The manufacture and sale of artificial rock-climbing holds is a small industry and one of those esoteric tiny areas of dedicated people and passionate companies that makes the outdoors world so neat. An even tinier niche focuses on artificial holds and bolt-on-the-wall mediums to simulate frozen-waterfall ice climbing.
This year, Off-Belay LLC of Woodbridge, Calif., made another go at the unlikely product category with its IceHoldz line of permeable plastic holds. You can swing an ice ax into the holds or step and kick in with crampon spikes.
The holds work with a proprietary composite plastic shell that's filled with a rubbery material. The plastic shell is about 1/4-inch thick, meaning you need to penetrate the smooth medium and get your ax pick or crampon front-point inside to stick.
The goal is to mimic the properties of real ice. Nooks and crannies on each IceHoldz product also allow for hooking and dry-tool training without penetrating the shell.
Years ago, I trained for ice climbing via dry tooling on wood strips screwed on a plywood wall. One year, Midwest Mountaineering, an outdoors shop in Minneapolis, opened a tall climbing wall to the public. It was covered with a dense foam that would take ice ax swings and could support body weight. Swing too hard, however, and the ax was almost impossible to remove.
The IceHoldz line looks like a significant upgrade to jerry-rigged systems of yore. You can use the outer shell of an IceHoldz for months or years before it wears out, according to the company. Then, when you're in need, the outer shell can be shipped back to Off-Belay LLC for recycling and replacement. (There is a discounted fee to replace used shells.)
I swung an ax into an IceHoldz at the Outdoor Retailer trade show this past summer. The pick stuck solidly and the experience seemed natural enough for teaching the sport indoors or for training.
Off-Belay LLC has a neat offering with its IceHoldz line. Now, if the company could add falling ice chunks, numb fingers, and temps dredging to 20-below zero, well, then the sport would truly be simulated indoors.
Available for about $15 apiece. www.iceholdz.com
--Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.