Route setting & RSA accreditation About Drytooling Route setting & RSA accreditation

What is drytooling?

Drytooling is the use of axes and crampons to cross ground that does not contain any snow or ice. Originating on Canadian winter routes where sections of rock had to be crossed in order to link icicles or ice smears, a series of techniques were developed that have now allowed it to become a sport in its own right. Techniques such as 'Stein pulls', 'short tooling' and figures of 'four' and 'nine' are but some of the ways that ground is ascended or traversed. Climbing leashless is the order of the day, which gives the ability to swap tools from hand to hand (essential on many moves), let go to 'shake out', etc.

Indoor drytooling

Drytooling indoors is becoming a growing sport in its own right. More and more climbing facilities are starting to offer tooling sessions, workshops and competitions as the number of climbers looking for alternative ways of training increases. Drytooling gives a completely different climbing experience, using selective muscle groups without being hard on finger tendons and pulleys.

The techniques are very commonly practised on artificial climbing walls, and here crampons are normally never used. A pair of axes, gloves, a helmet and eye protection are all that are needed. The axes are used on either normal bolt-on or screw-on climbing holds, commonly with a linoleum backing to prevent damage to the climbing wall surface, or specific dry tooling holds can be used. Routes are most commonly bottom-roped so that there is no chance of the climber falling any distance when holding axes.

As axes are 'leashless', that is without any connection to the climber's hand should they drop one, the area immediately below a dry tooling rote will normally be taped off so that no-one can get injured. Signs will warn anyone stepping into the taped area that a helmet must be worn.

The indoor climbing environment lends itself to spectators. Dry tooling is a great event to watch, and being indoors is not weather dependent.

One or two facilities have artificial walls outside, where crampons may be worn. This mimics the true climbing style of dry tooling on routes and allows for very delicate footwork. Due to the harsh nature of crampons on the structure, some scratching and damage will inevitably occur, which is why stone towers are more commonly used for these techniques. The best known are the granite towers at Glenmore Lodge near Aviemore, which is one of the venues hosting the Scottish Tooling series.

Outdoor drytooling

There are a number of crags across the UK where drytooling can take place as a sport in its own right. However, great care must be taken when choosing a crag to climb on, and participants must make sure that the local ethic is for drytooling to take place. It would be disastrous for both the crag and the climbing community in general if areas that are traditionally purely rock climbing venues were used for drytooling, particularly by climbers who have not thought through the consequences. We, nor any other reputable drytoolers, would ever advocate tooling on established rock routes.

There is also the ethical question of tooling on rock climbs in the mountains under winter conditions. Although many routes exist where snow and ice are not key to success, rather a skill in climbing with axes and crampons on rock alone, these are often not established summer climbs. Bear in mind that axes and crampons do damage the rock, so their use on winter versions of summer routes should be thought through carefully.

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