Pick-Up Sticks

Apr 1, 2005
Outside Magazine
Jared Ogden

NOODLING AROUND: Ogden digs in.

THIS SUMMER, CLIMBERS Jared Ogden, 33, and Ryan Nelson, 25, hope to complete a new route up the 3,000-foot east face of Alaska's Mount Barrille. Although the Durango, Colorado, residents are expecting only dry rock, they're packing ice axes to "dry-tool" over any mirror-smooth granite pitches. Translation: They'll use the picks to hook dime-size dimples too small for fingers.

Sound like a strange choice? It is. Climbers have long used bolts and mechanical aids on impossibly blank sections of wall, and in the 1990s "mixed climbing" stars like Canmore, Alberta–based Will Gadd began crossing from ice to rock and back without changing equipment. Depending on ice tools to ascend pure, dry rock, however, is a radical development—akin to Bob Dylan plugging in an electric guitar at the '65 Newport Folk Festival.

But it works. Last spring, Ogden and Nelson tooled their way up Hallucinogen Wall, an aid route in Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Now some Yosemite climbers are talking about mimicking the technique. "It's an evolutionary step," says renowned alpinist Mark Twight, "for those able to see it."

Not everyone can. Purists bemoan damage to rock faces, while others, including Twight, fear that weaker climbers might start swinging axes on routes that can be done by hand. "That's the last thing we want to see," Ogden says. "This is just another tool."

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