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Festival of Ice: Fun, friendliness and nail-biting finals

Written by Fiona November 04 2013

Once a little-known sport practised in other countries, dry tooling is now fast taking off in Scotland. And this weekend, almost 60 climbers filled the entries list at a new event, the Festival of Ice in Kinlochleven.

get-attachment-75Dry tooling sees climbers scaling and traversing routes using ice axes instead of “just hands”. When competing on ice walls, the climbers wear winter boots and crampons. When climbing on walls with resin holds, they wear indoor rock shoes.

The aim is to score points by climbing the furthest on each set route and in the fastest time.

Competition at the Ice Factor

On Saturday, some 15 routes were set at the Ice Factor climbing centre and for six hours the 55 competitors, from juniors to vets and a mix of both men and women, attempted to score as many points as possible with the hope of making it to the final.

Three finalists in each age/gender category then competed against each other to be the fastest to climb to the top point.

The atmosphere was very friendly and upbeat. The climbers helped each other. They offered tips for improved moves and advice on how to complete the routes. They helped to “psyche” each other and although the climbers were still competitive they wanted others to do well, too.

The nail-biting Festival of Ice finals

get-attachment-80Throughout the day, the climbers had been climbing as partners – and watching each other’s progress. They may have stopped to watch a few other climbers on various routes but their main focus was trying to complete all 15 routes and score maximum points.

The finals were a bit different. Each category had three finalists and one route to compete on. The finalists were kept in isolation while the others climbed. The rest of the competitors and a large crowd of spectators sat back and enjoyed the entertainment.

get-attachment-77Even for those who don’t climb, like myself, it was exciting to watch the finalists attempt to reach the top of each route. These routes were tough and on many occasions the climbers fell (their fall is broken safely by a rope and belay). Where several competitors reached the top, the winner was the fastest climber.

get-attachment-79Dry tooling is a thrilling sport. Ice axes and feet can slip, legs and arms become over-strained and routes can be misinterpreted when under stress. The winners on the day kept their nerve, used their skill and balance to pull off amazing moves and also entertained the crowds.

Finalists and winners at the Festival of Ice

Senior men:
1st Greg Boswell
2nd Steve Johnstone
3rd Ewan Rodgers
4th Harry Holmes
5th Andy Inglis

Veteran men:

1st Andy Turner
2nd Andy Laing
3rd Edward Dalton

1st Fiona Murray
2nd Amy Goodell
3rd Emma Power (aged only 12!)
4th Megan Beaumont
5th Louise Reynolds

Junior boys:
James Mortimer
John Robertson
Tim Miller

Who knew? The things I have learned about dry tooling

get-attachment-70* Participants spend lots of time fine tuning their tools, such as adding tape and bubble wrap (!) to their ice axes, and sharpening. Oh, the noise of the sharpening!

get-attachment-71* Scot Muir of Dream Climbing Walls is credited with introducing the sport to Scotland. He returned from Europe one season keen to practise dry tooling for the following season. He set up routes in Newtyle, Perthshire, and the rest, as they say, is history.

get-attachment-73* The G-Force has taken to dry tooling like a kid to a sweetie shop. He spends hours hanging from his axes on mini dry tooling boards in the house. He goes to Newtyle. He goes to the ice wall in Glasgow. He watches videos and talks to his climbing pals about dry tooling.

* The G-Force also did really well at the Festival of Ice (in my uninformed opinion!). It’s only his second season in these competitions and he was fourth finisher in his veterans category.

* More women are coming into the sport and there was a good turnout at the Festival of Ice.

* Youngster Emma Powell, aged just 12, from Yorkshire is a star in the making. Keep an eye on her in forthcoming years. She held her own against the women at the Festival to finish third and she is set to compete in the Youth’s World Cup. She said: “I really like this venue and I’ve enjoyed the competition. It’s hard work but the competition is really friendly and it’s been great fun.”

* In the junior boys competition, Glasgow Academy  pupil James Mortimer took first place with a strong climb.

* Two of GB’s top ice climbers, Greg Boswell, 22, and Andy Turner, 43, had the crowd oohing and ahhing as they scaled the final route. The show of strength and skill was stunning. Andy, 43, was narrowly beaten by his younger rival Greg.

* Andy Turner told me the exciting news that in 2014 he will represent GB at the Ice Climbing Festival taking place as part of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. I told you this sport was catching on!

The Festival weekend

get-attachment-74Saturday evening also saw Simon Yearsley give a fascinating lecture about creating new winter climbing routes in Scotland. His talk was funny, interesting and inspiring.

On the Sunday, it was the turn of top Scottish trad climber Dave Macleod to offer a few climbing masterclasses and another popular talk.

The entire festival was in aid of Climbers Against Cancer.

Kev Shields, a great climber himself, organised the event with help from many others. He said: “It’s brilliant to have such a great turn out, and especially so early in the season. I am particularly pleased to see so many women competitors, too. The friendliness of the event shows everyone just how great this sport is.”

What next for Scottish dry tooling?

The Scottish Tooling Series is about to start. Check out the dates in the coming months.

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