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February 7, 2012
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Winter Teva Mountain Games preview: Alpine climbing defies gravity

VAIL, Colorado - Because defying gravity and scaling big walls just isn't enough...

Somewhere between climbing, ice climbing and high-alpine mountaineering is mixed climbing. Known as dry tooling, climbers in full ice-climbing regalia ascend rock using ice tools. That's right: Crampon-wearing, pickax-wielding folks choose to hang, shimmy and climb icy, rocky expanses. Though the technique has been around for decades - how else would ice climbers get to ice lines high above the ground, or get from ice patch to ice patch on multi-pitch ascents broken up by rock? - but the modern sport version is relatively new.

"Modern mixed climbing started in Vail, in the Fang amphitheater during the mid-'90s," said Josh Wharton, Patagonia ambassador and world climber.

Looking to bag some first ascents, ice climbers were trying to get to patches of ice that hadn't been climbed before.

"There are ice routes that form every year, but they might be on certain sections of a cliff that don't necessarily touch the ground," Wharton said. "And people wanted to get up there."

For the Mountain Games, they've built a course in an arch formation incorporating ice, scaffolding and coated plywood.

"The format of the comp is borrowed from European ice climbing comps and mixed climbing comps," Wharton said. "There are two routes next to each other, and the climbers will climb at the same time, kind of like a dual slalom. They'll climb next to each other, then switch routes and do it again."

Competitors are judged on their high point and speed. And what about panache?

"There are no style points," he said, chuckling. "But you will be able to tell if someone is a really good climber."

Wharton is a mixed climber, but he sees it more as a means to an end.

"I love alpine climbing - climbing big, technical mountains all over the world," he said. "And when you do that, you have to know how to climb rock with your gloves and crampons on."

From Pakistan to Patagonia, Wharton really does go all over the world. And he'll be one of the 20 competitors at the mixed climbing comp, which will also include other big names like Will Mayo, Andres Marin and Sam Alias.


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The VailDaily Updated Feb 7, 2012 12:54PM Published Feb 7, 2012 12:54PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.