March 15, 2022

What is Dry Tooling? And Why Do People Do It?

by Brad

In climbing, dry tooling refers to the type of rock climbing where ice axes are the tools that climbers use to ease the climbing of rocks that are not covered in ice or snow. Dry tooling originated from mixed climbing, ice climbing, and, in recent days, sport climbing.

Its unique nature attracts controversy amongst climbers, with some preferring it for being new and exciting. In contrast, those who oppose it claim that it employs non-traditional techniques and permanently destroys soft rock formations.


Table of Contents

The History of Dry Tooling Climbing

Typically, this type of rock climbing has been finding prominence amongst climbers in recent days.

However, unlike rock climbing, dry tooling involves balancing and supportive equipment hooked on icy rocks to enhance their climbing. As a result, ascending the rocks is relatively easier.

Initially, this climbing style enabled climbers to exercise during the offseason.

It has its inherent merits, the central being enabling the climber to have a great ulna work-out and allowing them to do exercises balancing on sketchy footholds and delicate ax placements.

The History of Dry Tooling Climbing

It was until the 1990s that dry tooling, as a type of climbing, found significance when Jeff Lowe reformed mixed climbing with the climb of Octopussy M8. 

Afterward, climbers would find the art in which climbers would scale sheer pieces of rock with their ice ascending tools.

The discovery would be the beginning point of the amazing sport.

However, even with the discovery, this climbing technique is not as popular as most other climbing styles, such as mixed climbing, ice, or rock climbing.

Its prominence amongst followers is quite limited compared to the latter, perhaps due to its slight differences from the rest.

In essence, more fans and adventures of rock climbing seem to veer to other climbing sports than dry tooling. 

Dry Tooling vs. Ice Climbing

Dry tooling compares to ice climbing to a certain degree. To begin with, it is the best alternative when a climber intends to ascend on the ice without relying on a frozen waterfall.

The climber places their body mass on an ax attached to a minuscule ledge or rock while exercising extra caution with their movement. Failure to exercise caution may cause the climber to fall.

For instance, tilting the ax in the opposite direction, shifting it from one side to another, or pulling it through the contrary direction are some of the leading causes of climbers falling.

It’s also compared with ice climbing in that it is not as risky. Typically, there are limited chances of the legs getting fastened on the ice when crumbling, making falling while dry tooling is safer than some climbing styles.

Climbers generally experience safe falls, a knowledge that empowers them to push to their limits when mounting.

Dry Tooling vs. Rock Climbing

A closer perspective on dry tooling indicates that it has quite a couple of dissimilarities with rock towering. Unlike the latter, the dry tooling utilizes some methods that are only particular to it, as indicated in the following excerpt.

  • Stein: These are involved in flipping the ax inverted and wedging it under the rock underneath.  
  • Torques: This involves using the ax during which the climber jams it into a crack, twists it, and wedges it in a manner that compares to using the handjam. It is, however, not very painful.
  • Figure 4s and 9s: Boulderers often utilize them as an amalgamation of ice climbing and mixed climbing maneuvers. However, the climbing style has its origins in ice towering.

Dry Tooling vs. Mixed Climbing

Typically, mixed climbing resembles dry tooling to a great degree. However, it is unlike dry tooling because the climber worries significantly about veering on and off the ice.

As such, mixed climbing has more difficulty and dangers than dry tooling. A common aspect is their climbing skills, which compare significantly.

The skills used in dry tooling were also employed in mixed climbing, with many climbers practicing dry tooling when mixed climbing.

Why Do Rock Climbers Do Dry Tooling?

Climbers all over the globe find themselves inquisitive over the motivating reasons for learning dry tooling when it appears like a relatively absurd sport.

Initially, most of them seem to wonder why some climbers would prefer to engage in dry tooling than other more popular climbing styles (mixed, ice, and rock climbing sports).

There are, however, unlimited elements of dry tooling that make it quite interesting.

For Training

The outstanding certainty is that the sport began as a technique employed working out. It is still the most probable reason why several people exercise dry tooling.

When looking at ice climbing, there is no ultimate alternative to a great dry tooling session, and a climber has to work on every aspect:  

  • Holding the axes for about ten minutes helps build the anaerobic muscles that play a significant role when climbing long ice routes
  • Keeping the axes counterbalanced on small handholds plays a critical role in developing a climber’s progress, and tendon recognition are vital for ascending ice.
  • Enables to master to count on gear replacements on ice when a climber fails to touch the rock they are climbing.

These are some of the reasons that are at the center of rigorous engagement of most people in dry tooling during the summertime when there is no ice to ascend. Simultaneously, it helps to maintain their climbing skills and strength. 

Dry tooling also plays a paramount role in mixed and alpine climbing routes because the ice tools are not essential.

Furthermore, mountaineering also requires dry tooling exercise since rock climbing is pretty hard when someone is on their climbing gear (gloves and boots). Be sure to read about the difference between mountaineering and mountain climbing.

Finally, another significant role of dry tooling is that it helps to hone the climbing skills in good time before the alpine, mountain, and mixed climbers can engage in their climbing adventures.

Typically, mixed climbing utilizes about fifty percent of dry tooling skills.

For Recreation

Having mentioned that at the core of the technique is the training significance, several people use dry tooling for fun.

Such drive fun from the sport’s challenges and benefits, with the highly entertaining elements of dry tooling being the motivation. 

When engaging in dry tooling climbing for recreation purposes, the parties involved can learn various interesting moves, including the many mentioned above. 

At the same time, the individual gets to challenge themselves on aspects they may not have known beforehand.

Such people tend to drive their pleasure from the fun and the challenges in equal measure even as they push their bodies to newer limits.

Dry Tooling Competition

Dry tooling is a climbing style that has elicited a raise in criterion and heightened the need for championships on ambition-built ascending structures.

The championships were the climbing technique, mixed climbing on fabricated lineaments, resin climbing, holds, and bicycle frames.

A championship is an event that occurs in several places throughout the globe. The most notable dry tooling event was the Glasgow, Scotland event 2003, during which the World’s First Indoor Dry Tooling Championship occurred.

The championships have continued to evolve in the United Kingdom, having undergone critical transformations from 2008 to 2013. Presently, they occur as the British Tooling Series and Scottish Mixed Masters.

Dry Tooling Equipment

The style employs a range of equipment, including a couple of ice axes, paired with rock climbing shoes and crampons for mixed climbing.

There has been a great transformation in the dry tooling equipment use, which arises from the championships. 

This has resulted in leash-less ice axes and boots that have lightweight, in addition to containing integral crampons.

It is worth noting that the wintertime ascending society has mostly influenced the transformations.

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What are the Venues where Dry Tooling Climbing is Practiced?

Once a climber exercises in dry tooling, they find the style quite interesting. Furthermore, its popularity is related to its use for training in most other climbing styles and recreational purposes.

Some areas where dry tooling is quite prominent include Ouray in Colorado. Ouray is quite a notable place since present-day mixed-ice ascending also has its origins here.

In addition, there are a couple of other areas where dry tooling is quite popular in Europe, including Zinal and Kandersteg.

People interested in dry tooling within Europe may also ascend in more dry tooling ascending avenues found in the UK.

Is There Indoor Dry Tooling?

There are several indoor climbing gyms that are providing their services to both clients and walk-in customers in recent days.

This intriguing strategy has also found a home with dry tooling climbing. Since its inception in indoor climbing, dry tooling has found great preference by people who may not have had experience with alpine climbing.

Is There Indoor Dry Tooling

In recent years, the style has begun using specialized ice axes which contained loops made from rubber rather than the former, which consisted of sharp picks.

The rubber loops are more significant since they’re not destructive as the former. At the same time, they are not a risk threat to the climbers. 

Furthermore, the rubber loops are more beneficial to climbers, who can now conveniently climb beside each other.

These improved tools are termed Dry. Ice tools while the youth-sized ones are termed Icicles.

What are the Most Significant Ascents in Dry Tooling Climbing?

Some of the most significant ascents in dry tooling climbing are listed below.

  • Octopussy (M8) – CO
  • Fatman and Robin (M9) – CO 
  • Musashi (M12) – CA  
  • Law and Order (M13) – AU  
  • Powerdab (M13) – UK

How Do You Dry Tooling?

Typically, dry tooling is a climbing sport where the climber uses ice equipment (often called axes) and rock shoes or crampons to climb the faces of rocks. The process of dry tooling involves the steps listed below.  

  • Keeping the climbing tool placement down as one ascends up: The climbing tools typically rely on a 90 degree shaft orientation to the horizontal axis of the rock hold. As such, a climber must maintain the tool in that position as they ascend the rock. Changing the position of the tool will mostly make it fall.   
  • Appropriate fear management: Dry tooling climbing is often accompanied by fear in most cases. Climbers have to counter fear by surmounting sufficient mental strength to overcome the fear and continue ascending.
  • Have a relaxed mood: It is vital to maintain a relaxed mood while climbing as it will help the climber to focus on overcoming the challenges involved with every rise.

Other vital things that one can do to dry tools successively include watching other climbers, using rock shoes, and avoiding leashes.

Does Dry Tooling Damage the Rock?

Yes, dry tooling damages rocks. When dry tooling, the damages increase since the axes and crampon’s teeth bite into the rock and pull some off the surface when climbing.

Is Dry Tooling Hard?

There is a great debate over whether dry tooling is easier or more difficult than other types of climbing. Proponents claim that dry tooling equipment makes it easier, while the opponents attribute it to making the sport more difficult.

Is Dry Tooling a Part of Mixed Climbing?

Mixed climbing is a style of dry tooling climbing that is more complex and difficult. Typically, the climber ascends more established routes while the rocks are already scratched. Furthermore, the worry for blowback common in dry tooling is eradicated with mixed climbing.

Tips for Safe Dry Tooling Climbing

Every kind of climbing requires thorough knowledge and skills to hack through the climb and emerge successfully. The following list consists of safe, dry tooling climbing.

  • It is vital to engage in dry tooling with someone who has some expertise. This is significant in helping someone learn how to climb, including offering guidance on leading routes, setting up a top rope, and providing essential climbing techniques.
  • Bring a guide along. There are limited companies that provide courses related to dry tooling. It is, however, vital to bring a guide who can direct on various climbing aspects of a particular route.
  • Acquire the right climbing tools. It is paramount to have all the essential climbing gear and equipment when going for dry tooling. These can be outsourced by purchasing, renting, or borrowing from stores or friends. Note that numerous climbing gear stores rent the climbing equipment at affordable prices.

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About the author 

Brad

Brad is a professional climber in the discipline of traditional climbing. He often jokes that he can get a book to read during the long climbs. Of course, it always goes well with a good cup of coffee. Drinking coffee is his safer hobby.

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