op the next gen­er­a­tion of great alpin­ists with a struc­tured pro­gram of coach­es and ath­letes. I joined House to talk about the devel­op­ment of his meth­ods, the mis­un­der­stand­ings of strength train­ing and how his own men­tor­ship as a young climber liv­ing in Slove­nia spurred the cre­ation of his program.

THE CLYMB: You once men­tioned that the Rupal Face was the cul­mi­na­tion of years of a psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal jour­ney. Did your train­ing change from your 2004 attempt to your 2005 summit?

STEVE HOUSE: It actu­al­ly didn’t; it was basi­cal­ly the same. I start­ed work­ing with Scott John­ston, the co-author of the book that we did togeth­er. It took a cou­ple of years, but in 2004 I was able to climb the route on North Twin, then soloed K7 and then from that expe­di­tion we went through to Nan­ga Par­bat, which we didn’t sum­mit for var­i­ous rea­sons. Then com­ing back the next year, in 2005, it was basi­cal­ly your clas­sic cycle: came back from the expe­di­tion, had a month off, rest­ed and ate ham­burg­ers and ice cream and then got back to it, putting the work in for the fall, and show­ing ready and fit in August and Sep­tem­ber 2005.

THE CLYMB: Dur­ing this expe­di­tion, did you come up with the idea that instead of main­tain­ing a fit­ness lev­el, that you reach your peak fit­ness just as you’re head­ing out for the trip?

SH: No, that was known about for a long time. That’s the foun­da­tion for endurance train­ing such as run­ning and oth­er sports. It’s well known that you can’t main­tain a high lev­el, and that’s also why sports like track and field have sea­sons because the ath­letes can’t keep a com­pet­i­tive lev­el for more than that. I had under­stood it for a long time but hadn’t imple­ment­ed it in terms of climb­ing before. I hadn’t had a coach before that could help me do that and I didn’t have the knowl­edge myself. I real­ly start­ed to train smart­ly around 2000–2001 … I hired a Nordic ski coach that helped me think log­i­cal­ly, like, “Okay, I have the tech­ni­cal part fig­ured out and I need help with the aer­o­bic part so I arrive at the tech­ni­cal part fresh and capa­ble.” That didn’t work out with her because she didn’t under­stand the sport of climb­ing. I brought that process to Scott John­ston who is a long time climber and a world-class coach. He had a unique skill set that allowed us to put it all together.

2005 was the third year that I’d been try­ing this peak­ing strat­e­gy. I had pre­vi­ous­ly tried it in 2003 on an expe­di­tion to Masher­brum, which we didn’t suc­ceed; then in 2004, I tried to peak for K7 and the North Twin trip with a spe­cif­ic peri­od. I aimed for the K7 and Nan­ga Par­bat peri­od in July and August, which was the peak peri­od for that year, and again in 2005, 2006 and 2007. 2008 was an ear­li­er peak for a spring trip to Makalu. It depends on when the expe­di­tion is. In Nepal it’s before or after mon­soon sea­son so I’m train­ing for the spring or fall.

Steve House

THE CLYMB: What dif­fer­ences did you see in tra­di­tion­al alpine train­ing at the time that you felt required redefining?

SH: I think we’re try­ing to make peo­ple shift their view­point on climb­ing to include the pos­si­bil­i­ty that it be treat­ed like sport. It’s not enough to climb when you feel like it, and while peo­ple have got­ten far that way, it doesn’t get you to the top-lev­el in any dis­ci­pline. It’s a mat­ter of mak­ing room in people’s minds that it could pos­si­bly be done that way. A lot of peo­ple who have moun­taineer­ing objec­tives, full-time jobs and fam­i­lies say “I want to be ready for my Mt. Rainier climb in June, but I have kids and I work 40-hours a week, and how do I want to most effec­tive­ly pre­pare giv­en time is a valu­able and lim­it­ed com­mod­i­ty?” So it also address­es that audi­ence as well, the one that doesn’t have the free­dom to go moun­taineer­ing five days a week.

THE CLYMB: Do you believe that alpin­ists should be striv­ing for a bal­ance between aer­o­bic and gym train­ing, or favor­ing one over the other?

SH: Strength train­ing is an impor­tant part of any kind of endurance train­ing pro­gram. The focus is that in our strength train­ing pre­scrip­tions, we want peo­ple to under­stand that the pur­pose of strength train­ing is designed to have a pos­i­tive impact on their climb­ing. It doesn’t mat­ter how much weight some­one can move around in the gym. The gym is not our sport. We’re climbers. Climb­ing is our sport. The gym is a very spe­cif­ic and pos­i­tive tool when done cor­rect­ly, but there’s a lot of not total­ly under­stood infor­ma­tion about strength train­ing in general.

THE CLYMB: Could you elab­o­rate on some of those misunderstandings?

SH: Strength train­ing is pret­ty well under­stood, but some experts want to cloud the waters so they look more impor­tant. It’s actu­al­ly fair­ly sim­ple: you can take the basic, fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples, one of those prin­ci­ples being you can start with a gen­er­al strength approach. All sports do this whether it’s gym­nas­tics, run­ning or alpine ski rac­ing. You need to spend a cou­ple of months hit­ting all the mus­cle groups even­ly with rough­ly a pro­to­col of 10 rep­e­ti­tions of a giv­en exer­cise, and you build up over those 8 weeks, pro­gress­ing to three or four exer­cis­es grad­u­al­ly over a cou­ple of months.

What peo­ple need to under­stand is the cor­rect time­frame for train­ing is not weeks, but it’s months or years. A lot of peo­ple will say they’ve been train­ing for two weeks, but that’s not train­ing. Train­ing hap­pens when you’re doing cumu­la­tive, grad­ual, pro­gres­sive exer­cise over many, many months. That is how you get real­ly fit. For strength train­ing, it depends on the ath­let­ic back­ground, and it can take as lit­tle as 4–6 weeks or as much as 8–12 weeks to get that gen­er­al foun­da­tion going. Then it switch­es to what is called a ‘max-strength pro­to­col,’ where we reduce the num­ber of exer­cis­es to the most func­tion­al, the ones that are most com­mon for climbers and alpin­ists like pull-ups, squats or one-legged box step-ups, and then you switch to a rep­e­ti­tion pro­to­col that devel­ops your max­i­mum strength in an effec­tive way.

It depends on peo­ple who either need to increase their mus­cle mass, like teenagers, or peo­ple who need to reduce their mus­cle mass because they’re too bulky and the strength-to-weight ratio is impor­tant in climb­ing. They may be super-strong but they have too much mus­cle mass. Espe­cial­ly if you’re talk­ing about an aer­o­bic activ­i­ty like alpine climb­ing, and you have too much upper body mus­cle mass you have to car­ry around. I think the basic prin­ci­ples can be sim­pli­fied; they don’t need to be made over­ly com­pli­cat­ed. They can be very effec­tive and the key is apply­ing them con­sis­tent­ly with the mod­u­la­tion of the appro­pri­ate work­out and rest periods.

Steve House

THE CLYMB: What is your def­i­n­i­tion of the word ‘men­tor­ship’ and how did your men­tor­ship define you when you were liv­ing in Slovenia?

SH: Men­tor­ship is about teach­ing good judge­ment. I don’t want to teach some­one where I have to tell them how to swing an ice axe cor­rect­ly for exam­ple, not in the con­text of Alpine Men­tors. What I want to do is con­nect men­tors with climbers who have the tech­ni­cal skill and foun­da­tion, and know how to climb safe­ly in terms of plac­ing gear and rope­work. We’re more work­ing on what route to do when, when to turn around, when is it safe and when is it dan­ger­ous. I think that’s what for me, back in Slove­nia, I had mod­eled for me very well … I didn’t know it at the time, but when I left Slove­nia and came back to the States, I start­ed going alpine climb­ing here. I had this pic­ture of what that sort of men­tal deci­sion mak­ing process looks like. It helps to keep me alive, make good deci­sions and devel­op as a climber.

THE CLYMB: For aspir­ing climbers who aren’t eli­gi­ble for a pro­gram like Alpine Men­tors, what are some ways of find­ing their own role models?

SH: We just cre­at­ed a pro­gram for those peo­ple and it’s called Alpine Men­tors Unof­fi­cial. It’s a closed Face­book group so you have to ask to join. It’s not for begin­ners, but our team looks at the pro­files and at what they’re doing or climb­ing, and if they look like begin­ners, they won’t be admit­ted. But if they are admit­ted to the Face­book page, there’s an assump­tion of risk and acknowl­edge­ment of how the sys­tem works. Then peo­ple can either offer men­tor­ship or search for a men­tor. Peo­ple can pro­vide their loca­tion and meet men­tors for as a lit­tle as an after­noon or as long as a lifetime.

Steve House

THE CLYMB: How do you dif­fer­en­ti­ate men­tor­ship from ‘hand hold­ing’ to let­ting some­one devel­op their own intuition?

SH: Devel­op­ing someone’s intu­ition is what we’re all about. Intu­ition is a tricky thing to define because it’s very amor­phous, but get­ting peo­ple to a point where they can look at their moun­tain and see the same thing I see is pret­ty cool. They see the route, they see the con­di­tion, they know where to go, they see the dan­ger with­out real­ly think­ing about it. That’s what intu­ition is: it’s judg­ment with­out con­scious thought.

My adage is ‘the burnt hand teach­es best.’ My role as a men­tor is to let them climb and make deci­sions, then step in when things start to go wrong or become exces­sive­ly haz­ardous. If they say ‘Hey, what do you think?’ I say ‘Here’s what I see. I see XYZ, It’s 1 o’clock, the rocks are falling and the sun is hit­ting that face, so maybe it’s time to get out of here.’ We’re not guid­ing because we’re not mak­ing the deci­sions, the climbers make those themselves.

THE CLYMB: On the Alpine Men­tors web­site you men­tion a book Boys Adrift as an inspi­ra­tion. What do you con­sid­er to be a com­ing of age rit­u­al for devel­op­ing climbers?

SH: With Alpine Men­tors, we have a grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mo­ny in which we tell sto­ries about what we did togeth­er and I acknowl­edge what they’ve learned and what they’ve done. Then they become men­tors them­selves and teach oth­er peo­ple what they’ve learned.

THE CLYMB: In your climb­ing career, what do you believe you’re still learning?

SH: I’m still learn­ing so many things. One of the great­est things about tech­nique sports like climb­ing, Nordic ski­ing, or even ten­nis is you have the poten­tial to keep get­ting bet­ter as you get old­er. As a climber, it’s inter­est­ing to me that, though I’m 45 years old, and maybe not as strong as I used to be, I still get bet­ter fun­da­men­tal­ly and tech­ni­cal­ly. I still take ski lessons every year and become a bet­ter ski­er every year. When you do it for 30 years like I have, the sub­tleties are notable when you’re track­ing your improve­ments. That’s the great thing about climb­ing: it’s ageless.


©istockphoto/montgomerygilchristThe short Patag­on­ian sum­mer has yield­ed bold, elec­tri­fy­ing ascents—from solos and fast tra­vers­es to new ascents that have set the alpine world alight with excite­ment. While the star climber of the sea­son has undoubt­ed­ly been Amer­i­can alpin­ist Col­in Haley with his solo of Torre Egger, his car-to-car ascent of Fitz Roy, and a one-day Torre Tra­verse with Alex Hon­nold, a num­ber of oth­er climbs, includ­ing the sec­ond-ascent of Psy­cho Ver­ti­cal, a direct line on Torre Egger, have made the 2016 sea­son one of the most mem­o­rable in years. In Patag­o­nia, where the con­di­tions are favor­able but the weath­er wild­ly unpre­dictable, these are some of the high­lights of a superb South Amer­i­can alpine season.

Psy­cho Ver­ti­cal on Torre Egger
The 950-meter over­hang­ing face of Torre Egger saw its first ascent on Decem­ber 7, 1986 by Janez Jeglic, Sil­vo Karo, and Franc Knez, a trio of Slovenia’s finest alpin­ists. The daunt­ing wall, grad­ed 5.10b, VII, A3, didn’t see anoth­er suc­cess­ful climb until 2016, when a mixed Ital­ian-Aus­tri­an team of Kor­ra Pesce and Roland Striemitzer linked with the Argen­tine team of Tomy Agui­lo, Ina­ki Cous­sir­at and Car­l­i­tos Moli­na, put up the sec­ond ascent.

The sec­ond ascent was also, extra­or­di­nar­i­ly, the first in a fast and light alpine style. After the Slovenian’s land­mark climb in 1986 via a series of fixed ropes and camps, Karo remarked, “Some day, the routes may be climbed free, solo, and in one day.”

The line is a diretis­si­ma, a direct route across the South Face. It starts by ascend­ing a steep gul­ly, through cracks to a long over­hang­ing dihe­dral lead­ing to the sum­mit. While the two teams were ini­tial­ly vying for the sec­ond ascent sep­a­rate­ly, they real­ized it would be much less time-con­sum­ing to climb togeth­er, set­ting ropes for each oth­er over dif­fi­cult aid pitch­es where they had to sweep the cracks of rime-ice and ver­glas before shar­ing a nar­row bivy ledge below the final pitches.

With steady weath­er, they set out for the sum­mit on Jan. 9. They sum­mit­ed at 10 p.m., spent the night on top and rap­pelled in the morn­ing. Their sec­ond ascent was not only a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of mod­ern and fast alpin­ism, but a demon­stra­tion of uni­ty towards a com­mon goal.


Car-to-Car Speed Climb on Fitz-Roy and Cer­ro Torre Solo
On Jan. 21, Amer­i­cans Col­in Haley and Andy Wyatt smashed the Fitz-Roy speed record with a 21-hour car-to-car ascent via the Super­canale­ta, fea­tur­ing mixed climb­ing, ice, snow and glac­i­er trav­el. It was Haley’s tenth ascent and Wyatt’s first. Start­ing just out­side of El Chal­ten, the two wore trail run­ners all the way to the bergschrund, switch­ing to climb­ing boots on the edge of the glac­i­er, then simul-climb­ing much of the mixed rock and ice in the low­er and mid­dle portions.

They reached the sum­mit in just over sev­en hours. Ten days lat­er, Haley marked the first solo on Cer­ro Torre. Rope-solo­ing many of the hard­er pitch­es, he self-rap­pelled down the notch between Torre Egger and its sub-sum­mit, Pun­ta Her­ron, then topped out on Egger just after 5 p.m. On the rap­pel, Haley had to spend sev­er­al hours free­ing his trapped rope before con­tin­u­ing unin­ter­rupt­ed to the base.


The One-Day Torre Traverse
It was an excep­tion­al sea­son for Haley who, along with Alex Hon­nold, tack­led the Torre Tra­verse in just under 21 hours on Jan. 31, a feat that had pre­vi­ous­ly tak­en Haley and Rolan­do Gari­bot­ti four days. Start­ing with Cer­ro Stand­hardt, the duo tra­versed Pun­ta Her­ron, Torre Egger and Cer­ro Torre rap­pelling back to the glac­i­er via the Com­pres­sor Route.

Hon­nold and Haley had pre­vi­ous­ly attempt­ed the route in 2015, on the heels of Honnold’s suc­cess on the Fitz Tra­verse with Tom­my Cald­well. Only a cou­ple of pitch­es from the sum­mit, Hon­nold and Haley were forced to retreat in a rapid­ly build­ing storm. Dur­ing their suc­cess­ful sin­gle day ascent, Hon­nold and Haley faced wet blocks of rock and run­ning water, mak­ing the climb­ing slow and ardu­ous. It was Honnold’s first sum­mit of Cer­ro Torre and Haley’s eighth, his sec­ond of the season.

Rid­ing the high of their ascent, six days lat­er the ris­ing Patag­o­nia stars marked the 21-hour sec­ond ascent, and first one-day ascent of Wave Effect, a linkup of Agjua Desmocha­da, Agjua de la Sil­la and Fitz Roy, pre­vi­ous­ly climbed over a peri­od of four days in 2011.