When to put them on?
The 2nd golden rule of crampons: put them on before you really need them.
Choose a nice comfortable spot of flat ground if you can & don’t wait until you are half-way up to realise it’s a lot more icy than expected. Don’t think ‘I can’t be bothered’ instead ask yourself what would be consequences of a slip? Even low-angle slopes or iced up paths in the glen can be treacherous – a broken hip slipping on an icy footpath in Glasgow is bad enough. Its seriously life threatening in the Scottish backcountry.
If you have to put them on in a less than ideal location, or where the consequences of a slip, or dropped ski or crampon would be serious then you must do the transition with great care and deliberation. Stepping out of a ski onto an icy slope is a recipe for disaster, so use the adze of your ice axe to chop a shelf in the snow large enough to both your feet and your rucksack. Only then attempt to step out and begin the delicate process of getting crampons safely on your feet.
How to use them
Mountaineers have developed many techniques for the safe and efficient use of crampons and its beyond the scope of this article to say what they all are. As a tourer you don’t need to know all of them, but you do need to know and practice the essential techniques – it’s not natural to walk around with 2” spikes on the soles of your feet.
The 3rd golden rule of crampons: know how to use them.
If not, carelessness can lead you to snag points on rocks or your own clothing – you can reduce this by avoiding flared or baggy salopettes and look for straight leg ones. Gaiters – very useful to stop snow getting in the top of your boots – should be worn inside the salopette, (fortunately most salopettes now come with an sewn-in internal gaiter).
One of the best ways to learn how to use crampons safely is to book on a ‘winter skills’ course or go one of the club ones.
Balling-up. As well as snagging and tripping, the other common hazard with crampons is ‘balling up’. This is when wet warmer snow sticks to the cold metal of the crampon frame, a very dangerous build up is like wearing platform shoes
One way of countering this is to make sure your crampons are fitted with ‘anti-balling plates’ These are plastic or rubber inserts that help prevent the build-up. Most crampons come with them fitted as standard – but notably the Petzl Leopard do not and must be bought and fitted separately.
ABPs themselves are not a cure-all and a regular tap with the shaft of an ice axe often serves to clear the balled-up snow.
You might think that with crampons, you don’t really need an ice-axe. Wrong. The two are Siamese-twins and always go together and perform different jobs. If you need crampons, you need an ice axe. And if you think you need an ice-axe then you need crampons. Simple.
With modern light-weight crampons and the great availability of learning resources, there now is really no excuse not to have, carry and know how to use crampons. That way you can help avoid the very unwelcome thrill of skiing without skis.