A breakthrough booklet in its day. Modern Snow & Ice Techniques by Bill March printed 1973 ! What route is on the front cover?

An old pal dropped some books of for me the wee booklet was one of them it brought back many memories. Some of them like the french names Piolet Canne and Piolet Ramp for using the axe are still baffling even now .

Great French names ?

When this book came out many feel it revolutionised ice climbing. Written by Bill March it was a insight into modern ice climbing in the very early 70’s. I had met Bill March at Glenmore Lodge and John Cunningham they were among the “Gods of that era”. It was amazing to see at close hand how they climbed so elegantly and how the axes, crampons and protection had improved. Looking back with todays gear in mind it was a bold step into the unknown.

The axes Of the day I found a set below Hells Lum crag in the Cairngorms.

“Crag Swag” – I found a set of these axes the Chouinard Climax and the short axe for steep ice ( Chouinard/ Frost) below Hells Lum crag. They were split new and this was in the days before UKC and folk returning gear. We used to do a wander round the Corries finding gear most of it we used as we were poorer in these days. I wonder if anyone does this now?

This was an idea in the 70’s?

These chest harness were worn by a few in the 70’s. We brought a few casualties of the cliffs in winter with chest injuries from the ice screws on the harness. Big changes from nowadays leash-less axes etc now the thing. Who remembers the various ways of attaching axes in case you dropped them!

From the introduction.

In 1973 – I was on Ben Nevis when Point and 5 and Zero Gully were soloed . To me the 70’s were when the huge change in winter climbing occurred. In 1973 things were never the same after that incredible machine Ian Nicholson climbed Zero Gully and Point 5 on Ben Nevis in three hours – and made the pub . It was startling proof that the effectiveness of the new axe and crampon techniques reducing times on the classic lines. Great days, amazing people fantastic memories. Big Ian became a friend and we met often as he was a member of Glencoe Rescue Team and when he owned the Kings House Hotel in Glencoe. Now that was a different area.

The techniques in the Bill March booklet especially the French methods of cramponing were interesting to say the least. Huge changes occurred in gear. This is one that was a forerunner.

The Scottish Mountain Heritage collection “THE TERRORDACTYL”
The ” Ice Revolution” started at the end of the 1960’s. Mountaineers had been seeking a better way of remaining in contact with steep and overhanging ice. The technique at the time was to hang on to ice pitons, driven into the ice above the leaders head, which was both dangerous and insecure.
Various ideas were tried and rejected and Yvon Chouinard, a Californian and an outstanding mountaineer developed a short, wooden shafted ice hammer with a curved pick serrated on its bottom edge (the Climax). Though the earlier Maclnnes All Metal Ice axes and ice hammers had a straight, slightly declined pick these were not sufficiently “dropped” for direct aid on vertical ice.
Hamish Maclnnes developed the “Terrordactyl” in 1970, which was a short, all metal ice tool with an aluminium alloy shaft and a high quality pressed steel head in two sections with
an adze and steeply inclined serrated pick, for climbing on neve or hard snow.
For several years both the Chouinard ice hammer and the Maclnnes “Terror” dominated the forefront of international ice Climbing. There was even a medical term called “Terror knuckle” as those like me who battered the pick in to the ice regularly got battered knuckles and bruising!
Eventually the accepted worldwide design for modern ice tools evolved as a combination of these two basic designs with the pick, steeply dropped like the “Terror” but curved upwards at the tip like a reversed Chouinard “Climax” hammer and known as the “Banana” pick.

Comments welcome as always.

Notes – I met Bill March again in winter of 1984 in Canada where he had emigrated to. We had some wild nights and great tales of winter climbing in Canmore in the Alpine Clubhouse.

It is ironic that, having survived at the sharp end of a dangerous profession for 30 years, he should have died suddenly from a cerebral aneurysm while relaxing on a canoe expedition with his students at Toby Creek in British Columbia. Bill was 49,

Bill Match climbed a lot with John Cunningham a super ice climber. The book Creagh Dubh Climber “The Life and Times of John Cunningham is a great insight into these years.

Cracking book if you can get hold of it.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Ice climbing Canada, Mountaineering, Recomended books and Guides, Scottish winter climbing., Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A breakthrough booklet in its day. Modern Snow & Ice Techniques by Bill March printed 1973 ! What route is on the front cover?

  1. Nigel Nix says:

    The route on the front cover is Devils Delight on Hells Lum I think

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Had it confirmed it’s Devils Delight


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