Tricky Time

Tracking an Ice Fall

Feb 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

This way up: Will Gadd tracks his way up Cascade Waterfall in Banff National Park, Alberta.

CANADIAN ICE MONKEY Will Gadd, 35, used to climb the old-fashioned way—swinging one ice ax overhead and throwing the next ax right beside it—essentially swinging twice to move once. But then he asked himself: Why not place each ax above the one thrown previously? Shazam! Gadd, with help from his fellow climbing pals, perfected the method and christened it "tracking."

"Tracking cuts your total number of placements in half," says Gadd, who last year was the first ice climber to scale an M12 pitch—it involved surmounting a 30-foot-long ceiling and then a ten-foot-long icicle found outside Banff. The technique, which requires a fair amount of rotational core strength and leg muscle, goes like this: 1) Place your right ax in the ice above your head, at arm's length and in line with your right shoulder. Hang straight-armed from this secured tool and then step up with both feet into a half crouch. You should have one foot to the left of an imaginary line running straight down from your high tool, and the other foot to the right. 2) Eyeball a spot above your left shoulder, about a foot higher than your right tool, for your next placement. Push up with your legs and pull yourself up with your right arm, using the lower tool in your left hand for balance and additional push. 3) Aggressively remove the left ax by pulling up on it like a pump handle and place it solidly above you in your predetermined spot. Now hang straight-armed from the high tool, move your feet up and under the new high placement, and repeat to the top.