yes, you read that correctly: dry tooling.
demonized in many places where its been mispracticed in the past, drytooling has a bad name amongst many climbers. destructive when done incorrectly in the wrong place (ie with double points and alpine tools on revered summer routes and/or fragile geology), drytooling is also an important aspect of mixed climbing, worthy of being done right.
thankfully, Japan has a liberal attitude towards drytooling with no one getting upset unless real damage is being done. along with this japan has huge tooling potential due to the vast amount of volcanic rock thats not great for rock climbing but is ideally steep, fissured and accessible.
in the right place and with the right tools drytooling is athletic, highly skilled and unique as a climbing form and bears no threat to popular climbing formations. ‘real’ drytooling makes use of features unsuited to regular climbing – hairline fissures, tiny pockets, vertical seams in roofs. not relying on friction too, drytooling can be done on grimey, slick and moisture affected rock, as its can also be suited to sharp and highly textured conglomerate too scatty to climb on with hands and offering no natural protection. true drytooling takes place where other forms of climbing cant (except possibly aid).
the Devil’s Work – drytool training on self-belayed top rope:
so, with next winter already orienting towards hard mixed climbing, drytooling makes up a significant part of the preparation process, meaning several tooling sessions over each training cycle, which means quite a bit of volume, which means getting the equation right so as not to damage somebody else favourite climb.
the keys to sustainable drytooling are:
- train properly: no mindless scratching around for no reason – climb within your ability (or at the edge of it) or go away. get good at placements before getting onto subjective routes.
- train on top rope: OH MY GOD! drytool AND top rope in the same sentence! yes, to get good takes volume and you need to take the falls and rest on rope instead of scratching around. its not the devils work, its respect for the geology.
- use the proper tools: not alpine tools and ideally not even pure ice tool – the right tools with the right picks have better geometry so rip less often, meaning fewer crap placements and a greater ability to rely on the thin/tiny stuff normal climbing doesnt
- use the proper crampons – or not at all: tooling is easier with crampons, so forgoing them and just wearing stiff boots is actually better training in many ways. keep your crampons for the right time, and when you use them, use monos as they do 50% the damage.
- train other aspects: weak climbers scratch about more. get strong, understand what youre doing and aim to be refined and focused. watch good toolers and you will see they do almost no damage because they make direct, precise placements. they dont flail about kicking chunks off the rock. good toolers switch up, reducing the number of placements and impact. simply put – the better the climber the less impact they make.
- understand how tools work: mixed tools have a wide spectrum of applications, not just hooking. the better you understand them the more you can shift from reliance on pockets and features that can rip.
- use your hands: theres no rule saying you must use tools 100% of the time. watch guys like Josh Wharton climb and see how they switch between hands and tools.