Will Gadd – Athlete, Speaker, Guide     Athlete     Speaker     Guide    
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Three Drytooling tips, one ice tip

Date: 4th January 2014

Moonlight guiding 2013-7851

A guest getting it done in full conditions on Moonlight, CDN rockies.

Drytooling is suddenly hot again. New crags, new tools, new attitudes, it’s definitely going off in a way I haven’t seen in a decade. I’m getting a lot of email from people asking questions. The following are distilled replies, and principles I teach when coaching:

Keep your tool at a constant “90-90-90″ as you pull on it.

Overview: Remember that in drytooling the “Hold” is NOT the handle of your tool, but what the pick is resting on, and that the pull has to be constant and in line with the hold for it to all work.

Shaft 90 to the “horizontal” Axis: What this means is that the shaft of your tool should always be 90 degrees to the horizontal axis of the hold when looked at from straight behind the tool. Most edges aren’t flat lines parallel with the ground, but lines at some angle. For the tool not to skate the pull has to come at 90 degrees to the axis of the edge or feature you’re using. Picture a an edge angled at 45-degrees from upper left to lower right; The shaft should be at 90 degrees to this edge, or at the same angle as the edge you’re using. Keep this angle by positioning your body so the pull is constant all the way through the move. Really sketchy holds require a lot of body tension to hold the shaft of the tool steady.

Pick 90 on the “roll” axis measured along the shaft: The pick should also be at 90 degrees to the axis of the hold when looking at it straight down from above (or at 90 degrees to the axis of the hold). If you let your wrist “relax” while drytooling the pick will tend to flop (roll) to the side relative to to the hold, and the pick will blow off.

Pull 90 down, or as close to it as you can get compared to the front to back axis of the hold. The more you pull out toward your face instead of down or toward your waist the more the pick will tend to skate unless the head of the tool is solidly cammed in a stein pull. This means that on lower-angle terrain big moves are often done more as “presses” than “pulls.” On very bad holds on steep terrain this may mean keeping tension on the tool by bicycling your feet on a feature. It also explains why when we cut loose and swing onto a pick it often blows as our feet swing out, but then we can hang the hold easily off the rope–our weight is pulling straight down.

If you take a hold and then keep it “999ed” while using it then your tools won’t generally blow. Let the tool/pull fall out of that 999 position and it will often blow. If you review video of people in comps who fell off for “odd” reasons their tools almost always fall out of alignment before the person falls off. Same with drytooling on real rock. Interestingly, really thin ice climbing basically becomes drytooling, and the same principles apply.

Keep your hands open (when ice or mixed climbing):

If you look at pictures or videos of good mixed or ice climbers climbing with tools in hand their thumbs are almost always open unless they are in a big roof or something. With modern leash less tools you can almost always relax your hand to a “thumbs open” position after swinging or connecting with a hold (full-weight figure fours are an exception). Really… Most novices and even experienced climbers can hang on a lot longer when I get them to relax their hands and open their thumbs.

Fear is the mind-killer

I have a friend who has less than 50 percent function in one hand, works way too much to be fit, and generally shouldn’t be able to dry tool harder than about M8 (he is a good climber). The reason he recently sent a couple of solid M10s is that he climbs with no fear, no hesitation, and no internal body tension holding him back. He just keeps it all 999ed and goes for it. I climb with other people who are insanely strong but can’t hang on for more than a few moves. They are afraid. Sometimes I’m afraid. Drytooling is sort of unnatural, awkward and often downright weird, and that leads to fear. Trusting your tools involves relaxing, focusing on the required movement, and being OK with taking the spinning nasty falls that often result when a tool blows. My friend says something along the lines of, “I ask myself if I’m ready to send tools flying, fall upside down head-first toward the ground, get yanked around. Am I?” His answer is almost always yes, and if we could all be him we’d all climb way harder. He isn’t a fool, he takes safety seriously and only goes for it when it’s safe to do so, but he GOES for it then in a way most of us can only dream of.

One ice climbing Tip:

How level a climber keeps his or her feet while climbing is the fastest way for me to tell how experienced an ice climber is. If his or her feet are unequal vertically when they could easily be equal (not a skinny pillar or something) then he or she either got caught in a rare bad move or doesn’t truly understand efficient ice climbing. Many “good” ice climbers get up routes with strength, aggression and determination (I did for years). But, like a good skier, good ice climbers have a pretty consistent technique now. Here’s a photo that could be any novice ice climber, and there’s a lot going on there that’s inefficient (his technique got a lot better by the end of the day!), but the feet are a fast give-way of where he is in his climbing experience arc. If your feet are unequal then one tends to come off as you stand up, which makes you too unstable to be comfortable, which cuts down on vertical distance between tools, which tends to make you place tools closer together, which makes you get stuck between them and get stuck tools, etc. etc… Level feet drive basic ice movement. Try doing anything athletic in life with your feet at different vertical levels; we’re not built to do that well. Lift a rock, return a tennis serve, ski well, fight well, squat, swing a pick axe, ya goth be stable, be “both feet on the ground.” Something to think about.

Staggered Feet-7407


Posted in: Blog


  1. Joe   January 6, 2014 6:31 am

    Nice topic Will, you have put words to intuitive action. Much appreciated

  2. Matt   January 10, 2014 11:26 am

    Nicely done, Will. Extremely helpful…

  3. Dave   January 15, 2014 4:10 pm

    Thanks for the great advise. I think I understood the 90 90 90 description but is there a way to make it visual. Maybe line drawing or something.

  4. Jason Stuckey   February 7, 2014 4:37 pm

    Thanks for the post Will, always super informative.

  5. Alex   February 18, 2014 3:03 pm

    Well done Bro – a great Tips, as usual

  6. Andy W   December 1, 2015 10:56 am

    I have a question about the ice tip.

    I’m not sure I am understanding that exactly. I’ve been alternating my foot placements similar to walking up steps or runs of a ladder, same thing with my tool placements.

    Using a ladder as an analogy, it sounds like you are advocating putting both feet on the same rung of the ladder as you move up.

    Is that what you are saying?

    I’ll have to give that a try.

  7. Die Another Day: Learning to drytool and competing at Smuggs Ice Bash 2016 | AnnaOutdoors   February 8, 2016 9:28 pm

    […] back at the area with Peter working on keeping my picks “999ed,” (I picked this nugget up from Will Gadd’s blog by googling “tips for dry tooling and not dying”) and trying unsuccessfully to get my leg up […]

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