Outdoor Adventure: Ice, Mixed & Dry/Tool Climbing

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Human powered action sports or human powered alternative sports, are usually characterized by high speeds and high risk. These sports can include; mountain biking, BMX, skiing, skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, base-jumping and kite-boarding. Climbing, which can be added to this category, usually moves at slower speeds but holds just as intense risks and rewards.

Climbing in general can be divided into several broad categories including; aid climbing, bouldering, sport climbing, trad climbing, ice climbing, mixed climbing, alpine climbing and mountaineering. Out of all of these different disciplines of climbing, ice climbing and its accompanying sub-genres of mixed climbing and dry-tooling are perhaps the most esoteric.

Ice climbing (ascending frozen waterfalls or frozen seeps flowing out the side of a cliff) mixed climbing (ascending frozen waterfalls or frozen seeps interspersed with sections of bare rock with no ice) and dry-tooling (ascending the sides of a cliff or cave with no ice but dry rock only) are done with 2 short-handled ice axes, ice climbing specific boots, crampons and sometimes rock climbing shoes.

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The Grand Universal Theory of Climbing states that in order to get to the top of the mountain or cliff we may need to employ all of the techniques these disciplines entail. Climbing mountains may be the end-all be-all for many vertical outdoor enthusiasts, however, there is an entirely different subset of climbers who train each of these disciplines separately and have little to no desire to summit large mountains.

With this in mind, indoor rock climbing gyms have become wildly popular as a training ground for rock climbers to perfect their technique indoors and then take their honed physical skills to the next level by learning to climb outside. The indoor environment is controlled and sets a good safety foundation for new climbers as well as allowing for rapid development of strength and climbing technique. However, because the outdoor environment demands a deeper level of attention to safety and training, it is critical that climbers transitioning from indoors to outdoors seek qualified instruction.

In order for this to happen there needs to be a way to teach and develop climbers that are competent and confident in climbing ice, mixed and dry-tool routes. Utah’s first and currently only drytooling facility, The Scratch Pad, is also dedicated to teaching outdoor dry-tooling year round as well as outdoor ice and mixed climbing during the winter months, usually November to March. The facility has a series of classes, free clinics, trips and meet-ups that run year round.

Climbers honing their indoor dry-tooling skills at The Scratch Pad, in Orem.

The Scratch Pad is similar to other indoor gyms in that they allow the use of rock climbing shoes, harnesses and belay devices; but they also allow the climbers to use ice tools on the holds. This unique set up allows new and experienced ice climbers, mixed climbers and dry-toolers to practice in a safe, controlled environment and then go outside and apply their new technical and safety skills.

Utah is unique in that there is year round climbing in every part of the state and the average climber can spend a lifetime exploring the vertical environments, applying the skills of sport climbing, traditional climbing, ice climbing, mixed climbing, dry-tooling, mountaineering and alpine climbing.

Our state has long been a hot-bed of climbing talent and will continue to produce world-class climbing athletes. Many of these athletes have honed their skills in Utah’s gyms, local crags and mountain ranges and then traveled the world exploring already established routes, smashing existing speed records on cliffs and mountains or done first-ascents of new climbing routes that they discovered.

The inherently healthy lifestyle that climbing demands is great at producing self-reliant, happy and strong humans. Utah’s active outdoor scene has plenty of beautiful locations to travel to and many local crags and mountains to hike to quickly after work. MountainProject.com is a great reference for discovering rock, ice, mixed and dry-tooling routes here in Utah and throughout the United States.

To get started this season with ice climbing, mixed climbing or dry-tooling check out the classes, clinics and meetups at climbthescratchpad.com They have a spot waiting for you as you begin this wild and wonderful journey of fun, fitness and adventure.

Publishers Note: Owing to the great diversity of outdoor activities and locations, our new Outdoor Adventure page will begin appearing as a monthly feature. 

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