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What is drytooling?

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What is drytooling and what is has in common with iceclimbing?

Drytooling in mountaineering vocabulary is the definition of a climbing activity (training) using iceclimbing equipment on the non-ice vertical surfaces - rocks, climbing walls, engineering structures.

Climbing on a “drytooling-drome” - a special design for climbing with climbing equipment. Moscow, Russia
Climbing on a “drytooling-drome” - a special design for climbing with climbing equipment. Moscow, Russia

Iceclimbing is a beautiful, but rather quite specific type of climbing activity, little known outside the mountaineering community. However, even in this sport, more strange and exotic forms of activities have found their place. One of these highly specialized forms of iceclimbing is called drytooling. The nature of this activity can be defined as climbing with ice equipment on the non-ice surfaces or on any verticals and structures not intended for this purpose.

Climbing with iceclimbing equipment to a frozen water pump
Climbing with iceclimbing equipment to a frozen water pump

As an extreme climbing activity, drytooling has very limited value in general.

The benefit of climbing with iceequipment on the rocky or artificial terrain can only be that on certain alpine climbing routes there may be obstacles to be overcome using iceclimbing equipment. For example, these can be steep icy cliffs, mixed snow-ice-rock terrain in different variations.

Practicing drytooling techniques in a special climbing sector in the Rjukan area, Norway
Practicing drytooling techniques in a special climbing sector in the Rjukan area, Norway

However, it is clear that in recreational mountaineering in the broad sense of the word, such technical obstacles are so rare that they do not require any form of special training.

For the beginners in mountaineering, drytooling is the same as learning to do a “police turn” for those who don’t know how to drive a car – a special skill that is unlikely to be needed even when they get their driving license….

Drytooling training for beginners is a very dubious know-how from mediocre organizers. The photo shows a cumulative violation of all mountaineering safety standards
Drytooling training for beginners is a very dubious know-how from mediocre organizers. The photo shows a cumulative violation of all mountaineering safety standards

Some local popularity of drytooling among the climbing community can be explained, first of all, by the lack of accessible facilities for iceclimbing. In this case, drytooling is promoted as an alternative form of iceclimbing training. Although, this does not work in this way.

Iceclimbing training on an abandoned icy water pump
Iceclimbing training on an abandoned icy water pump

Another reason for the “popularity” of drytooling may be explained by the activity of local mountaineering equipment sellers. To expand their own sales market for special iceclimbing equipment, some distributors support the development of the areas that can provide new consumers for their goods. Without deep thought about the practical benefits or harm of these activities.

Drytooling competitions supported by local mountaineering equipment sellers
Drytooling competitions supported by local mountaineering equipment sellers

In relation to drytooling, I can say that the benefit of this type of mountaineering training can only be gained by very few professional climbers. At the stages of special preparation for difficult technical mountain climbs, there may be a need for specific skills - climbing with an ice ax and crampons on the ice-free surfaces. However, this is a very special and rare case when drytooling makes some sense.

Mixed climbing route of the highest category of difficulty in Norway - exotic kind of mountaineering - climbing with an ice ax and crampons on icy rocks
Mixed climbing route of the highest category of difficulty in Norway - exotic kind of mountaineering - climbing with an ice ax and crampons on icy rocks

People who reach this level in mountaineering usually have a good understanding of the reason for their actions, especially where they can and cannot to dry-tool.

It is a misconception that drytooling helps develop classic iceclimbing skills.

Classical iceclimbing requires the development of completely different qualities - the ability to use a fragile ice surface for support, the ability to coordinate and calculate the impact force of an ice tool, the ability to distribute the load on the support depending on the structure of the ice, and so on.

None of these iceclimbing skills can be developed in drytooling training in the absence of ice - neither on rocks nor on special holds.

Drytooling training on the rocks of an abandoned quarry. By the way, the nature of this terrain generally excludes the possibility of safe climbing
Drytooling training on the rocks of an abandoned quarry. By the way, the nature of this terrain generally excludes the possibility of safe climbing

I will repeat once again that I consider the main thesis of this text - there is no benefit from drytooling for a wide climbing audience. But there is absolutely obvious harm. Irresponsible promotion of climbing with ice axes anywhere other than ice leads to various negative consequences.

First - for the climbers themselves. During drytooling, the kind of equipment is used that is not intended for alternative use - crampons and ice axes. This equipment has sharp ends that pose a high danger to the climber in case of uncontrolled falls. For this reason, during drytooling there is a very high probability of self-injury.

При невысоком уровне контроля над движением в драйтулинге очень высока вероятность само ранения
With a low level of control over movement in drytooling, the probability of self-injury is very high

In addition, damage is caused to the iceclimbing gear used for drytooling training. Neither crampons nor ice axes are intended for use on the surfaces denser than ice. When used for drytooling, expensive iceclimbing equipment quickly wears out and becomes unusable. Crampons and ice axes have to be sharpened again, and each sharpening reduces the quality of the equipment and its strength.

High-quality iceclimbing equipment quickly becomes unusable when used on rocky terrain.
High-quality iceclimbing equipment quickly becomes unusable when used on rocky terrain.

Unfortunately, it is necessary to note one more side of drytooling, which negatively affects the image of this sport and, in general, the image of the entire iceclimbing community.

Irresponsible propaganda of drytooling to a wide audience leads to the fact that the most active “lovers” of climbing with an ice ax begin to do it in places where it is completely unacceptable.

Climbing limestone rocks with iceclimbing equipment is not the best form of interaction with the nature
Climbing limestone rocks with iceclimbing equipment is not the best form of interaction with the nature

For example, doing climbing with ice gear on the engineering structures, rockclimbing walls or equipped rockclimbing routes on the natural terrain. Causing a lot of harm and damage to structures and surfaces. In fact, practicing drytooling outside a clearly limited and specially equipped space for drytooling can be called vandalism. Many quality rockclimbing routes have been mutilated and left unclimbable by vandals with ice axes.

Traces of vandals with ice axes on rock climbing routes in Georgia
Traces of vandals with ice axes on rock climbing routes in Georgia

Limestone rocks break easily when climbed with ice tools. The holds break and crumble, the route becomes unsuitable for rockclimbing.

There are many examples that can be given, but the summary of this text is not how bad and harmful drytooling is.

This is a completely necessary and useful activity for its own purpose. But any attempts to instill the idea of “universality of drytooling” are harmful and dangerous populism. This popularization leads to the fact that an exceptionally beautiful, aesthetic outdoor sport - iceclimbing - turns in the eyes of general public into an ugly scarecrow called "drytooling" which by no means is the same as iceclimbing.

Understand the difference and don’t confuse drytooling with iceclimbing!
Understand the difference and don’t confuse drytooling with iceclimbing!

In conclusion, I would like to add that in order to feel and understand in full the beauty of iceclimbing, you need to try real ice of cascades or glaciers. Without this subtle feeling, no amount of drytooling, pseudo iceclimbing on the frozen water pumps or artificial ice towers gives even a remote idea of the whole range of feelings and experiences that gives every minute spent on the natural ice of frozen waterfalls!

Really a very rare thing - an official natural sector for drytooling. Rjukan, Norway. The rocks are granite, the proximity of the river makes this location unsuitable for rockclimbing, but accessible for climbing with ice equipment.
Really a very rare thing - an official natural sector for drytooling. Rjukan, Norway. The rocks are granite, the proximity of the river makes this location unsuitable for rockclimbing, but accessible for climbing with ice equipment.

The author of the iceclimbing programs, texts and photos - Alex Trubachev

Your guide to mountaineering, iceclimbing and rockclimbing

MCS EDIT 2023

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