It’s winter. The rock’s too cold for climbing and your recurring finger injury is ruining your off-season training plans. “Real” climbers, the ones that learned how to belay with ATCs (or possibly figure-8s), are booting up with crampons and packs with ice picks and heading for, well, the ice. But if you live downtown in a city and have a nine to five and can’t get away, how are you supposed to get into the tooling thing anyways?
Currently, there are only a handful of gyms that allow the general public to dry tool, the modern way of getting into the tooling craft. Recently, the first gym in the US exclusively for dry tooling opened, in Boulder, Colorado, the Ice Coop. While the infrastructure behind the sport has plenty of room to grow, comps and festivals offer a fun and accessible point of entry for burgeoning toolers.
One such annual event, Ice Fest, which has grown to attract over 200 spectators since the event’s inauguration 12 years ago. The competition takes place in downtown Colorado Springs at CityROCK, one of the few gyms in the U.S. that allows members to regularly dry tool.
Ange Tysdal CityROCK’s marketing and event coordinator, told Gym Climber, “There’s a few dry tooling comps on the college circuits, but there’s only one other gym, located in Portland, that does this sort of thing.” Last year, the Portland Ice Comp, held at Planet Granite, was the same weekend as CityROCK’s Ice Fest.
The Ice Fest began at the gym’s original location in Monument. The gym itself was located within a community center, Soc n’ Roll, and shared space with an ice rink. Needless to say, the climbing area was cold. The solution for gym owners Joe and Lara Grosjean was to honor the temps with a dry tooling comp. Pros like Will Gadd, Will Mayo and Sam Elias all got in on the action.
CityROCK relocated to Colorado Springs in 2009 and, despite being a warmer venue, the dry tooling competitions continued.
Last November, I had the opportunity to attend the annual Ice Fest and grab onto some picks for the first time. From newbies like myself, to competitors that had traveled from Canada, over 60 athletes filled the blue mats donning helmets, harnesses, picks and, in some cases, crampons. The designated routes were distinguished by black yoga-ish mat cutouts that were pinned onto the wall behind the usable holds—there to protect the wall from incoming swinging knives.
Being CityROCK’s 12th annual Ice Fest, expectations were high among climbers and spectators alike. Early Ice Fest thrills include four-by-four pieces of wood, suspended by chains on the overhung lead walls, and, in 2015, a rail for the dry toolers to pick across, along with several different box-shaped volumes. In 2016, among a new crop of suspended volumes, climbers would ascend to an auto belay, hook their tool into the attached loop and descend to catch a nearby hold on another wall, where they would finish the route. “It was called the Mary Poppins route,” said Tysdal.
To CityROCK, Ice Fest is all about offering a unique tooling experience to participants, city-dwellers and ice buffs alike. “If you can dream it, we’ll try it!” said Tysdal. “So long as risk is mitigated,” she added.
This year, one of the brains behind the crazy setting was Marcus Garcia. Garcia is an all around climber, proficient on trad, sport, mixed, ice, or whatever he can get his hands on. Throughout his career, Garcia has established over 200 routes across the US and in Mexico, including scary lines given 5.13R and 5.13 R/X.
Although 2019 was the first year CityROCK asked Garcia to set, he had been setting for dry tooling comps since 2013. The logistics of the craft aren’t actually that different from normal setting. “You just have to remember the tool handle never changes and it adds two feet of reach,” he said. Of course, there’s also questions regarding center of control, peak angle, endurance of the athlete and lock-off ability. Like in any proper comp, setters also consider safety and, Garcia added, how the crowd will react.
The crowd did not seem disappointed. Finalists swung, jumped and hung from giant hanging dice and from one wall to the next. Spectators held their breath when competitors fell and miraculously dodged falling tools (helmets were a must for any spectators sitting nearby).
Both the male and female winners were familiar faces. Amity Warme, 26, just took up dry tooling a year ago, but has since competed in three World Cups, her best placement being 11th in China.
On the men’s side, Tyler Kempney stole the show after being one of two finalists to stick the massive dino on the second final route. Kempney really got into dry tooling in 2014 after he injured one of his fingers. “The only thing I could grab onto was ice tools,” he said. After placing second in Smug’s Ice Batch (an annual Vermont event, now ongoing for 13 years), then moving to Colorado Springs and falling out of touch with the sport, it was the community that finally pulled him back in 2016. Kempney has since competed in a handful of World Cups (he placed 11th in China this year) and spends his free time coaching a handful of local kids.
As for the youth results, there was only one podium. “Competitors feel like men and women have the same capacity for climbing,” said Tysdal. “We’ve tried to have separate categories in the past and the athletes have requested that they all compete on the same routes.” This year, the youth comp ended in an all-male podium, but the female competitors were all smiles.
Lara and Joe Gosjean hope to see the psych continue in future Ice Fests. They’re focused on opening a second gym in 2021, which will have 65 foot tall walls and, hopefully, the capacity to have an actual speed route on ice. Bigger comps means bigger crowds and, added benefit, larger donations from sponsors. This year, sponsors donated raffle items to benefit Protect Our Winters (POW). $1000 was raised from the sales.
Following two days of competition, festival goers could sign up for clinics the following day. I took the Intro to Ice Climbing clinic, taught by Garcia. “If you have a basic understanding of 5.10 climbing using movement and core, you can ice climb and/or dry tool,” he said. His number one tip for beginners: Move your body around the tools and not your tools around the body. My translation: try not to let the tool bop you in the face.
Ice Fest 2021 will be some time mid to late November. Check climbcityrock.com for updates and ask your local gym if it has a designated area for ice tools. You can also find dry tooling or ice climbing areas by asking around at your local gym.
- Amity Warme
- Catalina Shirley
- Susan Vachon
- Tyler Kempney
- Cody Stevenson
- Kevin Lindlau
- Liam Foster
- Keenan Griscom
- Nathan Foster