Ice climbing is one of those niche sports that pushes the cutting edge of crapping yourself, and materials technology. Equipment has to be light, stiff, flexible enough for shock absorption, and cheap enough for dirtbag climbers. Sounds like a job for nature.
Technical ice tools used for climbing waterfalls have traditionally been made of metal, normally either steel or aluminum, with a sharp steel pick. It’s a good solution, but one that’s heavy to swing over your head for hours on end.Some companies (and rogue materials engineers) have experimented with carbon fibre, which works, but is heinously expensive and complicated, not to mention a little fragile.
So, a company call Furnace Industries has created the Kronos, a technical climbing tool with a shaft made from wood. It’s not an obvious choice: to be sold as ice-climbing tools rather than toilet trowels, tools have to pass a stringent set of tests that assess their strength; making a wooden tool that strength-tests the same as aluminum is not easy.But the upside is pretty big: a tool that’s lighter, has better vibration damping, and is warmer to the touch (a big deal when you’re climbing in -20).
Sure, most of us are never going to play with ice tools on frozen cliffs. But it’s interesting nonetheless: Black Diamond, the world’s biggest climbing company, sunk years and hundreds of thousands of dollars into developing new tools with exotic materials, but sometimes, simpler is better.